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News - Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women
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Labour News.

Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women


Today's event  marks the centenary of International Women’s day.  This day and what it represents is to me very significant, as I'm sure it is to all here,especially women,and I am of course honoured to be here. I think it is particularly poignant that I am here as a female Minister of Labour. 100 years ago that would not have seemed possible! I want to acknowledge the contribution of all those women - and men- who made it possible and paved the way for today's women to reach where we are. And I'm sure that we today will do all to pave the way for the next generation of women to do even more!


I believe that the theme for this year's International Women’s day,“Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”, is extremely timely, given the justifiable focus by Barbados and other Caribbean territories on the topic of decent work and the contribution that decent work can make towards the overall socio-economic development of this country. Permit me now this opportunity to congratulate the Barbados Worker’s Union for  organising today's event and I hope that other entities will follow your example in the  organisation of similar events.


As we engage in celebrations to mark this day, women can be justifiably proud of several noteworthy achievements. Whether in the public service serving at very senior levels such as Permanent Secretaries and Ministers, working as C.E.Os of organizations such as the Public Workers Credit Union, directing umbrella organizations such as the Small Business Association and the Barbados Manufacturer’s Association, or whether serving as Prime Ministers of countries like Australia and Trinidad, ample evidence does exist of the many breakthroughs that have been made by women in all spheres of endeavour.


In spite of these accomplishments however, there are still too many indicators which show that women are lagging behind their male counterparts. For instance, annual statistics from the Barbados Statistical Services reveal that though women make up the majority of the adult population, males have historically outnumbered females in labour force participation and in actually finding employment. Additionally, though accounting for the majority of Professionals in the workforce, women continue to be disproportionately represented in other key positions such as managerial, administrative and technical positions.


Moreover, in addition to the myriad of challenges confronting women today, we must be particularly mindful of the obstacles confronting Barbados, especially against the backdrop of the global economic crisis from which the entire world is struggling to emerge.


Throughout 2010, several advanced and developing economies alike continued to experience the adverse effects of the crisis, resulting in declines in world output, world trade and global employment. Barbados, as a small open developing economy, has not been immune. Indeed, over the past year, Barbados has experienced contractions in key macro-economic indicators such as our gross domestic product. We have also experienced –

  • Contractions in sectors like International Business;
  • Reduction in the sugar revenues due to significant price cuts; and
  • Rising oil prices in the international market.

In all this our unemployment rate has risen from 8.1% in 2008, to 11.2% at the end of September 2010.

Given that unemployment has affected more women, and given the significant proportion of female headed households in Barbados, one gets a picture of the social effect of the crisis we are facing in Barbados. Women are challenged to find and keep a job in this climate. And when combined with other problems such as the lack of requisite certification, the lack of work experience and negatives attitudes to work, it can be argued that women in general will find it even more challenging to narrow the existing gender gaps in the labour force.


But for all of the challenges, there is one crucial development that has been occurring for some time. Recent statistics indicate that for the period 2009-2010, 68% and 70% of females were enrolled at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus and the Barbados Community College respectively. In other words, for every one male attending these tertiary institutions, there were over two females in attendance. In light of these figures, one can deduce that women have been utilising the developmental opportunities that are open to them, to chart a path for upward mobility.

To put this development into its proper perspective, we can revisit the 1970’s, where a mechanism called the “National Commission on the Status of Women in Barbados” was formed. This commission was appointed to investigate and report its findings on some of the following issues:

  • The  cultural and historical attitudes which lead to discrimination and prejudice against women, thereby  making it difficult for them to realise their full potential;
  • The position of women in civil and criminal laws and specifically the laws governing matrimonial property, marriage and divorce;
  • Labour Laws in their application to women and the role of women in the labour force of the island;
  • The employment, placing and promotion of women in the public service and in the private sector;
  • Laws and practices concerning the political rights of women; and
  • Education, including the availability of education for girls and women at all levels of the educational system.

