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FEATURE STORY

International Women’s Day: Inequalities still present in Latin America, despite significant gains

March 8, 2013

Women have been integral in stimulating economic growth in the region in the past two decades.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Despite significant gains in education and healthcare, gender equality in Latin America remains a mixed picture.
  • In the last 20 years, over 70 million women have joined the workforce, reducing extreme poverty in the region by 30% in the past decade.
  • Domestic and gender violence rates throughout the region remain high.

Women are proving to be Latin America’s best partner in the region’s quest for economic growth for all. Millions of families have been saved from poverty thanks to the region’s women. With more than 70 million joining the workforce over the past 20 years, their income alone reduced extreme poverty by 30%. And by proving themselves to be less vulnerable during the last financial crisis than their male counterparts, women have been pivotal in shaping the region’s development over the past decade..

“It is very clearly shown in the 2012 World Development Report, gender equality is not just imperative from an ethical standpoint, it is also smart economics,”  explains Elizaveta Perova, Economist and Regional Gender Coordinator for the World Bank in Latin America and Caribbean.

Indeed proof of this is seen throughout the Bank’s work in the region. Making a conscious effort to ensure projects don’t exacerbate existing inequalities, many projects have seen gender equality improve as a result. For example:

  • Involving women in a rural infrastructure project in Peru led to more small and medium businesses in the area as they use their new skills to improve economic opportunities.
  • Freed from the daily burden of fetching water, women in north-east Brazil have been able to reinvest this time and increase their family's’ income.
  • An opportunity to start their own business has enabled women in Guatemala to challenge patriarchal structures and play an important role in their town’s development.


Challenging stereotypes

With as many girls in Latin America finishing primary school in 2011 as boys, the future is looking brighter for the next generation too. In Haiti, for example, young women are breaking down gender stereotypes and carving out an independent future for themselves in ‘non-traditional’ professions. With high-quality, technical training, over a thousand young women have been given chance to build themselves a career while changing attitudes to women in the workplace.

However, employment within the region is still far from equal. Women are overwhelmingly employed in the service sector, domestic services and not within the high tech, construction or skilled fields. Furthermore, a persistent wage gap, particularly in Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Peru, means male professionals can earn up to a quarter more than their female counterparts.

“Labor force participation among women increased dramatically, but the gender wage gap remains high, and women continue to work in traditional sectors, such as services. So there has been progress on one hand, but not sufficient to see the same labor opportunities,” clarifies Perova.

Open Quotes

Labor force participation among women increased dramatically, but the gender wage gap remains high, and women continue to work in traditional sectors, such as services. So there has been progress on one hand, but not sufficient to see the same labor opportunities Close Quotes

Elizaveta Perova
Economist and Regional Gender Coordinator for the World Bank in Latin America and Caribbean

Over the past 10 years, Latin America has made major headway in improving healthcare access, and a sustained focus on maternal care has had significant results. Across the region, maternal mortality dropped 30% between 1990 and 2005, helped by a 25% increase in the number of births attended by skilled health personnel in the same period.

Domestic Violence

Gender violence, however, remains a leading cause of injury to women. Worldwide, one in three women will become a victim of violence within her lifetime and in certain parts of Latin America, recent figures released by PAHO put this figure closer to one in two.  However, progress in tackling the issue differs greatly from country to country.

By improving infrastructure and passing innovative legislation to address violence in the home, Brazil has shown a strong commitment to eradicating this scourge. Seven years after passing the Maria da Penha law, the country has seen a 78% increase in the number of police stations and courts specialising in gender and domestic violence. However, with 29% of women reporting abuse, prevalence in the country is still high.

A new social media campaign, run via the World Bank’s channels, has highlighted his stark figure. In an attempt to break down societal stereotypes  they enlisted the help of male celebrities to reiterate the message that ‘real men don’t hit women.’ So far, the images have elicited a huge response, with over 3000 shares on Facebook alone and numerous fans adding their own images to the campaign via Twitter and Instagram.

These digital tools were also central to the first hackathon against domestic violence, held in six cities across Central America as well as Washington DC at the beginning of the year. For 36 hours straight, more than 300 hackers gave up their weekend, collaborating with experts in the field, to design and develop digital solutions to some of the most common problems facing victims in the region.

Pushing through reforms, contributing to economic development and lifting their families out of poverty, women in Latin America have been monumental in shaping the continent over the past decade. However, with discrimination still rife in many sectors, true gender equality remains a challenge for the region.