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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


PORT OF SPAIN, (Jul. 6) IPS - Caribbean women who have attained  positions
of power are hoping to use their influence to help other  women, who are
struggling just to feed themselves and their  families. 
   Yesterday's meeting of the wives of the Caribbean leaders held in 
Trinidad, alongside the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of  Government
summit, seems to have made a start in that direction. 
   The meeting was preparatory to the Hemispheric Conference of Wives  of
Heads of State and Heads of Government of the Americas to be  held in
Canada later this year. 
   "By working together, by joining forces, by forging a strong link  and
working as a network, we will generate the power to make a  difference, a
decided difference," said Oma Panday, chairperson of  yesterday's meeting. 
   "Our intention is that we will set ourselves the mission of making  that
difference through programs in support of women producers in  rural
development in our region," she said. 
   The Caribbean Network of Rural Women Producers launched yesterday  is
also aimed at doing just that. 
   The main goals of the Network will be to provide rural women with 
access to credit for micro-business projects, to ensure that  government
policies are sensitive to and supportive of the special  needs of rural
women producers and to eliminate the gender bias in  the ownership of land,
so that women will have the same  opportunities as men to own property. 
   Panday said that the network would also seek to provide marketing 
support for rural women producers and to offer training, research, 
technical support and outreach services. 
   "We will only deliver if we are genuinely passionate about making  a
meaningful difference in the lives of women across the Caribbean  who are
truly the salt of the earth," she said. 
   "Our cardinal mission is the empowerment of the women who toil in  rural
areas, and who have the capacity to make a meaningful  contribution to the
well-being of their families, their communities  and their countries," she
   The women said that agriculture represents a vital social and  economic
aspect of Caribbean life, particularly for women. 
   With the economic situation in many Caribbean countries on the  decline,
more and more women are turning to agriculture. 
   In the northern Caribbean island of Jamaica, for example, the  sector
employs more than 217,000 workers directly and some 650,000  indirectly. 
   Female workers account for between 22 and 24 percent of the  workforce. 
   Unemployment in Jamaica now stands at 16.3 percent, but among women  the
figure sits at more than 60 percent and among rural women it  is even
   "If people who have influence are able to get involved in that (the 
development of rural women), I think its a great idea," said  Marietta
Mitchell of Grenada. Her Guyana counterpart, Yvonne Hinds,  said it
important for regional women to be empowered, and the  Caribbean Network of
Rural Women would be a step in that direction. 
   Haiti, where 30 percent of women are involved in the agrarian  reform
program, has supported the initiative. According to Geri  Benoit-Preval,
wife of Pres. Rene Preval, it "represents a great  opportunity for women." 
   With a per capita income of $250, Haiti is the poorest country in  the
   Next year, Haiti will stage the First Ladies Conference of the  Americas
in September, and Benoit-Preval said the forum will  provide an opportunity
"for more issues than agriculture to be  discussed." 
   The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA),  one
of the sponsors of the meeting here, said research performed  in the
Caribbean and Latin America supports the view that women are  becoming a
major economic force in the agriculture sector. 
   "This meeting is therefore of critical importance in the  development of
the regional sector and IICA's role in the support  of same," said IICA's
Dr. Arlington Chesney.