Min. of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Frankie A. Campbell, outlined a number of economic and social strategies, protection mechanisms and initiatives the Government of The Bahamas has undertaken in its gender-responsive planning to combat the negative fall-out from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Delivering The Bahamas’ Statement at the United Nation’s Women (UNWomen), ParlAmericas, Bahamas, Virtual High-Level Round Table Meeting of Parliamentarians of the English-speaking Caribbean, (facilitated in the precincts of the House of Assembly Wednesday, September 2, 2020 by House Speaker, the Hon. D. Halson Moultrie), Minister Campbell said the Government of The Bahamas is taking the necessary and progressive steps to ensure that women’s rights to “have a seat at the table and are a part of the decision-making process” becomes the norm rather than the exception.
(The Virtual Meeting was hosted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. House Speaker Moultrie delivered the Welcoming Remarks while Senate President, Senator, the Hon. Dr. Mildred Hall- Watson, delivered the Closing Remarks. Senator, the Hon. Ranard Henfield served as Moderator.) “Let me say that there must be the mindset that gender equality, that gender-responsive planning (planning that takes into account the needs of men, women, boys and girls) should be the norm, inside and outside of a pandemic, disastrous event or crisis,” Minister Campbell said in his capacity as Head of Delegation for The Bahamas. “Once that becomes the norm, it would automatically ensure that the country’s response to any disastrous event and/or crisis, the COVID-19 Pandemic included, will be gender responsive.”
Minister Campbell said: “We know that man’s basic necessities are food, shelter and clothing and so our focus, as a Government, was, has and continues to be, to ensure that those basic needs are being met (as) in addition to an already increased budget for social assistance, the Government of The Bahamas established a National Food Distribution Task Force where an additional $16 Million was allocated. I am pleased to say that this Food Distribution Task Force is assisting in excess of 27,000 households. The Task Force has been divided into nine groupings that were already in the business of feeding persons to ensure that all of our islands were given the requisite attention.
“You would have heard the statistics about the increase in unemployment as a result of the shutdown of the tourism industry (as a result of the global COVID-19 Pandemic) where the larger percentage of the persons employed are females and, while I will not present statistics as to how many women and girls were actually assisted, I believe it is safe to say – if we agree that (women) represent the larger number of persons who have been adversely impacted by the downturn in the tourism economy; if we agree that women represent the greater percentage of the leaders in the home – that the financial and other assistance we would have given, would have gone to the larger number of persons affected.” Minister Campbell said the Government continues to offer assistance to small businesses, in addition to offering tax deferrals to those businesses that give the assurance that those tax deferrals: “will be used to keep salaries going, to keep employees getting paid” as part of its response to the Pandemic.
He said the government also ensured that the country’s utilities services placed a moratorium on disconnections: “to ensure that households continue to be illuminated and to have the access to the water and sewerage services needed to facilitate the sanitization mechanisms necessary to combat the COVID-19 Virus.” The Department of Social Services (DOSS), Minister Campbell said, has also intensified its focus on digitizing and processing applications for food and rental assistance for not only its regular clients, but those who would have sought assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and now those seeking social assistance in those areas as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. That process is being led by the newly established Information and Technology and Communication Unit, headed by Deputy Director, Ms. Judy L. Simmons, and continues the march towards the digital transformation underway at the Ministry and its various Departments and Divisions that began prior to COVID-19.
“The digitization will enable the Department of Social Services to provide regular food and rental assistance, through Digital Wallets, that would not necessitate our clients forming long queues at our social services community support centres, thus making our clients and our social services providers, less vulnerable to the community spread of the COVID-19 Virus,” Minister Campbell said.
“Additionally, even in this Pandemic, we have continued training for our women (through collaborations between the Ministry’s Department of Gender and Family Affairs and its many stakeholders and partners that include numerous non-governmental organizations) and with the Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership to ensure that women are prepared for a seat around the table and to be a part of the decision- making which we believe, would help to ensure that our response to any situation, including the COVID-19 Pandemic, will be gender responsive. Minister Campbell said the government’s decision to place restrictions on the importation of masks, has provided an economic stimulus for numerous persons – many of them females.
“COVID-19 necessitated the wearing of masks to reduce community spread and so the government thought it sensible to place some restrictions on the importation of masks and instead offer the opportunity for Bahamians to engage in the mask-making industry as entrepreneurs. That decision has gone extremely well as many Bahamians, including many of our women who would have otherwise been unemployed, are now generating incomes for themselves and their families as a result of the making and selling of masks.”
Held one day after The Bahamas observed the one-year passage of Hurricane Dorian by paying tribute to the memory of all of those victims of the hurricane who would have lost their lives, the Meeting was held under the theme: “Supporting the National Adoption of Gender-Responsive Disaster and Crisis Planning.” Senate President, Senator, the Hon. Dr. Mildred Hall-Watson also participated in the event. Minister Campbell served as Head of The Bahamas’ delegation. Also inattendance were: the Hon. Donald Saunders, Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly and Member of Parliament for Tall Pines and Senator, the Hon. Lisa Bostwick. Other participants included former Senate President, Senator the Hon. Kay Forbes-Smith who now serves as the Managing Director of the Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Authority. Member of Parliament for Englerston, the Hon. Glenys Hanna-Martin joined the proceedings as an online Observer.