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SIDS Gender Equality Forum in Antigua Paves the Way for Inclusive Progress

In an historic gathering, the first-ever Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Gender Equality Forum convened in Antigua, uniting women from Pacific and Caribbean islands to address the progress and challenges surrounding Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), the Samoa Pathway, the Beijing Declaration and other fora.

Amidst the serene backdrop of Antigua, women leaders and delegates from these vulnerable regions came together to voice their concerns, share experiences and pave the way for a more equitable future.

The Honourable Samantha Marshall, Minister of Social Transformation, Human Resource Development, Youth and Gender Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda, is one of the driving forces behind this much-needed event. “With SIDS in Antigua, I would not have missed this opportunity, “ she declared.

An impressive location was made even more impressive by the work of Anne-Marie Martin and her team who transformed the Dockyard into an expo site, featuring the Equality Village Entrepreneurial Expo, showcasing products from women entrepreneurs from a variety of SIDS. Despite torrential rains on the second day of the forum, these resilient women adapted the location and agenda without hesitation.

The forum, held against the backdrop of the upcoming SIDS4 conference, aimed to support the SIDS roadmap for the next decade, focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The gathering produced a comprehensive communique that will inform the development of a ten-year plan to address the unique challenges faced by women in SIDS.

Central to the discussions were the disproportionate impacts of climate change and natural disasters on women in these regions. Senior women leaders highlighted the urgent need for gender-responsive policies and strategies to mitigate these effects and ensure the resilience of communities. From loss of livelihoods to increased vulnerabilities, the forum shed light on the multifaceted challenges faced by women in the wake of environmental crises.

Beyond environmental concerns, the forum also delved into socioeconomic hurdles, particularly for women entrepreneurs. Access to finance, markets, and resources emerged as critical barriers hindering women’s economic empowerment in SIDS. Participants stressed the importance of creating enabling environments that support women-led enterprises and foster inclusive economic growth.

Healthcare accessibility emerged as another pressing issue, especially in the context of very small islands with limited resources. Women voiced their struggles in accessing quality healthcare services, emphasising the need for targeted interventions to bridge the gap and ensure reproductive health rights for all.

Addressing Gender-based Violence

Perhaps most distressing were the discussions surrounding gender-based violence and domestic abuse. Statistics show that 1 in 3 women from SIDs have faced violence and exploitation, underscoring the urgency of addressing these pervasive issues. The forum called for comprehensive legal frameworks to be developed to combat gender-based violence and ensure the safety and dignity of women and girls.

Finance and inclusivity were identified as key pillars for advancing gender equality in SIDS. Dave Monroe of Bahamas Development Bank, a key supporter of women in business was strong his belief that “without the financial capital, it is hard to start anything.”  Participants stressed the importance of mobilising financial resources, leveraging partnerships, and mainstreaming gender considerations across all sectors to drive sustainable development. Inclusivity, both in decision-making processes and resource allocation, was deemed essential for ensuring that the voices and needs of women are adequately represented and addressed.

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The forum garnered widespread support, with sponsors and attendees including representatives from the CANZ states and senior politicians from numerous island nations. The significance of this inaugural gathering was not lost on participants, who reflected on its historic nature and the momentum it generated for future advocacy and action. As Minister Samantha Marshall pointed out “woman are powerful agents of change.”

As the communique prepared at the SIDS Gender Equality Forum makes its way to the upcoming SIDS4 conference, it carries with it the hopes and aspirations of women from across Pacific and Caribbean islands. Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Motley was clear: “gender equality has always been central to the SIDS story.” This forum is a testament to their resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to building a more equitable and inclusive future for all in SIDS.

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