Other Trade Unions like the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados, The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union, Barbados Workers’ Union and a few other organizations and persons highlighted other areas of concern like:

  • Women in business
  • Women in politics
  • Maternity leave for teachers
  • Maternity leave and job security for pregnant mothers
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Co-education within schools
  • More employment opportunities for women.

Today, a review of the Barbados landscape would show that women have made positive progress with respect to each and every one of these issues. But yes, there is room for considerable improvement and I would wish to put forward the argument that this improvement must start with the empowerment of women through education and training. 


Through education and training, a woman’s probability of attaining a decent job can be automatically increased. It is through this avenue that I believe that my Ministry can make a significant contribution towards the further development of women in this country. In addition to the receipt of training in primarily academic areas at institutions like U.W.I, S.J.P.P and B.C.C, women have also been pursuing training in vocational areas. Of the 478 persons registered in our skills training programmes up to March 31st, 2010, some 129 were females, pursuing training opportunities in traditional areas like Garment Making, Computer Applications and Office Procedures. However, some females were actually registered in male-dominated areas like Auto-mechanics, Heavy Duty Truck Driving, Landscaping and Bobcat Operations, thereby providing evidence that virtually any vocational opportunity that a woman wishes to pursue in today’s labour market is “there for the taking.”  I believe that women need not be boxed in to traditional jobs but can do just about any job out there. It's just a mindset. In fact, it was in earlier recessions that women went into the workforce because of a need, and took on "male" jobs out of necessity. When women needed to fend for themselves and their families they redefined themselves and their roles. This recession offers similar opportunities. Women who are frustrated with low-paying jobs are getting in to construction, tiling, driving trucks and so on. Those women are my inspiration.


At the Training Board, we continuously endeavour to enhance the quality and expand the range of our training courses and programmes. We always seek to ensure that these courses and programmes are up-to-date and responsive to the needs of the labour market, through the formation and expansion of smart-partnerships with employers in industry. The Board represents a key plank in my Government’s drive to provide decent and productive work to the citizens of this country and it is my ultimate wish to see women eventually pursuing vocational training in equal numbers as men, in the not-too-distant future.


At the National Employment Bureau we aim to provide local and overseas employment opportunities for Barbadian job seekers, and though we continue to experience challenges in the expansion of our local and overseas programmes, women still constitute the majority of registrants for local job placements. For 2010, some 264 female registrants were recorded, compared to 117 males. Through an EU-Sponsored Human Resource Development Strategy, it is our intention to institutionally strengthen the Bureau, to ensure that it can effectively meet the changing demands of the modern day job seeker, male and female.


Finally, a word on gender equality.   Gender equality is an important Millenium Development Goal and must be an underlying objective in realizing the four strategic goals of decent work, namely:

  • the promotion of fundamental principles and rights at work;


  • the creation of greater employment and income opportunities for women and men


  • the enhancement  of social protection in relation to its coverage and effectiveness; and



The concept of bringing gender issues into the mainstream of society, i.e. “gender mainstreaming” was clearly established as a global strategy for promoting gender equality in the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (China) in 1995. In July 1997, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) further defined the concept of gender mainstreaming as follows:

..... the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality.


In the short-to-medium term, my Ministry is desirous of implementing gender mainstreaming into its legislative, policy and programme development processes, to ensure that gender perspectives are considered in all of its activities. My vision is that such a process will not only stop at the Ministry of Labour, but spread to other public sector agencies and departments, as well as the private sector. I firmly believe that women and men both have important parts to play in developing TEAM BARBADOS and ensuring that Barbados thrives in the face of the several challenges existing in the local, regional and international arenas.


As we celebrate International Womens Day let me again congratulate Barbados in general, and women in particular, for the progess made thus far. Women, don't underestimate your contribution to this nation. Don't understimate yourself and what you have to offer. You are nation builders, and not just as mothers, but in everything you put your hand to.


Happy International Women’s Day.


Dr. The Hon. Esther Byer-Suckoo

Published: Tuesday, 8th March, 2011


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