Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Dr Carla Barnett on Wednesday said the Caribbean must not lose sight of the many issues that stand in the way of achieving women’s equality, such as women’s political participation, unpaid care and domestic work, impact of climate change, and gender-based violence which is a public health crisis in the region.
In a message celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), Barnett, the first woman to head the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat, said the global average shows one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime, usually from an intimate partner.
“In the Caribbean region, prevalence surveys conducted between 2016 to 2018 in five member states indicate incidence rates as high as one in two women,” she said.
IWD, a special observance that was adopted by the United Nations in 1975, is this year being observed under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality” that is aligned with the priority theme for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women underway at the United Nations.
Barnett said that the day belongs to all groups, collectively, everywhere, adding “today we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and recommit ourselves to the work that still needs to be done to accelerate women’s equality”.
She said the day is set also aside to acknowledge women’s contributions to technology, and explore the impact of the digital gender divide on widening economic and social inequalities exacerbated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It also highlights the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces, and of addressing online and ICT-facilitated, gender-based violence. The timeliness and relevance of this year’s theme cannot be overstated, as technology and innovation are playing an increasingly important role to shape our region and the world.”
Barnett acknowledged that technology and innovation are opening new avenues for women and girls, contributing to gender equality in several ways.
She said through digital platforms and online resources, women and girls are gaining access to educational opportunities and career paths that were previously unavailable to them, adding “this is particularly true in underserved communities where traditional barriers, such as geography, culture and a lack of resources can prevent them from pursuing their dreams.
“Technological advancements are making education and training more accessible to women, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) fields. This provides women with more opportunities to participate in the workforce, which can lead to greater economic independence, empowerment, and higher pay.”
The region’s top public servant said innovation and technological change can also lead to more flexible work arrangements, which can help women balance their work and family responsibilities.
“Innovations in medical technology also promise to improve women’s health outcome, and access to healthcare services, such as new treatments for reproductive health, remote monitoring of pregnancies and telemedicine services.”
But Barnett said even as the region embraces the possibilities of technology and innovation, “it is important to recognise the potential challenges and risks that come with these advancements”.
She said among them, online violence, harassment and privacy concerns, all of which disproportionately affects women and girls.
“As we observe IWD this year, our thoughts and prayers are with the women and girls in Haiti who are experiencing the most gross violations as they are targeted by gangs who are ravaging and killing them with impunity. Protecting the women and girls must be a priority.
“Therefore, as we observe International Women’s Day across the Community, let us work toward greater representation of women and girls in all areas of leadership and decision-making, especially in technology, politics, business, health, the arts, and culture.
“By so doing, we can create a more inclusive and equitable “DigitAll” world where innovation and technology bridge gender equality,” Barnett said.