The United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, UN Women, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) convened high-level representatives from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) for an in-depth discussion on the urgency of addressing the care economy and the impact on women, who comprise the majority of unpaid care workers.
Participants included ministers of finance, planning, gender and social protection, representatives from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), members of the diplomatic corps, and officials of agencies responsible for gender.
Rising demand for care in the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and response has deepened already existing inequalities in the gendered division of labour, placing a disproportionate burden on women and girls with potential long-term implications for their health, well-being and economic empowerment.
The full potential and sustainability of economic recovery require the care sector to be functioning well. Global studies have demonstrated that investments in care services and infrastructure can potentially create up to 2.5 more jobs than investments in regular infrastructure.
The virtual round table provided the opportunity for representatives to share strategies that are effective, experiences, practical initiatives and collaborations that are integrating social protection into the economic recovery.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, reflected on the ‘5R Strategy’ for addressing unpaid care work in the Caricom, which includes recognising unpaid care work through measurement and data collection; reducing unpaid care work through the universal provision of services (ie day-care services); redistributing unpaid care work within homes, between men and women, and with the state and the private sector through policies and programmes; rewarding paid care work in line with decent work remuneration; and representation of care workers in social dialogue and collective bargaining.
“This conversation was an important opportunity to discuss how the Caribbean will build back better from the COVID-19 crisis. We heard about timely and comprehensive social protection interventions by the region’s governments — many with the support of the private sector — to address economic hardship and job losses, as well as initiatives to support families. At UN Women, we are committed to continuing to support the Governments and the people of the Caribbean in developing policies and programmes that address the needs of women, both in the private sector and in the informal sector, to ensure no one is left behind in the rebuilding of the region’s economies,” the UN Women executive director said.
Caricom, with technical support from UN Women, has agreed to measure unpaid care and domestic work through the 2020 Round of Census, with Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago piloting this methodology.
Therese Turner-Jones, general manager of the Caribbean Country Department, IDB, pointed to a recent survey of Caribbean households conducted by the IDB. It showed that the pandemic has had a greater negative effect on women’s employment, nutrition and safety.
“This was an important and timely conversation, which we hope will lead to the creation of economic recovery strategies that are sensitive to the realities of women in our region — who are facing more job losses and domestic violence under the pandemic,” said Turner-Jones.
“It allowed us to learn from the ongoing experiences of countries and share specific ways the care economy can contribute to resilient recovery. We were encouraged by the rich discussion and the innovative approaches that countries are undertaking and really appreciated the sharing of experiences, knowledge, and insights. IDB Caribbean is committed to supporting governments as they integrate gender as a catalyst for economic recovery,” she added.
The participants called for sustained investments in the care economy to be at the centre of efforts to ‘build back better’ and to focus on redressing long-standing gender inequalities in paid work and unpaid care.
Ministers of finance, gender and social development and other government officials highlighted concrete social protection measures that have been implemented in various Caricom countries, which have worked and directly benefitted women, such as an income support programme in St Lucia for those most affected in the service industry; a cash transfer tourism grant in Jamaica; paid leave in Trinidad and Tobago to care for children and elders; food assistance programmes in Antigua and Barbuda and The Bahamas; a Household Survival Programme in Barbados; and stimulus packages in St Vincent and Grenada.