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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Mon Jun 5 05:37:27 2000
Date: Sat, 3 Jun 2000 15:10:07 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: WOMEN-CARIBBEAN: Still A Long Way To Go
Article: 97566
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Still A Long Way To Go

Women as Leaders Series, IPS, 1 June 2000

BRIDGETOWN, May 31 (IPS) - Most of the region's people are quick to acknowledge that there has been some progress made by women in area of public life in the last five years, but admit that there is still a long way to go when it comes to gender equality.

We are encouraged by the fact that with each succeeding generation we see greater level of self-confidence among women because some of the infrastructural arrangements have changed and enabled them to take advantage of what is being provided.

Also there is increased access to education, says Dr. Joycelin Massiah, Regional Programme Director of the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Massiah, however, cautions that if real change in the situation of the region's women is to be sustained then it is important that men and women be united in their efforts.

"If we are to go forward together - men and women - in a society in which we talk about justice and fair play and equity, we will have to understand each other and not try to obstruct each other," she says.

In the Dominican Republic women now make up 33 percent of the Supreme Court - a situation which many are describing as huge progress.

But although employment rates for women have been generally rising, and in at least four countries - The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and St. Lucia - are approaching the rates for men, in general, female labour force participation rates across the region continue to be lower than those for men.

"They also tend to be restricted to certain occupations and to be paid less even when they have the same qualification and length of service," says one observer.

And in Trinidad and Tobago while, according to Gender Affairs Minister, Daphne Phllips gains have been made for women in the public service and in politics, there is still a significant lack of representation in financial and commercial enterprises.

Also, some still argue that womens contributions to the economy, sizable as they often are, still go underreported, unaccounted and ultimately unrecognised.

UNIFEM too has recognised the peculiarity of the regional situation and therefore plans to change its approach in dealing with gender issues.

"This means we are trying to develop more wholistic programmes than individual projects," says Massiah.

This wholistic approach involves what is being dubbed by the United Nations organisation the "ABC strategy".

"The 'A' is for advocacy, because within our programmes and as an agency, we need to be out there advocating on behalf of women and women's issues," says Massiah.

The 'B' is for brokering. We have an advantage in UNIFEM in that we have grown out of the international womens movement so we have strong links with NGOs, (Non-Governmental Organisations) as well as with governments - so our ability to bring those two groups together allows us to tap into other groups and therefore find a way of getting everyone to work together on the same issues," she adds.

Massiah notes that the C is for capacity building since UNIFEM must offer technical assistance and provide necessary resources, for projects which are aimed at the development of women in the region.

The idea, says Massiah, is to bring together as many countries as possible in the region to work together rather than individual countries proceeding with their own plans and programmes.

She notes for example that UNIFEM was able to organise a womens human rights campaign between 1998 and 1999 which had a fair level of success throughout the region.

"It was intended to draw public attention to the issue of violence against women and persuade policy makers to adjust policies and implement new ones in order to address that problem and to encourage women to speak out about the issue and assist others facing the same issue.

"We were able to bring together people in all the different countries. We worked through the Ministry of Education throughout the region and crisis centres," she says.

And this area - violence against women - is one in which Massiah is only too aware that her organisation still has a lot of work to do.

Although in the last five years - since the Beijing conference on women - many of the countries government have implemented laws which seek to address more adequately violence against women, this problem continues to be a big headache for women's groups.

In the northern Caribbean island of Jamaica, for instance, reports indicate that in 1989 just under 2,300 women were victims of rape, domestic violence and incest. By 1999 the figure had jumped to more than 6,600.

While for other Caribbean islands, the figures are not readily available, anecdotal accounts indicate that violence against women is on the rise.

"With regard to violence against women, it is not possible to get an accurate picture of the incidence in all its manifestations in the Caribbean region, nor variations over time because of under- reporting and an inadequate collection and compilation of statistics.

"Still it appears from newspaper reports and from anecdotal evidence that violence against women, for all the attention the issue has been given in the decade of the 1990s, shows no signs of decreasing and may in fact be on the rise," says one report from a Ministerial Conference on Women held in Trinidad and Tobago last year.

Armed with this kind of information, UNIFEM does not plan to let up in its efforts to bring about meaningful change to the condition of women in the region.

UNIFEM was created in 1976, a year after the World Conference on Women in Mexico City, considered the first loud wakeup call to the international community on gender discrimination.



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