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Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality in the Caribbean

The state of gender (in) equality

Caribbean States have sought to comply with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) through the removal of discriminatory laws and the enactment of enabling legislation, policy reforms, and the institutionalization of gender at the national and regional levels which expands women’s options for full realizations of their rights. Constitutional prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex exist in most independent Caribbean countries, with a few exceptions. Caribbean States have also made commitments under the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará). National and regional non-governmental organisations working on gender issues have also contributed significantly to providing an enabling environment for the pursuit of those changes through advocacy, sensitization and the spreading of greater knowledge.


But as stated by His Excellency Edwin W. Carrington, (then) Secretary General of CARICOM on International Women’s Day 2005...: 

"Persistent stereotypical attitudes towards women continue to pose a challenge to achieving gender equality. The stresses and vulnerabilities faced by women as a result of HIV/AIDS, the persistent scourge of violence against women, the risks associated with the pursuit of transactional sex and the plague of gender-related poverty are some of the prevalent social issues that negatively impact on the quality of life for women of the Region. Insufficient access to, or control of, economic resources and continuous low levels of participation in decision-making processes, including representation in governments, continue to hamper women's advancement and in so doing, will have implications for the Community's development".


What is being done to achieve gender equality?

Throughout the region steps have been taken to address indirect discrimination through law reform in relation to domestic violence and other aspects of family law based on the CARICOM model. Minimum wage legislation, which removes sex-based occupational distinctions in the determination of wage levels, has also advanced equality as has the extension of maternity and now paternity leave. Although financial and other constraints hamper the region’s gender commissions and bureaus some strides have been made towards the advancement of women and the further strengthening of the gender agenda. They include:


  • Collaboration in Belize with the Ministry of Finance on setting up the Gender Budget Initiative as well as the passing of the Sexual Harassment Act and approved Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy

  • Collaboration in Dominicaon the OECS Family Law and Domestic Violence Reform Initiative, and public education and sensitization through radio programmes “Talking Gender in Dominica” and “Women’s Magazine”

  • Increase staffing, in gender commissions in Jamaicaincluding a senior Policy Analyst

  • Setting up of a domestic violence shelter in Barbadosin conjunction with the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados

  • Positive steps have been taken to strengthen the legal infrastructure across the region to ensure gender equality in employment with more governments approving sexual harassment legislation and equal pay. A few CARICOM countrieshave also seen an increase in minimum wages for the lowest categories of workers, of which women are a significant number. In Belize, the minimum wage for shop assistants and domestic workers is now on par with other workers

  • Substantial legal reform has been achieved in St. Luciathrough the Equality of Opportunity and Treatment Employment and Occupation Act (2000). Furthermore, the Agricultural Workers Act (1979) was repealed, which had allowed higher wages for men in certain agricultural activities

  • A number of countries have now developed National Gender Policies that include Action Plans, such as in Dominica, Jamaica and the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis and Guyana.  The Barbados Government has indicated that its Bureau of Gender Affairs will soon begin developing a National Gender Policy

  • Regional NGO’s such as: The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action(CAFRA) and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) in the Caribbean have played a catalytic role in putting women’s and gender issues on the national and regional agendas. Notably, CAFRA’s work to eliminate violence against women and securing sex worker’s rights and DAWN’s work on women’s reproductive rights and raising critical issues relating to gender and trade.


The way forward

Despite an acknowledgement of the role that gender plays across socio-economic and political interactions, more is needed to address gender issues and inequality through specially-tailored programmes and policies. Recommendations include:

  • Increased and consistent political support for gender issues and equality by advocating, for example, that all Caribbean states develop Gender Plan’s for Action as well as Gender Impact Assessments in all new work plans in relevant departments, ministries, organisations and corporations.

  • Political will at the highest level – state legislatures paving the way for women’s participation and parties actively promoting women candidates in general and local government elections.

  • Increasing the seats at the tables where economic decisions are made, so women themselves have the opportunities to reverse and rectify existing inequalities.

  • Strengthening the institutionalisation of Gender Bureaus by increasing their resources and including them in all levels of policy making processes as well as forging closer alliances with various statistical and data gathering agencies so that research can be analysed along gender lines and better used to inform programmes and policies targeting women.

  • Providing gender training for relevant staff in NGOs (Non-governmental Organisations), government and regional organisations on gender analysis and the way gender operates in society

  • Due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing violence against women and children.

  • Incorporating gender analysis into HIV/AIDS policy and programming at national and regional levels. This would provide a better understanding of what influences male and female behavior and how gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing its social and economic impact on communities

  • Deepening the gendered analysis of boys and education to further research the links between women’s disproportionately high responsibility of emotional, social and financial care of children, notions of masculinity, boys’ underachievement in the education system, and young men’s vulnerability to criminal behavior.

  Featured Resource


Caribbean Joint Statement on Gender Equality and the Post 2015 and SIDS Agenda
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