Building a strong and resilient Caribbean demands the equal involvement of women and men. The Caribbean has made significant progress in gender equality in recent years, particularly in women’s education and their participation in the labor force. But more remains to be done to push the frontier to equal opportunity and tackle gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies and LGBT inclusion.
Meet three women who are breaking the glass ceiling in their own way, promising a brighter future for the Caribbean:
“I am ready to help rebuild Haiti”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, 32-year-old Marie Carine François lost her business to the floods that devastated the south of Haiti, where she lives with her six-year-old daughter and two brothers. She was helping to clear the debris in her neighborhood, when she caught the attention of local authorities on a post-disaster assessment mission. They recruited her for training in construction to help rebuild resilient infrastructure after the disaster.
“At the end of the workshop, I can go to any building site and offer my skills to earn a living,” says Marie. “I feel more fulfilled now because I am actively involved in repairing my home, where a wall was destroyed by the hurricane. I am also proud to be directly involved in the rebuilding of our municipality.”
The workshop Marie attended is part of a World Bank-financed project to support sustainable mobility for all in Haiti by building climate resilient roads and infrastructure.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the participation of women in the labor force rose by 33 percent between 1990 and 2014, which contrasts sharply with the global trend of a slight decline. This increased labor force participation has helped reduce extreme poverty in the region. In Haiti, 63 percent of women participate in the labor force, higher than the regional average. However, on average, women in Haiti earn 30 percent less than men.
“We are the stories that we tell ourselves”
Jamaican Kenia Mattis has always had a great passion for social entrepreneurship and education. “We are the stories that we tell ourselves,” says Kenia. Her company builds online platforms that help children develop strong language skills, find inspiration, and cultivate creativity. In 2017, Kenia launched a spin-off company specializing in learning games. “We are truly excited about making learning fun and accessible to all,” says Kenia.
Latin America and the Caribbean has the second-highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world: 40 percent of firms have female participation in ownership. The highest rates in the region are found in Caribbean countries, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and in Grenada. In Jamaica, 78 percent of women have accounts at a formal financial institution, the highest number in the region. However, women entrepreneurs tend to be concentrated in small- and medium-sized enterprises, partly due to gender-based inequalities in ownership of land and capital.
Last year, Kenia attended an acceleration program for women entrepreneurs through the Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean (WINC) program, funded by the government of Canada and implemented by the World Bank Group’s InfoDev program. Designed to jump-start women-led enterprises across the region, the program provided local entrepreneurs with mentorship, training, and networking opportunities.
94% of girls go to school in the Caribbean
At a school in western Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, Mikeilis wants to become a dentist like her cousin when she grows up. Driven by her mother’s story, who had to drop out of high school when she became pregnant with Mikeilis, the 8-year-old student is determined to go to college to pursue her career goals.
Over the last 30 years, more women than men get an education in many countries, and female enrollment in education in the Caribbean has steadily improved to reach 94 percent. Girls also tend to outperform boys in standardized tests. However, high levels of teenage pregnancy and a low quality of education have become the main causes of school dropout.
The Dominican Republic’s government recently passed a National Pact for Education which prioritizes learning and improvements in the quality of education. The World Bank is supporting this reform by helping recruit and train primary and secondary school teachers, assess student learning and early childhood development services, and decentralize public school management.
Caribbean women like Marie Carine, Kenia and Mikeilis have emerged as a force for change in the region. No country can achieve its potential until all of its citizens are able to achieve theirs.
Modernizing Higher Education for Economic Growth
Malawi has fewer affordable universities than it has students who want to go to them, leaving college out of reach for many. Enrollment in tertiary education is low, but more and more Malawians hunger for it. With IDA financing from the World Bank, Malawian citizens now have more options.
The five-year, $51 million Skills Development Project is helping public universities to strengthen and increase public access to programs that cater to sectors critical to Malawi’s economic growth. These include engineering, natural resources extraction, agriculture, construction, health services, tourism, and hospitality.
