Social Protection is a human right. Yet, according to the ILO, 4 billion people worldwide live without the peace of mind and security that it offers. The socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted glaring inequalities and deficiencies in social protection systems globally and in the Caribbean region. On the other hand, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for countries to pivot; to quickly rethink and reshape their social protection policies to effectively respond to the needs of their citizens in times of shocks. While many countries have instituted emergency or temporary measures, others are reengineering their social protection infrastructure in more permanent ways, ensuring universality and adaptability to future shocks.
The SDG-funded Joint Programme on Universal Adaptive Social Protection in the Eastern Caribbean (Joint Programme) is supporting Barbados, Saint Lucia and the OECS Commission’s Human and Social Development cluster in experimenting with social innovation as a means of addressing socio-economic issues and strengthening response and overall resilience to shocks. While the interventions under the Joint Programme are not novel to social protection, they are unprecedented for the Eastern Caribbean. This article explores advancements in social protection in the Eastern Caribbean, initiated with the technical and financial support of the Joint Programme.
PROMOTING RESILIENCE AND ADDRESSING STRUCTURAL BARRIERS TO WOMEN'S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT IN SAINT LUCIA
The achievement of gender equality by 2030 requires the deconstruction of the many barriers that curtail the rights of women and girls. One such barrier is the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work borne by women, due to gender norms that assign them as primarily responsible for these activities. Global evidence confirms that this poses a serious constraint to paid employment and overall income security. Other structural barriers include violence against women and occupational sex segregation which has led to women working in sectors that attract lower earnings when compared to men.
To address these barriers, UN Women, a Participating U.N. Organization in the Joint Programme, has been piloting a programme with 25 women (single mothers) - beneficiaries of the national public assistance programme in Saint Lucia. Participants are being provided with psychosocial support and counselling and opportunities for technical and vocational skills training. More specifically, they have benefited from Productivity Enhancement Training to equip them to participate in the economy as small entrepreneurs or to insert themselves into the world of work. Practical skills such as bookkeeping, gardening, culinary arts, computing, and office administration were imparted. Additionally, soft skills such as self-management, communication, conflict resolution, the labour code, parenting, and decision-making were addressed. To allow the women more time to participate in the job and skills training, the pilot also provided childcare support in the form of cash transfers.
Already the pilot programme is generating evidence and insight into the intersectionality of the multiple factors hindering women’s socio-economic empowerment. For example, initial assessments revealed that over 50% of the beneficiaries had experienced or are currently experiencing intimate partner violence. While violence against women was not a criterion in selecting the participants, this revelation enhances the awareness of violence against women as a major constraint to their resilience. The pilot is providing support to the women through counselling sessions (group and individual) with trained, experienced and certified professionals as well as providing life skills sessions to help them manage their finances, make smart choices with regard to food and nutrition, and sexual reproductive health, among others.