XIV Regional Conference on Women in LAC: Special session: Generation Equality: outlook and challenges for Beijing+25 in Latin America and the Caribbean

On Wednesday 29 January, I participated in the 14th Regional Conference on Women in LAC speaking in a special session on Generation Equality: outlook and challenges for Beijing +25 in LAC with Isabel Plá, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Gender Equity of Chile; Martha Delgado Peralta, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico; Damares Regina Alves, Minister of State for Women, the Family and Human Rights of Brazil; Harold Robinson, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary General of the Ibero-American Secretariat (SEGIB); Sharon Coburn Robinson, Director of the Bureau of Gender Affairs of Jamaica; Claribel Aparicio, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Integration of the Plurinational State of Bolivia; Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC. Please find below my remarks and input to the discussion.

Thank you, Minister Plá

I also want to thank Ms. Vaeza for her comprehensive presentation of the “Regional report on the review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in Latin American and Caribbean countries”.

A very meaningful report indeed to understand what the region as a whole upholds as its priority in achieving gender equality. The report shows that the region as a whole listed “violence against women”, “women in power and decision-making” and “women and the economy (women’s labour rights to work and the redistribution of care work)” as priorities, out of 12 critical areas of concerns in the Beijing Platform for Action.

Even at times of civil unrest, this region can still maintain its high political commitment to gender equality, thanks to instruments like the Beijing Platform for Action.

We have seen progress and challenges.

Let me first turn to violence against women, as all LAC countries have prioritised this area and because this is a major barrier to a peaceful future for women.

Indeed, over the course of the last 4 years, violence against women has decreased in the region.

Countries enacted stronger, wider, and better laws. In the last five years, four of them have passed comprehensive anti-violence laws (Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay). And in the past 25 years, all LAC countries have laws dealing with VAW. These new laws protect women from old forms of sexual violence such as femicide. For example, Ecuador, Brazio, Paraguay and Uruguay criminalized feminicide in the period 2014–2019. Today, 18 LAC countries defining feminicide as criminal offence and instituted the corresponding reforms of their penal codes. But laws also protected women from new forms of sexual harassment such as cyber-harassment.

Albeit all this progress and effort, violence against women still persists.  In 2018, 27% of the Latin American women have still suffered at least once in their life from intimate-partner violence.  In 2018, 12% of women in the region considered that a husband was justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances as trivial as burning the food or neglecting the care of the children.

A whole-of-society effort is needed. For example, toxic masculinity and women’s lack of self-confidence have to be tackled early on in our lives through education.

Development actors also need to take part in preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and violence of all kind. This is why the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) created the  Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance (adopted in July 2019). This Recommendation is the first international standard to guide donors, governments and stakeholders in fostering organisational change and leadership in the provision of international aid.

Another area of priority for the region is women’s access to leadership and decision-making, and here, we see tremendous progress in the region.

Four countries from the region (Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico) are among the top 10 countries worldwide in female representation in national parliaments. And on average, 25% of the region’s parliamentarians are women, thanks mainly to the introduction of quotas [Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica]. Change is underway and the structure of power is shifting towards a more balanced and equal responsibilities between men and women. However, women are not thriving in the private sector. Women still only account for between 7.5% and 15% of seats on boards of largest publicly listed companies. This is well below the OECD average of 22%.

Adopting softer approaches using disclosure or targets could bring a more gradual increase in representation in boards over time compared to the more immediate increase in countries adopting quotas (from OECD countries’ experience).

What about women’s labour rights and redistribution of care work?

In Latin America, labour market segregation and the overburden of unpaid work for women continue to have repercussions on access to social protection.

Great progress has been made in promoting the education and employment of women. For every 100 females, 96 males completed primary, 94 completed lower secondary and 91 completed upper secondary education. Women’s participation in the labour market has increased in the LAC region from 40% in 1990 to 54% 2013.

Yet, when you look at the gender gaps, we find that fewer women are given the opportunity to participate in the labour market (gender gap at 27%), let alone access to quality jobs (women earn 16% less than men on average). Women are often engaged in economic sectors that are largely concentrated in informality and unsupported by public policies. But gaps remain – in participation rates and other labour market outcomes. 32% of women in the region still had no personal income in 2015.

More fundamentally, unfair share of unpaid care and domestic work have hindered women’s access to economic opportunities outside of the household.

The increase of female participation in the labour market in the LAC region (from 40% in 1990 to 54% 2013) has not translated into substantial transfers of women’s unpaid care work in the household onto men, which results in women now working more hours in total – paid and unpaid. Women in LAC spend over 3 times more in unpaid care activities than men[1].

It spans from 2.2 times more than men in El Salvador to 5.8 times more than men in Guatemala.

