What is gender inequality costing the Caribbean region?

CASE STUDY

Smoke plumes from a volcano Ash plumes billow out from the La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on 13 April, 2021. Photo: Navin Pato Patterson
Head shot
 Renella Thomas
Gender and Resilience Intern , UN Women

The importance of addressing the gender inequalities of risk

As countries continue to recover from the impact of the recent La Soufrière volcano eruption, and prepare for the 2021 hurricane season, and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ripping away the shroud over the extent of inequalities in the Caribbean region, now more than ever, gender inequality must be addressed not only as a human right issue, but also as an economic one.

Under the EnGenDER Project, “Gender Inequality of Risk and Cost of Inaction Studies” were conducted across eight Caribbean countries thus far. The results demonstrate the importance of gender responsive climate change adaptation towards realising disaster resilience. Overall, the studies have illustrated that the impacts of climate change have extensively affected vulnerable sectors such as Tourism, Agriculture (main contributors to GDP), Fisheries & Marine Resources, Water, Health and Transport.

Within these sectors, the vulnerable groups identified were women, children, the elderly, the LGBTQIA community, and Persons with Disabilities. The studies have shown that despite the type of disaster, whether a drought, flood, storm, hurricane or volcano, there are commonalities in the impacts across the Caribbean:

  • Livelihoods on the whole are affected as a result of decreasing economic activity and income generation, particularly so in informal work which is dominated by women;
  • Flooding events, hurricanes and most recently the volcano eruption particularly impact small-scale women farmers in rural and coastal areas who have limited access to finance and resources to recover from crop and livestock losses;
  • Migration of working-age men and women because of reducing earning opportunities;
  • Reduced access to health facilities and supplies which increases risk for the elderly, pregnant women, and children;
  • Gender inequality in the early warning and communications systems, where lower income women may not have access to smart phones and the weather systems apps being used by service providers.

What are the gender inequalities?

Therefore, when answering the question of “What is Gender Inequality Costing the Caribbean Region?” all of the above impacts and more, must be considered. Decreasing economic activity and income can result in communities (female-headed households & LGBTQIA) becoming poorer and more vulnerable to marginalisation. Disadvantages for women are also intensified with increased caretaking roles and less hours available for work. Even for those who can work, limited work opportunities might compel them to engage in sexual transactions to provide for themselves and families, resulting in cases of sexual trafficking and exploitation. Limited income generation can also result in the migration of men and women in search of work, which results in the elderly becoming caregivers for children left behind. In addition, to children being separated from parents because of disasters, there are other impacts like reduced educational opportunities because of the destruction of schools and supplies. In fact, there are also disaster impacts where child marriages for young girls impacted from low-income backgrounds increase as an option for families to reap economic benefits.

Nevertheless, despite the financial losses for these small-scale women farmers and other vulnerable groups, their resilience was demonstrated through the coping mechanisms they adopted in various disaster events including changes in farming and fishing techniques; upscaling to agro-processing; diversifying into creating food by-products and adopting climate-smart practices such as rainwater harvesting. Further resilience can be fostered through developing and applying gender-responsive policy planning and coping mechanisms at the national and community level. For example, provisions for climate smart farming and fishing techniques can be subsidised; increased provision of and accessibility of microfinancing schemes for low-income women and increased education and awareness raising on the interlinkages of gender-related issues in climate change and disaster risk management.

As we continue move forward as region in strengthening disaster resilience, gender inequality must also become part of communication and early warning systems and other key networks. Though the system of notification is available to both men and women in some countries, women in the lower economic bracket are at a disadvantage where they do not have smart phones and cannot access the features utilized by service agencies. Further consideration must also be given to age (elderly as opposed to adolescent) and the difference in risk-levels and needs in terms of early warning systems. Transportation is also an additional risk factor for vulnerable groups particularly in rural areas with no access to private transportation and heavy reliance on public transportation. Hurricane Irma in 2017 highlighted that transportation for the elderly and those with disabilities can pose challenges, since the ability to move these vulnerable groups from hazardous circumstances were hampered due to the lack of specialized equipment to transport them.

The sector-specific analysis and review of the cost of inaction on different vulnerable groups provided important insights to their gender differentiated coping and capacity to adapt. UN Women will continue to work with the stakeholders in the countries and with UN partners to ensure that the data captured in the studies is used efficiently across the sectors, including to inform policy, for the people it is intended to serve and understood by them in order to build forward equal.