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Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean

Autor institucional: NU. CEPAL. Unidad Mujer y Desarrollo Physical Description: 130 páginas. Editorial: ECLAC Date: August 2007 ECLAC symbol: LC/L.2738(CRM.10/3)


Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean. El aporte de las mujeres a la igualdad en América Latina y el Caribe. La contribution des femmes à l'égalité en Amérique latine et dans les Caraïbes. A Comissão Econômica para a América Latina e o Caribe

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has been monitoring progress of gender-sensitive public policies for more than a decade. Faithful to its mandate, ECLAC has proposed a rights-based development framework in order to produce positive synergies between economic growth and social equity in a context of modernization of production processes. In the last few years, the Commission has drawn attention to the need to upgrade social protection and ensure universal coverage, the fundamental aim being to establish a fiscal and social covenant which will allow access to social protection mechanisms underpinned by a solidarity-based system of financing. Against this background, Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean brings to the fore two key issues in the structural pattern of inequality between women and men: first, political participation and gender parity in decision-making processes at all levels, and, second, Women's contribution to the economy and social protection, especially in relation to unpaid work. At the tenth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, as an indication of the progress achieved, the issue of parity will be analysed as an achievable democratic objective. Although there is evidence in all countries of the region of the considerable role played by women throughout political history and, above all, in the past twenty years, the statistics relating to female representation in parliament and in the executive point to the challenge that the political elites of the region must address in order to improve gender balance. The emergence of female leaders within the region, the increasingly independent electoral behaviour of women and the support received by women candidates from female voters are part of the new democratic landscape. Parity is one of the symbols of the new democracies and is presented as an ethical resource for strengthening the legitimacy of democratic institutions. Section one of this document shows conclusively that women, while accounting for half of the population, have very low rates of representation in most parliaments. Similar discrepancies are visible in the other powers of the State and at decision-making levels as a whole. While the right to vote was won over a period of three decades, between the 1920s and the 1960s, it took almost fifty years to establish Women's right to be actually elected and only in the last few years of the twentieth century was there any significant increase in the number of women elected to public office, mainly thanks to affirmative action, including quota laws, which fortunately have been gaining ground. All the countries that have adopted quota laws have had positive results, as proven by the fact that in some of them the proportion of women elected to public office has increased to around 40%. However, different studies show that, in addition to electoral system reforms, a number of aspects of the political culture which cause discriminatory biases need to be changed. These include inequitable access to financing, the unequal influence of social networks and unfair use of time, which, as shown in the second section of this study, constrains women to focus on reproductive tasks. In the region, Women's labour income is equivalent to 70% that of men. Despite this disadvantage, Women's contribution is fundamental for alleviating poverty, whether they earn a monetary income or contribute to the home through unremunerated labour; indeed, this contribution becomes a reproductive tax, permitting savings on health costs, childcare and care for older persons in the family, to cite just the most obvious examples. As this study demonstrates, this contribution by women to wellbeing becomes the source of the disadvantages they suffer when they seek to join the labour force in an effort to gain economic independence. The situation is even more serious in the case of women with partners and small children to take care of who are forced to put off further training and access to the labour market and who, as a result, have to do without the social protection that is part and parcel of this labour market. The results obtained in five countries of the region demonstrate that men spend almost the same number of hours on unpaid housework, whether or not there is a "homemaker". On the other hand, for the women of these same households, there is an important difference: the fact that another person carries out domestic chores reduces substantially the time that they spend on such chores. All women, irrespective of their employment status, devote a significant amount of time to caregiving, which proves how inappropriate it is to describe a homemaker as "non-working". The difficulty experienced by women in finding a suitable position in the labour market extends to their life as citizens and the world of politics in which, as already mentioned, notwithstanding some advances in the past decade, they have achieved a minority representation in parliament, in the executive branch and in other powers of the State. This document highlights the possibilities of generating virtuous circles that favour universal access to social protection, provided that policies are implemented to promote equality in the labour market, the family and politics. A number of countries have made commendable efforts in this direction. According to available information, only measures geared explicitly to achieving equality in the public and private spheres will be successful in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and particularly, goal 3, which is to promote gender equality and empower women. Women's contribution to equality in Latin America and the Caribbean sets out active policies for overcoming the obstacles to equitable access to the labour market, especially those arising from the sexual division of labour which has become established through usage and the frequent discriminatory practices observed on the labour market. The abundant quantitative evidence collected and analysed points conclusively to the need for policies that foster shared responsibility between men and women in caring for members of the household, especially children, as well as for more comprehensive public action (by the State and the business sector) to facilitate the work of caring for the sick, older persons and the disabled. Lastly, it should be noted that this document is part of a long ECLAC tradition which has sought to promote genuine gender equality within the framework of its efforts to reduce inequity in the different spheres of economic, social and political life in our region.