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News > Latin America

Latin America Closes the Gap on Economic Gender Inequality

  • Bolivian women harvest potatoes in El Alto.

    Bolivian women harvest potatoes in El Alto. | Photo: AFP

Published 10 May 2015

Latin America is the global region showing the most progress in empowering women through progressive labor laws.

Latin America is leading the way in improving gender equality in the workplace, according to a new report from U.N. Women.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Luiza Carvalho, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, told IPS in an interview this week.

The report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016, Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights,” released in late April, shines a light on the steps being taken by the region toward a stronger position for women in the workforce.

One of the standout achievements for Latin America and the Caribbean is the pay gap; women earning 19 percent less than men. While this is far from ideal, and still a major injustice for women, when compared to the global pay-discrepancy average of 24 percent, the figure is promising.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development.”

Furthermore, Latin America experienced the biggest growth in women's participation in the workforce compared to all regions around the globe, climbing from 40 to 54 percent between 1990 and 2013, but still below the participation of men, at 80 percent.

According to the U.N. report, this has a lot to do with the progressive policies and laws implemented by the region. For example, the document highlights that since 2014, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay have laws in place for equal remuneration for work of equal value, that is to say equal pay for men and women for the same job, as well as laws banning gender-based discrimination in hiring and sexual harassment in the workplace.

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“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s Minister of Social Development Alicia Kirchner, during the opening ceremony for the conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015,” held in Buenos Aires this week.

A further example of positive gender equality initiatives has been strengthened minimum wages in the region, especially when they extend to informal employment which accounts for 59 percent of women’s jobs. Currently Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru all stipulate that the minimum wage covers these jobs.

In Latin America 17 out of 100 working women are employed in the domestic sector, traditionally not covered by labor laws. But eight out of 17 countries that have ratified the International Labour Organization's Domestic Workers Convention requiring countries to extend basic labor rights to domestic workers, like overtime pay and annual paid leave, are in Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Plurinational State of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay now offer minimum wages and safe working conditions to domestic employees.

But although women are beginning to see a pick up in conditions in paid jobs, those that carry out care work at home are still being overlooked.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress.”

It explains how although economic policies are working toward greater equality, women are still not empowered by them, and effectively punished for much of the vital paid, and unpaid services they give to society.

“If the economy worked for women, their life choices would not be constrained by gender stereotypes, stigma and violence; women could carry out their work without fear of sexual harassment or violence; and the paid and unpaid work that they do would be respected and valued,” said U.N. Women’s Carvalho. “We urgently needed a transformative agenda that allows greater equality and redistribution to build economies that work for women and men equally. Our region is moving forward, but we need to accelerate the pace towards substantive equality.”

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Women still carry the burden of unpaid care work, like looking after elderly or sick relatives, two to five times more than men. This is a great disadvantage for women, as according to the U.N., this “limits their educational and employment opportunities, and leaves them less time for rest, leisure or political participation.”

U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka explained that where society or the state is not stepping in to give women a hand is when they suffer the harshest inequality: “We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security and independence.”

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