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LATIN AMERICA: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle… Forfeits Equal Pay

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Dec 12 2007 (IPS) - To avoid reproducing gender inequality, governments should implement integrated policies that recognise, for instance, the unpaid work done by women, according to an ECLAC report on the fulfilment of the third Millennium Development Goal (MDG).

The eight MDGs were agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2000, nearly all of them to be met by 2015, taking 1990 indicators as their baseline.

The first MDG is to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger. Others are to achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and create a global partnership for development.

The third MDG is to promote gender equality and empower women, in three dimensions: economic, political and physical, including combating gender-based violence and ensuring sexual and reproductive rights.

The target spelt out for this MDG is to “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.”

The four indicators to measure progress are the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education, the ratio of literate women to men in the 15-24 age group, the share of women in waged employment in the non-agricultural sector, and the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments.


“The official indicators show that some progress has been made on the third MDG in Latin America and the Caribbean, but it’s too little and too slow,” the head of the Women and Development Unit of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Sonia Montaño, told IPS.

The expert said that “we need to pay attention to the other dimensions” addressed in the report titled “Millennium Development Goals 2006: A Look at Gender Equality and Women’s Autonomy”, launched in Santiago on Tuesday.

The 151-page report by ECLAC and other U.N. agencies analyses three complementary and seven supplementary indicators for the third MDG, in addition to the four official indicators.

The indicators for the third MDG show some progress, especially in education and women in parliament, but a broader view shows a more complex situation, said José Luis Machinea, executive secretary of ECLAC, at the presentation of the report.

Among the complementary and supplementary indicators studied are women’s employment in low productivity sectors, the wage gap between men and women, and the number of hours a day devoted to homemaking tasks.

The effect that quota laws have had on the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women, unsatisfied demand for family planning services, the percentage of unwanted pregnancies, and cases of physical, sexual or psychological violence against women are also examined.

In 2004, most of the region’s countries had achieved gender parity in primary education, while at secondary and tertiary levels, more females than males were enrolled, the report says.

The employment situation is not so favourable: women’s participation in non-agricultural jobs increased from 38 percent to 48 percent between 1990 and 2004. But on average, 40 percent of urban women and 53 percent of rural women lacked an income of their own in 2005, and women’s wages were 30 percent lower than men’s.

About 30 percent of households in 12 countries in the region were headed by women in 2005. The proportion was 36 percent in extremely poor households, and they had less disposable income to meet the basic needs of their families than extremely poor households headed by men.

There are more women living below the poverty line than men. The report also says that the gender inequality of poverty has increased, from 108 to 112 women in poor households for every 100 men, between 1994 and 2005.

Describing the profile of women on low incomes, Machinea said that a greater proportion of single, widowed and separated or divorced women, and of those living in single parent households, are poor.

What is the most outstanding feature of the report? “I think this is the first time that women’s unpaid work has been seen as a central factor of development,” Montaño told IPS.

According to the study, 27 percent of women in the region are homemakers, while 13 percent of those who work outside their homes do domestic work. Their average pay for that work is equivalent to 40 percent of the income other women derive from their jobs.

“One of the good things about the report is that it shows that unless public policies recognise the domestic work of women, and create equal conditions for men and women in the labour market, gender inequality will continue to be reproduced,” Montaño said.

The report says that unpaid work and caring for others, roles that are socially assigned to women, are one of the main factors producing inequality between the sexes, as they affect both the private and public lives of women.

The public policies recommended in the document are to strengthen public services provision for the care of children and the sick or disabled, correct the existing bias in labour legislation on maternity leave and childcare, which currently applies only to women, and reform social security systems so that unpaid caretaker work is recognised in social protection and old age pension schemes.

The report also recommends ratifying and applying International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 156 on workers with family responsibilities.

Montaño stressed “Chile’s efforts to incorporate a gender perspective in its present reform of the social security system,” which includes, for instance, a minimum pension for homemakers aged 65 and over.

This provision, and others aimed at improving conditions for women when they retire, are part of a draft law sent by the government of President Michelle Bachelet to Congress, where it is being debated.

As for women’s reproductive rights, Montaño said she thought the main problem is “access to services.”

“Most countries, with only a few exceptions, recognise the right to family planning, but there are many religious, institutional and financial obstacles which prevent many women from gaining access to these services,” she said.

Finally, the region is performing well in terms of women’s participation in parliaments.

Having progressed from 12 percent of seats occupied by women in 1997 to 20 percent in 2006, Latin America and the Caribbean is second only to the industrialised regions, where the average is 21.1 percent. The report says that countries with quota laws generally achieve higher levels of women in parliament.

 
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