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“The Debt is Owed to Women: We Must Break Statistical Silence and Progress toward a Care Society” - Alicia Bárcena

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28 March 2022|Press Release

Today, the ECLAC Executive Secretary, along with the Minister of Women, Genders, and Diversity of Argentina, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, participated in the Debt, Genders, and Care Seminar held in Buenos Aires. This was her final public activity as leader of the regional organization of the United Nations after nearly fourteen years.


foto de los participantes en el evento
De izquierda a derecha: Mario Cimoli, Secretario Ejecutivo Adjunto de la CEPAL; Marita Perceval, Secretaria de Políticas de Igualdad y Diversidad de Argentina; Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, Ministra de las Mujeres, Géneros y Diversidad de Argentina; Alicia Bárcena, Secretaria Ejecutiva de la CEPAL; Martín Abeles, Director de la Oficina de la CEPAL en Buenos Aires; y Ana Güezmes, Directora de la División de Asuntos de Género de la CEPAL.
Foto: Cortesía del Ministerio de las Mujeres, Géneros y Diversidad de Argentina.

We must break statistical silence, raise the visibility of monetary management of care faced by women, reverse debt associated with care at home, and close gender gaps regarding access to and use of the financial system to guarantee the economic autonomy of women in the region’s countries, stated Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) at the Debt, Genders, and Care Seminar, jointly organized by the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity of Argentina, the United Nations System in Argentina and ECLAC. The Seminar was inaugurated this Monday, 28 March, 2022 in Buenos Aires.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant number of women leaving the labor force. Labor market participation by women in Latin America and the Caribbean suffered an eighteen-year setback in 2020, dropping to 47.7%. It is estimated that this figure was as high as 50% in 2021, which means that 1 in 2 women is still outside the job market,” indicated Bárcena, who participated in the closing comments on the first day of the seminar, along with the Minister of Women, Genders, and Diversity, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta. This was her final public activity as the leader of ECLAC before her announced retirement this Thursday, 31 March, 2022, and she received warm recognition from the authorities and other participants in the event.

In addition, unemployment at the regional level in 2021 affected 11.8% of women, 3.7 percentage points above the rate of unemployment for men (8.1%), according to ECLAC data.

“Official assistance by governments for the crisis were significant in 2020, but in 2021, they were cut by half, and in 2022, we are very concerned about fiscal adjustments, greater debt, and the increase in inflation” that are being observed throughout the region and that particularly affect poorer households and women, who are overrepresented in some of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic, which have not fully recovered, including tourism, manufacturing, commerce, and paid domestic work, Bárcena noted.

For her part, Minister Gómez Alcorta proposed that the unjust organization of care is one cause of the feminization of poverty, and that the COVID-19 crisis deepened the care crisis and made it more visible. “Women, lesbians, gays, transvestites, and trans and intersex people are affected the most when the State shrinks, when there is no economic growth, and when a country takes on debt. The women’s movement in Argentina has been taking to the streets for a long time with a phrase on their lips: ‘the debt is owed to women.’ Every 8 March, we say again and again that we are owed years of unpaid domestic work and care, we are owed billions of pesos for the lower salaries we receive for doing the same work as our male colleagues, we are owed rights, education, healthcare, but, above all, we are owed time: for leisure, pleasure, and personal development.”

The two-day event included the presentation and discussion of a series of studies carried out by ECLAC in conjunction with the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity and other Argentine institutions on gender inequality in the organization, execution, and financial management of care, within the framework of the United Nations project on “Socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic from a gender perspective,” financed by the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF).

According to Bárcena, these studies provide new sources of information and methodologies that can be replicated at the regional level and that show “that the homes most exposed to taking on debt are those that take on the most care work. Women are the most exposed to financial vulnerability. The studies show that women not only organize care but also manage money and pay additional costs for care (such as food and public services). This information crossover is what allows us to understand the connections between inequalities related to gender, income, care, and debt that characterize our region.”

The Executive Secretary indicated that “we must design a system of social co-responsibility for care. That is the key. To push forward transformative recovery with sustainability and gender equality, the Finance ministries must become involved in these issues.”

“From ECLAC, we call for financial education to deconstruct the gender stereotypes that naturalize women’s responsibility for care work and related financial management. We also call for breaking statistical silence and moving forward in building evidence on the importance of gender equality and analyzing women’s interaction with financial and non-financial organizations,” she stated.

During the seminar, Bárcena noted the Argentine government’s construction of a highly innovative tool in the region, the Federal Care Map, completed in conjunction with ECLAC. It is, she said, “a breakthrough that is not only available to citizens but has also become a resource for planning policy on infrastructure, care services, and the education of workers in the sector.”

Both Alicia Bárcena and Minister Gómez Alcorta highlighted the XV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean planned for this November in Argentina, organized by ECLAC in coordination with UN Women. Its central topic will be “The care society: a horizon for sustainable recovery with gender equality.”

“We must eliminate the culture of privilege and end the patriarchy. The debt is owed to women. On this path to the XV Conference on Women, which I am sure will be transformative, let us make a necessary shift toward a different development style that recognizes the interdependence between people and places the sustainability of human life and the planet at the center. Let us women move forward together toward sustainable, inclusive, and resilient recovery. Because post-pandemic recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean will be feminist, or it will be nothing at all,” Bárcena concluded.