CARICOM Girls ICT Partnership, on May 27, 2020, hosted its second CARICOM Digital Dialogue via the Zoom and Facebook platforms under the theme ‘Jobs, work and opportunities in the post-COVID-19 Caribbean’. The session facilitated talks on how the employment and education sectors will operate after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARICOM Girls ICT Partnership held its first dialogue on April 23 to mark International Girls in ICT Day 2020. That session was held under the theme ‘Regional Resilience of ICT, STEM and Youth’. The featured speaker was Barbara Reynolds PhD.
The partnership aims to develop policy by 2021, which will support four stakeholder groups: students/ parents; teachers; employers; and academia. Specifically, the partnership seeks to examine inequity and means to bridge that divide; challenge perceptions regarding male and female participation in STEM, and by extension, ICT; develop coherence in the sector and at the same time, build and leverage partnerships in the ICT Sector across the Caribbean Community.
Regional business leader and author, Mr. Wayne Chen, who was a part of the session, said that he is of the view that the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the Region into the future, as far as the jobs landscape was concerned, highlighting that the pandemic accelerated the acceptance of ideas that were designed for a fully-operational future. He made reference to the measures that were being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly working from home, abandoning classrooms and moving functions online.
“I want us to imagine, as we have done before … a new version of the Caribbean, a new version of our economies and a new version of our societies, what I have dubbed Caribbean 2.0, as distinct from Caribbean 1.0 because we would have wasted a great opportunity if, emerging from the pandemic, our economies and societies look, think, react and act in the same ways that it did before the pandemic,” he told participants, placing much emphasis on technology and the creation of a fully-functional digital environment.
Chen made it clear that education and training are the pillars that must be used to ensure the Region is able to move forward. He said that it is the youths zeal to learn and make the most of every opportunity presented to them that will allow them to be that factor of change. Underlining that education and training were “paramount in everything that we do”, he pointed out that the transformation of education meant new thinking and new jobs.
Guyana’s CARICOM Youth Ambassador, Samantha Sheoprashad, said the pandemic exposed inequalities. The necessity for an inclusive society that does not discriminate against women, especially, was another area of concern for participants and presenters at the session.
She further pointed out that the education sector needed to be reformed. Critical thinking, entrepreneurship and policy-driven changes, emotional intelligence and resilience were needed, she argued.
She told the session that youth were in crisis mode which could translate into a hotbed of creativity but that there was need for effective infrastructure for them to take full advantage of that creativity and other opportunities.
“Many persons are facing difficulties because the digital ecosystem is not well equipped or prepared to give us the opportunities that we so crave,” she said, as she pointed to disparities in education and access to the Internet.
President of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL), Mr. Andre Lewis, said that “everything that we do” must be aimed at reducing inequalities. In saluting the workers who were at the forefront fighting COVID-19, he pointed out that nurses, maids, cooks and sanitation workers were under-recognised.
“We must address the structural issues that have resulted in those workers being some of the lowest paid workers… We must have an appreciation of the challenges faced by our women in our societies, [and] the world over,” he said.
He raised several issues regarding the changing world of work, among them work-life balance, boundaries, and the question of who would be liable for injuries workers could suffer at home while on the job.
“As we adopt technology, we must continue to address the inequalities in our societies, and this is a discussion that we need to have urgently to change the ways that our workers have been remunerated, because the leading workers who have been fighting COVID-19 right now have been the lowest paid workers,” Mr. Lewis said.
Human Development Officer at the CARICOM Secretariat, Helen Royer, pointed out that the pandemic had worsened pre-existing inequalities and had exposed vulnerabilities in social, political and economic provision.
“It has increased the urgency to safeguard the access and delivery of quality education and ensure equal access to basic services, and appropriate new technology for all women and men by 2030. In the context of the gender gaps in the digital divide, these relate to access and women’s empowerment, affordability, skills and education, content and services, and online safety for women. Thus, making sense of the post-COVID-19 landscape as it relates to opportunities for job creation and continuing employment as concern that is even more urgent for girls and women.”
She further stated that girls and women have disproportionately experienced job loss, explaining that women generally earn less, hold more jobs in the informal sector and carry greater responsibility for unpaid care work. She also noted the high number of women serving on the medical front line as nurses and child care providers for essential workers, stating that their contribution to essential services is excessive.