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Alicia Bárcena Calls for Overcoming the Structural Constraints of Gender Inequality and Building Care Societies for a More Egalitarian, Sustainable and Resilient Future

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary delivered a virtual keynote lecture in the framework of a series entitled Post-2030: Women Leaders for a Sustainable Future, organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

20 May 2021|Press Release

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Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC's Executive Secretary.
Photo: ECLAC.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, called today for overcoming the structural constraints of inequality that impair women’s economic, physical and political autonomy, and for building care societies to attain a more egalitarian, sustainable and resilient future, during a virtual keynote lecture organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

“The post-pandemic recovery must overcome the four structural constraints of gender inequality: socioeconomic inequality and poverty; the sexual division of labor; the concentration of power; and patriarchal cultural patterns,” Alicia Bárcena affirmed in a presentation she made in the framework of the “Post-2030: Women Leaders for a Sustainable Future” series, organized by UNAM’s University Coordination for Sustainability, in collaboration with that educational institution’s General Directorate for Community Affairs.

The opening segment of the lecture was led by Enrique Graue, Rector of UNAM; Alberto Ken Oyama Nakagawa, that university’s Institutional Development Secretary; and Alexandra Aguilar, Coordinator of the University Office for Sustainability.

In her keynote lecture, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened Latin America and the Caribbean’s structural problems with regard to inequality, informality and poverty, impairing women’s economic, physical and political autonomy.

“The pandemic magnified the unfair sexual division of labor and the social organization of care, with a ten-year setback in women’s labor inclusion and an unequal impact on young people and, above all, informal workers. There is an overrepresentation of women in poor households, greater unemployment and expulsion from the workforce, informality and barriers to accessing financial services, as well as digital gaps,” she warned.

The senior United Nations official specified that 14 million women of working age left their jobs due to the pandemic’s effects in 9 countries of the region. ECLAC proposes ensuring an emergency basic income for them for 3 and 6 months, equivalent to one poverty line.

She added that 56.9% of women work in sectors with the highest risk of employment loss, informality and low wages, and less than 45% have access to social security. She noted that the health sector is very emblematic in the region because female workers account for 73.2% of the labor force. In the case of the education sector, women represent 70.4%.

She underscored that lower income women face a dual obstacle: the lack of economic autonomy and the gap in Internet access. She said that in the region, 39% of women do not have their own income, while 46 million households have no Internet connection. That is why ECLAC proposes providing a basic digital basket that would enable strengthening skills for technology use and tearing down socioeconomic barriers. One out of every 4 women in the region would benefit from this, she indicated.

Alicia Bárcena affirmed that mainstreaming a gender perspective in all the policies aimed at a post-pandemic recovery is necessary but not enough to achieve women’s economic, physical and political autonomy with affirmative actions in the areas of taxation, employment, and productive, economic and social policies.

Thus, in order to achieve a transformative recovery with gender equality, ECLAC proposes a fiscal compact for equality, an inclusive digital transformation, a productive recovery with employment for women, urban planning, and strengthening the care economy sector as a driving force.

“Investing in the care economy has multiplier effects on well-being, the redistribution of time and income, labor participation, growth and tax collection,” she stated.

Finally, ECLAC’s highest authority urged for moving towards new social compacts for equality and sustainability in times of pandemic, centered on well-being and rights and based on a broad and participatory dialogue to achieve structural change.

“The pandemic is a critical juncture that is redefining what is possible. Social discontent demands that we leave the culture of privilege behind. The new social compacts necessitate fiscal compacts that promote progressive and sustainable taxation for well-being,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, in his opening speech, the Rector of UNAM, Enrique Graue, warned that the patriarchal society has devastated the planet and a new social compact is indispensable today for the well-being of future generations, with the aim of fully achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

He added that if we are able to convey the need for all women to fully exercise their rights and their autonomy – especially the right to equal participation – we will have ever more plentiful and better tools for attaining a sustainable future.