Beyond the establishment of the National Council for Higher Education, project funding supports a range of activities at institutions, including improving course offerings and staff skills, renovating infrastructure, and setting up satellite facilities.
Market-relevant course offerings
To expand the range of scientific skills and mid-level technicians needed to fuel Malawi’s economy, 39 new programs have been developed by universities, with the participation of the private sector ensuring their relevance to the economy. By 2017, these programs contributed 44 percent of the new student intake to public universities.
Diploma programs at universities have also been bolstered to increase the training of mid-level career personnel needed by various trades. For example, the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic now offers 10 technician-level engineering diploma programs in subjects like mining, telecommunications, and health. By 2019, these programs are expected to have enrolled 750 diploma students.
One of the major constraints to increasing student enrollment at public universities has been space. At Chancellor College, where most of Malawi’s secondary school science teachers are trained, more and better infrastructure is expected to make it possible to boost student intake by 65 percent. This includes modernized laboratories and four new lecture halls seating 350 students each.
This will go a long way toward meeting an increase in the demand for science teachers, following the introduction of physics and chemistry as separate subjects in the secondary school curriculum.
Mzuzu University is heading to be the country’s center of excellence in tourism training. It is constructing a purpose-built tourism and hospitality facility that will produce graduates who are industry-ready.
Online and distance learning
The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Mzuzu have introduced online and distance learning (ODL), resulting in increased enrollment at both. At LUANAR, online students make up 10 percent of the total student population. Between 2014 and 2016, Mzuzu increased its intake of online students tenfold. With more affordable fees and flexible options, the ODL system has helped to open access to higher education for many people nationwide.
“I enrolled through ODL because of its flexibility. I continue with my everyday life and yet I am studying at the same time. This is wonderful,” says 45-year-old Joe Mwenye, a father of five and a teacher in Ngabu in Chikwawa district. He is studying at LUANAR for a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Extension.
LUANAR has three ODL centers: one in the town of Mzuzu, another in Lilongwe, and another in Blantyre. Mzuzu University is opening satellite centers in Balaka, Karonga, Mulanje, and Lilongwe.
The Depth of Taboo: Social Issues in South Asia
Rarely does a geopolitical handbook also make such large and important contributions to uncomfortably critical social issues. This handbook is that rare example. The author Aryal takes our MD readers deep into some disturbing discussions – caste systems, systematic violence against women, rape, honor killings, gender stigmatizing, and societal sexism – not to just anecdotally expose people to some of the continued living horrors afflicting important regions of the world but to systematically analyze such atrocities so that their long-term political, economic, social, and diplomatic consequences are revealed.
What many around the world do not realize is how crippling these gross abuses of human decency can be for a nation and region writ large: these are not just individual crimes to be noted and then forgotten. The failure of societies, the failure of GLOBAL society, to make more effective progress and take a more rigid stand against injustice is a black mark on all countries, on all of us. This handbook in its own small way strives to be a light within that darkness and as such it is both informative and courageous. While the readers of MD will not find the content of this particular handbook for the faint of heart, the importance of acquiring this knowledge, of becoming more aware of the world that we live in as it truly is in so many places, should be considered a duty of all those fortunate enough to not be born into states where such systemic violence still exists and largely goes unchallenged.
The title of this work is no accident and no shameless marketing attempt to attract more readers. Rather, it is exposing in a single word the reason why overcoming systemic violence based on gender is so difficult. Social taboos run deep in every region, state, city, town, village. We will likely not succeed in eliminating them from the social conscience of people. But the attempt to ameliorate the power of taboo, its power to push rationality out and pull insanity in, is a noble one that all of us at the editorial staff at MD recognize as silently essential for the cause of future peace on so many different levels. The battle against taboo is the secret front end of the war against gender violence and oppression. Ultimately, the criminal justice systems of societies must improve to remedy those actions not prevented from occurring. But the real long-term comprehensive solution will be the effort to eliminate the fear of social taboos, to eliminate the stigma that drives many to commit ignorant violence in the first place.
Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face
On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.
“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.
Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.
The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.
“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.
Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.
Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.
The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.
The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
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