First Ladies and Spouses of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) convened a Forum under the theme “Every Caribbean Woman, Every Caribbean Child” at the Guyana Marriott Hotel, Georgetown, Guyana on 16 February 2017. The aim of the Forum was to agree on priorities and strategies for implementing a programme of work to enhance the health and well-being of Caribbean women and children.
The Forum was chaired by H.E. Mrs. Sandra Granger, First Lady of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
In attendance were: the Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; Hon. Kim Simplis Barrow, Spouse of the Prime Minister and Special Envoy for Women and Children of Belize; H.E. Martine Moise, First Lady of the Republic of Haiti; and H.E. Mrs. Reema Carmona, First Lady of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Sen. the Hon. Kamina Johnson-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, represented the spouse of the Prime Minister of Jamaica. The Hon. Yldiz Pollack-Beighle, Minister of Foreign Affairs, represented the First Lady of Suriname. The Hon Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection of Guyana also attended. The Minister of Public Health of Guyana was represented by Dr. Oneka Scott.
Also present were: Dr. Edward Greene, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean; Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat; Mr. Clifford Samuels, Vice-President, GILEAD Science Inc.; Co-Chairs of the Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean Every Caribbean Child Steering Committee Ms. Sheila Roseau, Deputy Director, UNFPA Latin America and the Caribbean, and Ms. Beverly Reynolds, Programme Manager, Health, Gender and Development, CARICOM Secretariat; other representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat and GILEAD Science Inc.; the Pan American Health Organisation; the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS; United Nations Children’s Fund; United Nations Development Programme; United Nations Population Fund; Caribbean Coalition on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; Caribbean Court of Justice; Guyana Planned Parenthood Association; and Planning Institute of Jamaica.
First Lady Sandra Granger welcomed participants to the Meeting and to Guyana and referred to the process involved in establishing the priorities of the Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean (ECWECC) Initiative which had been inspired by the Global Programme launched by former UN SG Ban Ki Moon in March 2015. She pointed out that the Initiative resulting from discussions of the ECWECC Steering Committee formed in April 2015 revolved around the goals of reducing violence against women and girls, cervical cancer and adolescent pregnancy as well as eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV. It formed the basis of a proposal submitted to the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2016.
She thanked GILEAD Science Inc. for its interest in the Region and for providing the resources which had made it possible for this Meeting to be convened.
She charged the Forum to produce concrete suggestions for the implementation of a programme of work that would result in the empowerment of women and girls with the support of stakeholders throughout the Region.
She urged the Forum to take action to reverse the challenges facing our women, girls and children and grasp the opportunity to be Champions of Change.
Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize and Special Envoy for Women and Children, expressed her pleasure that a core of First Ladies/Spouses of Heads of Government continue to champion the cause of gender equity and improve the lives of women and children by promoting partnerships, coordination and coherence in efforts within the Region. She underlined the different activities undertaken by her office in collaboration with government and quasi-government bodies; particularly in the neglected area of care and treatment for children with disabilities. She stressed the need for public–private partnerships and shared responsibility to sustain programmes such as the Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean Child (ECWECC) Initiative.
She also noted that Belize is ideally placed both physically and culturally to be a bridge between CARICOM and Central America, and spoke of her role and commitment to mobilise and intensify action to address the major challenges, such as school dropouts, sexual abuse/exploitation and adolescent pregnancy for success in achieving socio-economic parity and attaining the UN sustainable development goals.
Mr. Clifford Samuel, Senior Vice President, GILEAD Science Inc., stated that his company was pleased to collaborate with the Caribbean First Ladies/Spouses as champions of this venture. He noted that GILEAD’s major goal was to contribute to accelerating the end of HIV/AIDS through scientific research and development, and innovative access initiatives that deliver healthcare and medication to everyone in need. Mr. Samuel commented that this goal was achievable through partnership with countries and regions to implement programmes focusing on increasing awareness, prevention and access to medicines, reducing stigma and discrimination, and ensuring sustainable funding.
He posited that elements for achieving the end of the AIDS epidemic were reflected in the focus of the Every Caribbean Woman, Every Caribbean Child (ECWECC) Initiative, and informed the Meeting that GILEAD shared the Initiative’s strong commitment to supporting the rights of women, girls and children, in particular, in the areas of sexual and reproductive health.
Hon Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, in his keynote address, commended the Chairperson of the Forum and the previous speakers for clearly defining the aims and scope of this regional endeavour that will hopefully break the cycle of violence against women, girls and adolescents in the Caribbean and improve their health and wellbeing. He stressed that “we leaders must accelerate our response to meaningfully tackle the problems that severely threaten to undermine our most precious human resources, our women, girls and children – to the development of this region. Indeed the economic costs of inattention to the priorities of your initiative must be staggering.”
He identified the need for legal sanctions such as those contemplated in the revised legislation in many countries on sexual offences, including rape. He challenged the Forum to think beyond legal sanctions and mandates since to yield results they must be reinforced by four pillars: reliable data: coordinated evidence-based policies and programmes; the involvement of men and boys as part of the solution; and promoting evidence-based solutions such as those contemplated in the regional roll out of the ECWECC Initiative.
He urged the participants to make the Caribbean the first region in the world to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV.
Two background papers prepared for the Forum and introduced by Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith and Dr. Douglas Slater, respectively, were presented by Ms. Denese MacFarlane of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, on the Jamaica situation and by Ms. Beverly Reynolds, CARICOM Secretariat, on strategies for rolling out the ECWECC Initiative in CARICOM.
They jointly illustrated by way of data the gaps in adolescent access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; the impact of sexual abuse on health; the social consequences of teenage pregnancies; the legal and social mechanisms for sanctioning and preventing violence against women and girls; and the policies and programmes for treating and preventing women’s health issues such as cervical cancer. Among the specific issues that were identified for a successful roll out of ECWECC were technical know-how, political support and advocacy, strategic partnerships, a robust communication and information network, and provision for monitoring and evaluation of results.
The Forum charged the Consultation Agencies, as a follow up to the Forum, to produce a report on the critical steps, goals, timelines and funding required to complete the ECWECC Commitment for presentation to development partners, including to corporate donors of the Clinton Global Initiative in March/April, 2017.
The Forum requested the Honourable Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda to urge his colleague CARICOM Heads of Government to support this Initiative which focusses on the reduction of teenage pregnancy, cervical cancer, violence against women and children and the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV in the Caribbean.
Terms of Reference for a Caribbean First Ladies/Spouses Network
The Forum agreed to establish a Caribbean First Ladies/Spouses Network (CARIFLAN/CARISAN) to champion the ECWECC Initiative and other activities in keeping with 2030 Sustainable Development Goals #5 empowering women, girls and adolescents.
The First Ladies also agreed to consult among themselves on refining the Terms of Reference (TOR) and the details for incorporating the Network.
The Forum expressed gratitude to GILEAD Science Inc. for its sponsorship and collaboration; H.E. Mrs. Sandra Granger and the Office of the First Lady of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana for their role in the organisation of, and support for the Meeting; the Co –Chairs (UNFPA and CARICOM) and the Steering Committee of the ECWECC; the presenters of papers; and the management and Staff of the Marriott Hotel which had all contributed to the success of the Meeting.