Minister of Social Services and Urban Development 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 of 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, Campbell said the government of The Bahamas is taking necessary and progressive steps to ensure that women’s right to “have a seat at the table and [be] 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 Halson Moultrie delivered the welcoming remarks while Senate President Dr. Mildred Hall-Watson delivered the closing remarks. Senator 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,” 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.
“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. 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.”
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, 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 Judy L. Simmons.
“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 centers, thus making our clients and our social services providers less vulnerable to the community spread of the COVID-19 virus,” 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 CIWIL (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.”
Campbell said the government’s decision to place restrictions on the importation of masks provided an economic stimulus for numerous individuals – many of them women.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Also in attendance were: Donald Saunders, deputy speaker of the House of Assembly; Senator Lisa Bostwick; and Kay Forbes-Smith, managing director of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority.
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin joined the proceedings as an online observer.