Even when both parents participate in housework, women still take most of the burden: For example, in Peru, women spend an average of 15 hours per week cooking, compared to less than 5 hours for men. This is despite the fact that gender equality and women’s empowerment are key enablers for accelerating growth and sustainable development. For example, half of the growth in OECD countries between 1960-2010 was due to increased educational attainment, especially among women.

Addressing unpaid care work is recognised as a political imperative for achieving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and highlighted as SDG target 5.4.

The OECD identified a range of policy changes needed in the areas of public services, social protection and infrastructure. Policies can help in ensuring well-paid father-specific parental leave and improving the availability of good quality and affordable early childhood education and care (ECEC).

We need to ensure the affordability of market-based solutions to infrastructure and care services. And we need to design services and products that work for women and carers, including labour saving technologies.

Awareness-raising and media campaigns can increase understanding of unpaid care work and gender stereotypes more generally. Training for service providers can also be effective, for example training of healthcare providers to encourage men’s involvement at the critical time just before and after childbirth.

Achieving gender equality is fundamentally a matter of fairness, but it is also a critical ingredient for the achievement of a more inclusive and sustainable growth. 

As our work shows, even halving the gender gap in labour force participation by 2025 would increase GDP per capita by 0.2 percentage points across OECD countries. The benefits are potentially greater for countries in the region.

We could expect the increase of the regional annual GDP by 3.6 percentage points, if there is a gradual and total elimination of gender-based discrimination by 2030.

If Mexico, for example, were to halve its gender gap in labour force participation rate by 2025, annual GDP per capita growth will be 0.7 percentage points higher than the baseline model.

In Chile and Brazil, we gains would also be significant if the gap was closed!

And as populations age, it will become more important than ever for our economies that women are able to fully participate in the labour market throughout their life course, to support the labour force and higher retirement incomes. It is also important that women are not penalized for having children.

In the Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now (2012), for example, the OECD found that women over 65 are about 1.5 times more likely to live in poverty than men of the same age, in part because women generally spend less time in paid work because of childrearing and raising and are more likely to work part-time.

To close these gaps, we need action at the country level, at the regional level and at the global level.

The OECD has long championed the cause of gender equality, notably through the 2013 and the 2015 Gender Recommendations which proposed concrete measures to promote gender equality. Since then, we have assessed the progress of adhering countries in implementing these recommendations.

The results of these assessments, in particular, have demonstrated the importance of sound public governance. Meaningful changes on the ground require whole-of-government commitments to translate public policies, programmes, and budgets into concrete benefits for all men and women.

We have also contributed to advancing the G20 target to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25% by 2025. We continue to monitor progress on this target today – and what we find is that even more needs to be done to empower women and close gender gaps.

We have set up an Equal Pay International Coalition together with the ILO and UN Women to support not only governments, but also employers and workers, in achieving equal pay for work of equal value.

More fundamentally, we must break down gender bias, gender-discriminating norms and institutions and other invisible barriers.

This is why the OECD has the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), which will launch its LAC regional report next year, to look at how social institutions shape women’s lives, and to identify what is driving various forms of discrimination.

Female role models are also important in showing women what they can be.

And let’s not forget about the economic case of women’s economic empowerment.  

According to SIGI, discriminatory social institutions come with a huge cost.

Current level of discrimination in laws and social norms induces an income loss of USD 6 trillion, which is equivalent to 7.5% of global income! We could expect the increase of the regional annual GDP by 3.6 percentage points, if there is a gradual and total elimination of gender-based discrimination by 2030.

Imagine the potential for growth that remains to be unlocked in Latin America, where only 33% of women were in paid employment in 2016[2].

For the upcoming LAC Regional SIGI report, we will introduce four key dimensions that affect the life cycle of any women and girls: family (incl. girl child marriage and responsibility within the household); physical integrity (incl. VAW and reproductive rights); access to productive and financial resources; and civic liberty (incl. political representation and access to justice).

Here, let me express my personal appreciation for the remarkable leadership role that ECLAC is playing in pressing the LAC countries to develop policies that make significant leaps forward in the matter of gender equity.

We look forward to collaborating with ECLAC to put our expertise and policy analysis at the disposal of the Latin America countries and to inform and support their gender equality priorities to build more prosperous and inclusive societies.

The case for gender equality is clear, and we should capitalise on building momentum and countries’ actions to promote fairer, more inclusive societies.

A difficult road lies ahead. Multiple challenges remain. But I am delighted to see that Latin America is making gender equality a national and regional priority.

25 years in from Beijing, we reaffirm our commitment and pass the baton to the youth – through the Generation Equality Forum –to keep the momentum alive, and the OECD looks forward to working as a partner.

Thank you.

[1] Across the region, women spend between two to three times more time on unpaid care activities than men  (ECLAC, 2017), pointing to the persistent perception of women as primary caregivers (OECD, 2016)

[2] OECD Gender Data Portal.

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