Senior government officials along with representatives of international organizations, academia, women’s and feminist organizations, and civil society made an urgent call today for investing in the care economy in Latin America and the Caribbean, with emphasis on creating decent jobs for women, and for moving towards a care society to achieve a transformative and sustainable recovery with gender equality in the region, on the first day of the Sixty-first Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is taking place virtually through this Thursday, September 30.
The meeting, which features the participation of Ministers of Women’s Affairs and authorities from mechanisms for women’s advancement, is being organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which serves as the Technical Secretariat of the Conference, in coordination with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).
The participants in the opening session included Raúl García-Buchaca, ECLAC’s Deputy Executive Secretary for Management and Programme Analysis, speaking on behalf of Alicia Bárcena, the regional organization’s Executive Secretary; María-Noel Vaeza, Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean of UN Women; and Mónica Zalaquett, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Gender Equity of Chile, in her capacity as Chair of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Raúl García-Buchaca stressed that the COVID-19 crisis deepened gender inequalities in the region: women are overrepresented in unemployment, labor informality, poverty, domestic and care work, and on the front lines of response to the pandemic in the health sector, he specified.
“It is worth noting that 6 out of every 10 women in the region are concentrated in high-risk sectors affected by the pandemic, such as manufacturing, commerce, paid domestic work and tourism,” ECLAC’s representative said, warning that “we are facing a paradox in the recovery: even though a 2.2 percentage point increase can be seen in women’s labor participation rate, the projections for 2021 estimate that only men will return to pre-crisis levels, while women will scarcely reach the labor participation rate seen in 2008 (49.1%). We will still be at levels from 13 years ago.”
Raúl García-Buchaca advocated for the region’s countries to sustain expansionary fiscal policies and promote a new fiscal compact with gender equality, in order to contain the impact of the crisis on women’s lives and be able to invest in a strategic and revitalizing sector such as the care economy.
“The care society must be the horizon for a transformative and sustainable recovery with gender equality. We need an urgent shift in the development pattern to move towards a care society in which there is recognition of the interdependence of people; of productive processes and social reproduction; and that puts the sustainability of human life and that of the planet at the center,” he explained.
María-Noel Vaeza, Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean of UN Women, indicated that “the impact of the crisis continues to be patent, along with the disproportionate consequences for women and girls. That is why we must urgently incorporate gender equality and women’s participation into all recovery plans, into all decision-making processes aimed at comprehensive solutions for recovering from the pandemic, and also ensure that public policies are put in place that would facilitate the fulfillment of women’s human rights.”
“We at UN Women, and ECLAC, have been insisting on public policies that would be capable of responding to the crisis of care, work that already fell disproportionately to women before the pandemic and in which the gap has widened,” María-Noel Vaeza stated. “We believe that investment in care has a triple dividend: in human capital, in employment and in women’s participation in the working world,” the representative of UN Women sustained, adding that this is about “a new industry” that requires quality jobs in order to leave behind the informality that characterizes the sector.
Along similar lines, Minister Mónica Zalaquett expressed that “we have been witness to the fragility of the achievements on gender equality that had cost us dearly to make,” in reference to the plunge in female labor participation, the crisis of care, and the increase in violence against women.
“If the pandemic has left something positive behind, it is that it shed light on the relevance of care work, which historically has been rendered invisible, as the cornerstone of our societies,” she said. “Only through an injection of resources in the care economy, that energizes it and ensures its sustainability, can we overcome the structural constraints of gender inequality and move towards a care society,” she emphasized. In that regard, the Chilean Minister applauded the Federal Map of Care, an interactive website that allows for connecting citizens with the multiple care services available, both public and private, which was launched by the Government of Argentina in conjunction with ECLAC; and well as the Global Alliance for Care Work, promoted by the Government of Mexico, through INMUJERES and UN Women, in the framework of the Generation Equality Forum – among other initiatives that the region’s countries have carried out.
After the opening session, the high-level panel entitled “Towards a care society for recovery with gender equality and sustainability” took place, which included the participation of government authorities and representatives of international organizations, civil society and academia.
At that session, ECLAC presented the work document Towards a care society: The contributions of the Regional Gender Agenda to sustainable development, which calls for accelerating the pace towards economic, climate and gender justice, and moving towards a care society that would prioritize the sustainability of life and caring for the planet; guarantee the rights of people who need care and of those who give care; counteract the precariousness of jobs in the care sector; and render visible the multiplier effects of the care economy in terms of well-being and as a driving force for a transformative recovery with equality and sustainability.
During the Sixty-first Meeting of the Presiding Officers, participants will work on preparations for the Fifteenth Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be held in Argentina in 2022. In addition, they will report on the progress of the Regional Alliance for Women’s Digitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean – led by Chile, with technical support from ECLAC and UN Women – and on aspects related to the functioning of the Regional Fund in support of Women’s and Feminist Organizations and Movements, among other matters.