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LABOUR-URUGUAY: Women Still at a Disadvantage

Marta Moss

MONTEVIDEO, Jun 11 2010 (IPS) - In the world of labour in Uruguay there is one indicator in which women are ahead: unemployment.

The unemployment rate among women is twice that of men in this small South American country between Argentina and Brazil, and three times as high in some provinces, according to a study by the Gender Information System of the National Women’s Institute.

The report on “territorial-based gender indicators for the drafting of equity policies”, drawn up with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), found large gender disparities in this country of 3.3 million people, where the unemployment rate currently stands at just over six percent.

“There are alarming situations like in the departments (provinces) of Artigas (in the extreme north), Lavalleja and Rocha (in the east), where female unemployment reaches 15 percent,” Lucía Scuro, head of the Gender Information System, told IPS.

“Women are represented in two’s and three’s in a world of suits and ties,” said Carmen Beramendi, who headed the National Women’s Institute under the government of socialist President Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010), when the study was carried out.

“Power remains in the hands of men, not only in politics but in business management,” Beramendi told IPS. “The employment rate is higher for men than women in all 19 of the country’s departments.”

Scuro said “these indicators have to do with prejudice on the part of employers against hiring women of child-bearing age, and with the fact that women are responsible for most of the non-remunerated (household and child-rearing) work, which makes it difficult for them to take on other, paid, work.”

The Gender Map, drawn up by the Interdisciplinary Centre of Studies on Development (CIEDUR) with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), also shows that unemployment among women is between 60 and 80 percent higher than among men, although the gap has shrunk.

The gender bias affects the distribution of activities as well. According to the Gender Map, women workers are still concentrated in certain areas of the economy: retail (19.1 percent), domestic service (18.7 percent), industry (12.3 percent), social and health services (12.1 percent) and education (10.3 percent).

“Women continue to carry out jobs that are more stereotypically ‘female’ and that involve sectors where they can reconcile work and family. It’s a vicious circle that keeps them segregated,” CIEDUR researcher Soledad Salvador told IPS.

The basic divisions seen in domestic or household work are reproduced in the world of labour. “Men are still seen in the role of provider, and women in their child-rearing role, which is why they are more involved in social, educational and health areas, and in care-taking of children and others,” Beramendi said.

But although women have more years of education than men on average, they still earn less. “Uruguayan women earn 11 percent per hour less than men, on average. But the difference is 16 percent in Salto and 19 percent in Río Negro (two provinces in western Uruguay),” Scuro said.

The wage gap is higher than average in both the highest-paying and the lowest-paying jobs. Women not only run up against the famous “glass ceiling”, but they are also held back in their careers by the less well-known “sticky floor” syndrome.

“Men are promoted to better positions and are paid more because the idea is that they don’t have responsibilities outside of the workplace,” said Salvador. “It takes women longer to reach management or executive level posts.”

According to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Women 2009 report, in a majority of countries around the world, women’s wages represent between 70 and 90 percent of men’s wages, “with even lower ratios in some Asian and Latin American countries.”

In Scuro’s view, this global reality has to do with women’s reduced chances of promotion, compared to men.

“Women are rarely promoted to the top-earning jobs, and the overall salary mass of women is far below that of men,” she said.

Furthermore, in Latin America, the labour market participation of married women is lower than that of other women, which shows that family responsibilities discourage women’s insertion in the workforce, as indicated by data from the ILO and the Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training (CINTERFOR).

In addition, over half of all Latin American women who have paid employment work in the informal sector; women’s wages are hit harder by downwards adjustments; and women tend to have longer workdays. The situation is especially difficult for women of African descent, indigenous women, and poor women overall.

Nor are women equally represented in the leadership of Uruguay’s trade unions. CIEDUR’s Gender Map shows that women make up only 11 percent of the representative board of the country’s sole labour federation, the PIT-CNT, and a similar percentage of the collective bargaining units, made up of representatives of workers, business and government.

“The labour movement should take a close look at its gender policy, at the highest levels of the organisations,” Salvador said. “It’s not a question of a lack of effort on the part of women activists, but of a struggle for power, in which men do not want to give up their positions.”

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