GDP (US$, billion)
GDP per capita (US$)
Real GDP growth (%)
Gross public debt % of GDP
Trinidad and Tobago
Antigua and Barbuda
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The global financial crises, coupled with structural adjustment programmes, whether internally or externally driven, have threatened and may have even reversed the attainment of the critical Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty. Despite their best efforts, governments face considerable challenges in seeking to generate sustained economic growth rates that exceed the rates of unemployment, and poverty. The forecast is for unemployment rates to remain elevated for sometime, within the range of 11–21 %. (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2013).4 The negative fallout is a decline in real wages and an increase in the number of vulnerable persons and communities, with a resultant increase in poverty.
Table 2 presents unemployment rates for some Caribbean countries for the 2006–2012 period. An increasing trend in unemployment is evident among the States since 2008, with the exceptions of Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
Unemployment rates 2006–2012 (percentages)
Trinidad and Tobago
3 Status of Women in Economic Development
Women represent more than 70 % of the poor in both developed and developing countries (OECD 2008). Studies have shown that this is a factor both of their socio-economic status in the home, as well as the labour market. Women tend to be employed in low-earning jobs (Maniam et al. 2010), concentrated in informal employment, where pay and conditions of work are worse than in formal or public jobs.
Another factor is the high dependence on female income for the sustaining of many households. One fourth of all households worldwide are reportedly headed by women and many others are dependent on female income, even where men are present (UN 1995). In the Caribbean, the incidence of female-headed households is said to be as high as 50 % (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2010).
Female-headed households are very often among the poorest, because of wage discrimination, occupational segregation patterns in the labour market, and other gender-based barriers (Wilson 2011; The Jamaica Gleaner 2012). Gender differences are also apparent in unemployment, with women more likely than men to be unemployed. In the Caribbean, women’s unemployment rates are almost double those of men.
A UN report indicates that despite the low pay that women receive, their income has important welfare consequences for children and families. This is because women are more likely to spend their income on food, education, and healthcare that embrace the welfare of their children as well as their own (UN 2005). Because of their essential contributions to household welfare, women are the key to poverty reduction in developing countries.
The governments of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have realised the importance of the empowerment of women in the quest for economic development and poverty alleviation. This is evident by their decision to entrench, in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which establishes CARICOM (adopted in 1992), with the mandate to: “establish policies and programmes to promote the development of youth and women in the Community with a view to encouraging their participation in social, cultural, political and economic activities” (CARICOM Secretariat 2000).
The last two decades or so have seen steady progress by the Region in implementing legal reform and institutional structures and programmes to promote the empowerment of women in areas such as property and inheritance, maternity leave, minimum wage, domestic violence, sexual offences, provision of equal access to all levels of education, and the development of training programmes to facilitate the acquisition of skills by women in efforts to expand their employment and income (Bureau of Women’s Affairs 2011; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2010).
Despite this, as indicated previously, the Region still faces high unemployment and underemployment among its female population, in comparison to males. While advancements have been made relative to increased participation in the labour force, this continues to be in lower-paying professions—a reflection of the gender bias in the educational system. Even where women are qualified in the more technical professions, there is evidence of discriminatory hiring practices in favour of men and the persistence of an appreciable wage gap. While the wage gap between males and females has narrowed, it is still significant, with men earning an average of 12–25 % above the average income of women, according to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, based on evidence from Jamaica and Barbados (Bellony et al. 2010).
Undoubtedly, much remain to be accomplished in the quest for gender equality and empowerment. One of the constraints facing the governments of the Region in making further progress in dismantling the socio-cultural and economic barriers which have restricted the ability of women to make a greater contribution to economic development, is the limited growth of the economies themselves. Caribbean economies face the twin challenges to increase growth and productivity and to provide greater numbers of high-quality jobs.
The profile of Caribbean economies presented earlier, has forced governments to identify new sectors which can provide for sustained growth of their economies and deliver the level of income at the individual and national level, which will raise the standard of living and provide fiscal space to maintain and strengthen social systems which will further alleviate poverty. Increasingly, they have been turning to the maritime sector as a pivotal engine of growth for their economies, because of its demonstrated ability to generate foreign exchange and employment.
