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Statement by the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Ambassador Irwin LaRocque On the Occasion of International Women’s Day, 8 March 2014

The Secretariat is honoured and privileged to salute the women and girls of the Caribbean Community on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2014.  This year’s United Nation’s theme ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All’, is one that we can all embrace as we examine our progress toward meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and, in particular, Goals 3 and 5 relating to gender equality and maternal health respectively.
On this Day, we unite to celebrate the empowerment of women and advancements made toward gender equality.  We also reflect on the gaps to be filled to achieve our regional vision – a Caribbean Community where all citizens actively participate in and benefit equally from the economic growth and sustainable development of our countries.  This achievement is very much a collective task, and effective change can only be realized when women are equal players in the governance of our Region.  If we limit the potential of some, we limit the benefits to all.
The women of our Community have shown great courage and strength as catalysts for change in the pursuit of justice, equality and peace.  CARICOM Member States have responded by ratifying international conventions and making national and regional commitments to fulfil their obligations.  This has been most marked in the areas of legislation and policy, increased participation of women in the labour market and improved access to public resources such as tertiary education and health care.

With the upcoming conclusion of the MDG Framework in 2015, it is a critical time to increase efforts toward the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  We recognize that there have been both challenges and achievements in the implementation of MDG measures, particularly for women and girls.  This is to be expected as we strive to accomplish the aims of the new international agenda to tackle the causes of poverty, exclusion and inequality to “leave no one behind”.

In our Region, economic circumstances and, in particular, persistent and acute poverty and inequalities have continued to render women and girls vulnerable to violence.  Without responsive social protection programmes, women can be trapped in violent home situations that are increasingly threatening to their personal security, and that of their children.  In addition, sexual violence magnifies their risk of early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and negatively impacts on their physical and emotional health.

As the Community plots a path towards economic growth and sustainable development for the Region, the eradication of poverty is viewed as a central objective.  A people-centred approach has been articulated to promote the welfare and well-being of people; contribute to social inclusion, gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Special efforts need to be increased to involve young women in leadership and decision-making roles to gain experience and confidence so they can, in due course, aspire to and gain political office.  At present within the Community, women’s participation in Parliaments continues to be less than optimal, falling short of the target of 30 per cent.
Women have an important contribution to make not only in Parliament but as movers of skills, knowledge and capital across the Region, using the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) to expand opportunities and secure a better quality of life.  But the principles of equity and access can only be achieved if the arrangements are respected and applied fairly and without favour.  Particularly important for women and children is the strengthening of the legal and institutional environment to ensure contingent rights which will ensure unimpeded access to education, health and other social services.
This year we will be bestowing the Eleventh CARICOM Triennial Award to an outstanding CARICOM woman whose work has made a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the Caribbean.  This Award has been granted to ten exceptional recipients to date, most recently in 2011 to Professor Violet Eudine Barriteau, born in Grenada and a citizen of Barbados.
On this International Women’s Day we join others around the world to inspire change for a more just and equal society.  As a Region, let us support the Gender Equality Machineries and increase accountability as we translate the commitments by our Member States under the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into meaningful change for equality, peace and sustainable development for all.
Happy International Women’s Day!

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