The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a tremendous blow to the significant gains made by women in the workforce, and the Government has been battling to reverse it, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Marsha Caddle has acknowledged.
Caddle said while men’s unemployment was consistently higher than women over all four quarters of 2019, that changed with the collapse of tourism at the start of the pandemic, and has now reached a point where the number of jobless women is twice that of unemployed men.
“When we look at our unemployment data in Barbados that is borne out, but also when we look on a more minute level at the National Insurance claims that were submitted,” she remarked at a Women and Trade in the Americas event on Wednesday.
“We looked at it by sector, we looked at it by gender, and we saw this overwhelming overrepresentation of women in retail and in hospitality, food and beverage and across hospitality sectors, hotels and so on that were, during the worst parts of the pandemic, submitting unemployment claims at a 2 to 1 ratio compared with men.
“The fact that women are concentrated in the hospitality and the retail sectors in the Caribbean broadly, especially in tourism based economies, has meant that they were most affected by the economic contraction across our tourism-based economies, and I think we all understand how that happened and why that happened,” the Minister added.
The reversing trends forced Government to return to the proverbial drawing board on strategies to engage more women, whilst the country’s main economic driver remained dormant.
“One of the things that the Government of Barbados did, realising that we would have to very quickly respond to these gendered patterns of unemployment as a result of the pandemic, was not only increasing the capital works programme, which we knew would tend to attract more men than women’s labour, but also to increase our IT and digitisation and modernisation programme and access to that employment, which we felt, looking at the trends, would tend to attract more women’s labour,” Caddle said.
“The challenge was that there was a lot going on in the household economy at that time and so… we found that it was not as easy for women who had previously worked in the hospitality industry to shift, because they were also now responsible for care and education in the household,” she added.
Caddle acknowledged, however, that men and women appear to be gradually moving towards sharing the responsibilities of household care.
She disclosed that women’s economic participation across the region is generally lower than men and Barbados’ pre-COVID statistics were largely an anomaly.
Minister Caddle lamented the fact that even higher educational attainment among women has hardly translated to higher levels of employment.
“This is something on which we have had to challenge the thinking and the rhetoric a bit in this region. So, there’s a lot that is said about the levels of enrollment at the University of the West Indies, how many women are graduating from universities in the region, and this is used as a benchmark to suggest that the Caribbean does not have a gender equality problem…. But when we look at what’s happening in the labour force, we still see rigidity in terms of the trends that lead to the fact that there remains a gender wage gap,” she said.