The economic progress of women in Barbados and the Caribbean as a whole continues to be thwarted, despite gains made in some areas, a senior Jamaican trade official has said.
Chairman of that country’s trade facilitation task force Patricia Francis said the strong focus women have placed on acquiring tertiary level education had not translated into employment opportunities.
In fact, she told today’s launch of the Women Empowered Through Export (WE Xport) programme at the Hilton Barbados Resort that rural women were the poorest and most marginalized of all, while women generally remained underrepresented in the labour force and in politics when compared to their male counterparts.
“Women are disproportionately represented in the industrial sector and to a lesser extent in agriculture. Women are the majority labour force in the services sector, but data on wage gaps, land ownership, credit, and informal employment are not sufficiently robust to support strong analysis,” Francis said, adding that “much work still needs to be done to document the status of women”.
WE Xport in an initiative of the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Carib Export) and is designed to help Caribbean women in business export their products and services.
Francis, an advocate for women’s economic empowerment, said she hoped the programme would help women to “translate their investment in education into economic power and benefits for their family”.
“There is no time to become complacent, and this year the call to action is the #PressforProgress, as the reality is we are stagnating in many of the indicators and even going backwards in others despite all the good news,” she said in a reference to International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8.
Stating that the situation called for renewed commitment from all stakeholders, Francis said of significance was the need for a more enabling environment, especially in terms of Government policy “by having adequate budgetary resources and improved economic opportunities which facilitate the creation of decent work”.
Executive Director of Carib Export Pamela Coke-Hamilton argued that while the Caribbean was “eons of years ahead” of some other regions in many areas, it still ranked poorly in others, including violence against women.
She also quoted research by the Women’s Entrepreneurial Venture Scope, which found that many Caribbean countries ranked “at the bottom of the list for best places for female entrepreneurs to do business”.
Coke-Hamilton said studies had also indicated that some of the main challenges facing female business owners were access to finance, lack of self-confidence, a fear of failure, and the struggle to balance work and their personal lives, given that many households were headed by single mothers.
Meanwhile, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados Ambassador Daniela Tramacere said while some progress had been made in the region in terms of addressing gender inequality, there was still a lot of work to be done.
“Women and girls in the Caribbean continue to face various types of discrimination in the workplace and in businesses,” Tramacere said.
“Despite the fact that in many Caribbean countries women outnumber men by a ratio of three to one as tertiary level students and graduates . . . they still do not earn the same wages as men and many do not have access to, or control over, productive resources such as land,” she added.
Also addressing the launch was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Maxine McClean who said while women in Barbados had been taking advantage of opportunities to start businesses and expand their operations, there was “much that needs to be done to increase the number of women exporting their products and services”.
“The women of Barbados and the Caribbean are but a small percentage of the global female population of about four billion. This constitutes an opportunity when we look at export potential,” McClean said.