Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dr Carla Barnett. (Image courtesy CARICOM Secretariat)

Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dr Carla Barnett, has called for an increase in opportunities and a reduction in stumbling blocks to women and girls, so they can be empowered to be equal partners in solving many of issues impacting the region, including climate change.

In her official statement issued in observance of International Women’s Day, makes a strong case for women and girls, whom she says are effective, powerful leaders and change agents for climate adaptation and mitigation.

According to the CARICOM Secretary General, International Women’s Day provides an important platform to highlight the challenges women face in realizing their full human rights, and to engage men and boys as champions for gender equality.

The global theme for this year’s observance is Gender Equality Today For A Sustainable Tomorrow.

“Women and girls around the world who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all.  Their participation and leadership result in more effective climate action,” the CARICOM Secretary General stated.

“Achieving gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction is one of the urgent global challenges of the 21st century. By advancing gender equality today as a powerful driver of development and working towards ensuring lives free of violence and poverty, we will secure a sustainable tomorrow and a thriving Community for all,” Dr Barnett said.

Observing that climate change will continue to have severe and lasting impacts on the region’s environment, and therefore on its economic and social development, Dr Barnett argues that those most likely to experience severe effects are indigenous and rural women.

“According to UN Women, women constitute 70% of the world’s poor and are more likely to work or live on marginal lands and in informal settlements,” she points out.  “Further, women’s capacity to cope with the shocks of climate events is further limited by gender inequalities and cultural norms in relation to gender roles, which often restrict women’s decision-making in disaster situations and limit their ability to escape natural disasters.”

Pointing to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, she notes that disasters disproportionately increase women’s care burden, the incidence of gender-based violence and job losses.

“Overall, women head larger households than men and their livelihoods are more vulnerable to the impact of disasters. They also struggle more than men to find alternative livelihoods and re-enter the formal employment sector,” she said. “Female-headed households, estimated to be 40% in the Region, must be included when developing climate and disaster risk policies, programmes, and projects.”

The Secretary General says the region must continue to increase the opportunities and minimise the constraints to empowering women and girls to have a voice, and to be equal partners in decision-making on climate action and disaster management.