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Experts and government representatives examined unpaid care work in the Caribbean during a side event at the 61st Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean

5 October 2021|Briefing note

The side event entitled “The burden of unpaid care work on Caribbean women in the time of COVID-19”, which took place within the context of the 61st Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Caribbean women with particular focus on the increasing burden of unpaid care work. It also showcased experiences and progress in the development of time use measurements in the subregion. The event was moderated by Malaka Parker and included interventions from ECLAC’s subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, ECLAC’s Division for Gender Affairs, the OECS Commission, and showcased country experiences from Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, and Grenada.

Diane Quarless, the Director of ECLAC’s subregional headquarters for the Caribbean, described the differentiated effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. Facing increasing levels of unemployment, as well as an increased burden of care work due to school closures, Caribbean women’s productivity and mental health have been and continue to be severely affected. Ms. Quarless highlighted the actions already taken by governments of the subregion in attempts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on women but stressed the need for more to be done in the areas of social protection, examining men’s and boys’ roles in care work, recognizing the value of all forms of work, and data collection.

Ana Güezmes, Director of the Division for Gender Affairs of ECLAC, highlighted the importance of the event in the context of the 61st Meeting of the Presiding Officers and the upcoming Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean that will take place the following year in Argentina.  Noting the severe effects that the pandemic has had on women’s employment - which could take up to 15 years to recover to pre-pandemic levels – and the compounded challenges facing the Caribbean subregion in the face of climate change, she stressed the need to implement a transformative recovery with gender equality and sustainability at its center and urged for the advancement towards a care society that places care for people and planet at its core.

Carlene Radix, Head of Human and Social Development at the OECS Commission, focused her presentation on the Joint SDG Fund programme in the Eastern Caribbean, which aims to tackle SDG1 on Poverty Reduction, SDG5 on Gender Equality, and SDG13 on Climate Action. The Programme has provided support for regional infrastructure, the development of inclusion and social protection strategies, the measurement of unpaid care work, and data development and management. She also noted the importance of harmonized, comparable, and disaggregated data, which is also being supported by the OECS. Related to this, she noted the various efforts to fill the data gap on SDG 5.4.1 on unpaid care and domestic work through the inclusion of related questions on censuses and surveys. Ms. Radix also highlighted remaining challenges in data collection, standardizing definitions, and transforming data into information.

Iliana Vaca Trigo, on behalf of ECLAC’s Division for Gender Affairs, presented the forthcoming methodological guide on time-use measurements in Latin America and the Caribbean that will be endorsed in the Statistical Conference of the Americas as a regional standard, and further highlighted the importance of the collection and standardization of time-use data for macro-economic analysis. She shared subregional examples of Jamaica’s 2018 Survey of Living Conditions and Trinidad and Tobago’s 2011 Census, which revealed through concrete data the under-representation of women in paid work.

During the event, representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, and Grenada shared their experiences regarding the impact of the pandemic on their countries, and the different policies and measures their governments have taken to counter these. Ms. Antoinette Jack-Martin, Director of Gender Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago, shared some of the social protection measures taken by the Ministry of Social Development, such as emergency food grants, entrepreneurial relief grants, pandemic leave, and different plans and strategies to facilitate remote work for employees, among others. Ms. Tanzia Toussaint, Deputy Director of Social Transformation at the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment in St. Lucia, highlighted the significant job losses faced by the tourism sector, a key sector for the economy of the country and also a major employer of women. She spoke on the government’s response to the pandemic, including lockdowns, health and safety protocols, and care support provided with the help of donors such as UNICEF. She also mentioned different projects and initiatives related to the OECS and the Joint SDG Fund, such as country poverty assessments and public assistance programmes, and an ongoing project to estimate the impact of COVID-19 on monetary and multi-dimensional poverty.

Claudia Nicholson, Statistician Consultant at the Grenada Statistical Office, also noted how through the Joint SDG Fund, the country was able to carry out a labour force survey with three additional pilot questions to collect data on unpaid domestic care work. She shared some of the key findings of this survey, including the disproportionate amount of time spent on domestic and care work by women and girls, especially on unpaid childcare work. She also shared some of the lessons learned during this process, such as the limitations of the collection of proxy data, the importance of field work allocation, and of training and pre-testing, among others.

Lastly, Amilcar Sanatan, youth and male activist from Trinidad and Tobago, spoke on the importance of transforming masculinities. He recognized the increased attention and responses to gender-based violence and highlighted the role that activism has played on the development of some of these policy responses but stressed the need for more work to be done, particularly in addressing and challenging patriarchal norms.

The event then opened a space for discussion, where representatives continued sharing their experiences and questions related to the topic of the session. Finally, Candice Gonzales from the ECLAC Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean shared some closing words, recognizing the steps taken by countries towards reducing the burden of unpaid care work particularly faced by women.