4 Strategic Importance of the Maritime Sector of the Caribbean
By virtue of being predominantly island States, maritime transport is the lifeline of Caribbean economies. Over 90 % of the trade of these countries is by sea, yet historically, the maritime sector has largely remained invisible. Investment in the sector had been limited to port development and employment and income revolved around port activities. During the containerization era, several countries sought to expand the economic contribution of their ports by investing in infrastructure to attract container transhipment, thereby increasing port activity and income.
Over the years, interest in the sector has evolved in seeking to attract and develop a more diversified array of maritime activities, fuelled in part by increased pressure to find economic alternatives, and the growing awareness of a number of developed and developing countries whose maritime sectors have contributed significantly to their sustained economic development (Commonwealth Secretariat 2012).5 Another factor has also been the training of nationals in maritime-specific skills, which has equipped them with the required skills and knowledge to be credible messengers of the potential of the sector.
Today, these States are deriving significant income and employment from such non-traditional areas as ship repair and marine construction, bunkering and international ship registration. Some have included the maritime sector in their national development plans, with strategies to grow their maritime cluster, with the intent of being established as regional and global shipping and logistics hubs. But in the words of a former UN Secretary General “…there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier, and better fed; and their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities, and in the long run, of whole countries” (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2005).
Yet there are no conscious policies or expressed intent which could be identified by the authors of this paper, which indicated that a gendered approach will be taken to the targeted promotion of development in the maritime sectors of these countries. Without the inclusion of issues related to gender equality and empowerment in the development of its maritime plans and policies, the contribution of the maritime sector to the reduction of poverty will be severely limited.
The lack of explicit policies at the national level to integrate women in the plans to develop the sector may well stem from the traditional and male-dominated nature of the maritime sector itself. However, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), through its Women In Development (WID) strategy have, since 1989, pursued conscious programmes to increase the employment of women in the maritime sector globally.
5 IMO’s Women in Development Programme
Shipping is a multi-trillion dollar industry. Over 90 % of the world’s trade is carried by ships. Without this sector, the import and export of goods on the scale necessary for the modern world would not be possible. There are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world’s fleet is registered in over 150 nations, manned by over 1.25 million seafarers of virtually every nationality (Pinnock 2009).
Less than 2 % of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers are women (Belcher et al. 2003). The relevance of sea experience to many land-based jobs in the sector, also limits the ability of women to participate in the range of maritime-related jobs available ashore, beyond lower-level administrative positions (Tansey 2000).6 From the shipowner/operator’s standpoint, the principal objections to employing women at sea appear to center on the lack of adequate separate facilities for women on board and stringent physical requirements. The perception that seafaring is a man’s job, has led to lack of training opportunities and work experience for women (Belcher et al. 2003).
The IMO has recognized the need for a highly-trained workforce in the maritime sector, to respond to the predicted global shortage of seafarers; to support port activities; administer maritime affairs, marine pollution prevention and control activities; and maritime education and training, among others. It has therefore developed its own strategy for the integration of women into the maritime sector, through its Women in Development Programme (WID), which commenced in 1989 (Tansey 2000).
The focus of the IMO WID strategy was the improvement of the access of women to all levels of training and employment in the maritime sector, through both mainstream programmes and gender-specific projects. The objectives of the programmes are to (Tansey 2000)7:
Improve women’s access to maritime training and technology;
Increase the percentage of women at the senior management level within the maritime sector; and
Promote women’s economic self-reliance, including access to employment
Through its many phases, the IMO WID programme emphasized capacity building and provided gender-specific fellowships in response to the infrastructural and socio-cultural constraints which prevented women from having equal access to training and employment opportunities. It also promoted gender awareness in, and equal opportunities and advancement of, women in the maritime sector in general. The long-term objective was to encourage equity in the appointment and promotion of women to senior positions within the sector (IMO 2013