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.
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.