Wednesday 25 November, 2020

UN Women: Supporting Caribbean women during the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to take a toll on women, UN Women continues to expand its focus on support programmes and initiatives to assist during this trying time.

Tonni Brodber, Deputy Representative at UN Women Caribbean, said the phrase ‘the future is female’ has more relevance now than ever before.

‘While the UN turned 75, UN Women is only 10 years old, we’re one of the younger agencies. Some of the work we do, especially the multi-lateral space around the COVID-19 response is how can we support countries and civil society to be able to navigate this crisis?'

Brodber said anecdotal reports have relayed the effects pandemic on the social fabric and increasingly on women via reports of intimate partner violence, job losses and more.

In commemoration of the United Nations 75th anniversary, celebrated October 24, UN Women is placing an increasing focus on supporting women and girls during the pandemic.

Socio-economic support

Brodber said UN Women has undertaken several initiatives which seek to assist women and girls during the pandemic. 

She said reports of domestic violence have also been noted during the pandemic.

Brodber said in Trinidad and Tobago they have been working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNFPA and others to ensure that survivors (migrants and nationals) can access much-needed services.

‘Anecdotally, we have noted reports of intimate partner violence as well as violence against children. One of the things we’ve been able to do with the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) in Trinidad and Tobago now we have data (see more here: https://caribbeanwomencount.unwomen.org/).’

‘Now we can see over 40 per cent of women are experiencing this. We can now see what the risk factors are, such as things like quarrelling, alcohol dependency. What’s happening during COVID-19 is there is increased stress, people are losing their jobs, which can lead to arguments or alcohol dependency. So the risk factors have increased, therefore the connections to violence against women and girls in the home may also increase.’

Brodber is encouraged by the measures government has initiated to attempt to deal with the added strain caused by the pandemic adding that there are other areas where this can be improved.

‘Recently I was speaking about the UN Spotlight Initiative for women and girls,and that is one of the ways in which we want to support government an civil society.’

‘There are gaps, but we acknowledge the gains made, and where the gaps remain, all of these UN initiatives are coming together to support.

‘For example when dealing with topics surrounding intimate partner violence, you need to have a good response. Response providers need to be connected so that once you enter the system, you get the required support. We’re hoping to employ technology there to enhance the response. But what we really need is changing the minds and attitudes of the people.’

‘One of the greatest risk factors for being someone who suffers from violence in a relationship is that the person believes that they should be beaten by their partners if they do ‘something wrong’.

‘We need to change behaviours so that neither women nor children are beaten because there is conflict over how they are behaving. There needs to be conversation. We have to instil different techniques that deal with conflict, that don’t include violence.’

Brodber says it’s critical to also think of the added strain in households where women are employed but also do much of the childcare and housekeeping chores.

‘On our website, caribbean.unwomen.org we developed a guideline of work policies for working parents.

‘There are two types of care work, such as nurses and teachers, many of whom are women. Then you have the unpaid careworkers who work in the home, taking care of sick children, cleaning the home, cooking etc. Often it happens to be women, it’s not always women but it often is because of the way in which our society is structured regarding the roles men and women should play.

‘As a result of this you have women who work in the formal economy but are also being asked to take care of the children and oversee the home-schooling, which is a double workload.’

To address this the UN has developed the Women Empowerment Principles to help women succeed in the workplace, marketplace and community.

‘That’s how you can support your colleagues and employees, because it’s a tough time. They’re under a lot of pressure. Also when do they sign off?

‘There’s a mental health burden now where these is less separation between work and home life. We have to also be able to support companies through this process.’

Helping rural women farmers

Brodber said another programme which they have undertaken is assisting women farmers:

‘So for UN Women specifically, we are working with women farmers across the Eastern Caribbean. We have collected a group of women farmers and supported them by connecting them via online platforms, where they can advertise their produce locally.’

Brodber said the phrase ‘the future as female-driven’ involves addressing all of these issues:

‘There’s more than enough room for all of us, the issue is how we can balance the contributions of both women and men and make room for them. At the UN we support states and civil society in realising the potential of all of its people.’

Find out more about UN Day here: https://www.un.org/en/observances/un-day 

To see more on UN Women Caribbean see here: https://caribbean.unwomen.org/en  

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