Inter Press Servicecolumns – Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Unemployment and the Informal Economy – Key Challenges for Women in Latin America Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:54:57 +0000 Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs This op-ed article by José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, regional director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, is part of the special IPS coverage on the occasion of International Women’s Day, celebrated March 8.

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Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

Two women working in a textile plant in the capital of Colombia. Nearly half of women of working age in Latin America and the Caribbean, 126 million, form part of the labour force. But they face a growing rate of unemployment, which could climb above 10 percent this year, a level not seen in two decades. Credit: J. Bayona/OIT

By Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs
LIMA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

The participation of women in the labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean has steadily grown over the last few decades. But in 2017, as unemployment and informal work are on the rise, there is a continued need to push hard for gender equality in order to create more and better employment for the 255 million women of working age in this region.

Almost half of these women, 126 million, are already part of the labour force – a very important achievement that took many years to reach. Once more, however, it must be stressed that we cannot let down our guard.

Over the past year, as the wave of slow growth and in some cases of economic contraction which struck the region impacted on the labour market, generating a sharp rise in unemployment and also a decline in the quality of employment with respect to some indicators, it has become evident that this situation affects women to a larger extent.

The regional average unemployment rate for women shot up to levels not seen for over a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 9.8 per cent – on the brink of two digits. If projections of slow economic growth for this year prove correct, the average rate could climb above 10 per cent in 2017.

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: ILO

The unemployment rate for women grew 1.6 percentage points, compared to 1.3 percentage points for men. Of the five million people who joined the ranks of the unemployed, 2.3 million were women. This means that about 12 million women are actively looking for work, without success..

The participation of women in the labour force has continued to expand over the last year. At a national level (rural+urban), women’s participation has gone from 49.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. An increase is always good news. However, it still remains well below the participation of men, which is 74.6 per cent.

The downside was that the demand for labour fell from 45.2 to 44.9 per cent in the case of women. It also dropped in the case of men, although the level remains much higher, at 69.3 per cent.
The latest ILO (International Labour Organisation) Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean also noted that the decline in economic activity has been reflected in a drop in the number of wage-earners, a rise in the number of self-employed workers, and a decrease in formal sector wages, all of which are signs of an increase in labour informality.

The most recent estimates available regarding informality among women indicate that almost half of the female labour force works under these conditions, which generally mean labour instability, low incomes, and a lack of protection and rights.

Several aspects to be taken into account when analysing women’s labour participation have been identified, such as the fact that about 70 per cent of women who work do so in the retail trade and services sector, often in precarious conditions, for example, without contracts.

In addition, 17 million women in the region work as domestics. Women make up 90 per cent of domestic workers. In this sector, the levels of informality are still very high, around 70 per cent.

This description of the characteristics of women’s insertion in the labour market would not be complete without pointing out a notable aspect mentioned by the regional report on “Decent work and gender equality” by several United Nations agencies presented in 2013: in this region, 53.7 per cent of female workers have more than ten years of formal education, in contrast to just 40.4 per cent of men.

Moreover, 22.8 per cent of women in the labour force have tertiary education (complete or incomplete), by comparison to 16.2 per cent of men.

However, this does not prevent the persistence of a significant wage gap. A report by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) noted that in 2016, according to available data, women earned 83.9 per cent of what men earned in similar jobs. The gap is still wider among men and women with higher educational levels.

These figures should serve as a wake-up call.

This issue is already part of the sustainable development goals set for all countries in the 2030 Agenda. Particularly, in Goal #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and is key for Goal #8 on economic growth and decent work. For the ILO, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective, present in all its activities.

We are facing a structural challenge, which must involve economic, social, and, as we know, cultural changes as well. It is necessary for governments as well as social actors to make the achievement of greater equality between men and women a top priority.

Formulas have to be sought to improve women’s productivity, stimulating their participation in more dynamic sectors, of medium to high productivity, while at the same time identifying the causes of labour market segregation.

To continue advancing towards equality in the labour market, it is necessary to resort to a combination of actions aiming at gender equality, including: active employment policies; network and infrastructure for caregiving and new policies for services for child care and care of dependent persons; strategies to promote the division of household responsibilities; improved education and vocational training; incentives for women entrepreneurs; increased social security coverage; and determined action to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the workplace.
Equality in employment remains one of the most important challenges for achieving a better future for workers in the region.

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No One Is Indispensable in a Democracy Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:15:54 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez In this column, two-time Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Oscar Arias sets forth his reasons for not accepting the implicit and explicit invitation from large sections of society to run for president for a third time.

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Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSÉ, Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

I have put a great deal of thought into whether or not to return to politics. Groups from different political parties, and without party affiliation, have expressed their concern over the current situation in the country and have offered me their support. And the opinion polls indicate that I would have a chance at a third presidential term.

The support of so many people fills me with gratitude. There is no greater reward for me than feeling the confidence and trust of the Costa Rican people, because it is based on deeds and actions, on knowing me for over 45 years, and knowing that, with all my defects, I always say what I think and do what I say.

The approval of my first two administrations is a reflection of what we managed to do together. In the 1980s, we brought peace to a region crushed by war, and we thus put Costa Rica on the world map.

Ten years ago, we inserted our small country in the international economy, and we put it on the map again when the United Nations approved the Arms Trade Treaty, Costa Rica’s biggest contribution to humanity in its entire history.

For many months I have weighed the contribution that I can still make, serving Costa Rica once again, against the need to give a boost to the emergence of a new generation of Costa Rican leaders. And I’m not thinking about the next four years. I’m thinking about the next 40. I have enough strength and enough ideas to serve them again. But I also know I’m not indispensable. No one is indispensable in a democracy.

This is something I have said many times: one of the main obligations of a political leader is to foster new leadership. The future of a country depends on the continuous emergence of new cadres willing to take up the baton. Only tyrants cling to power.

Democrats, of whom I am one, understand the importance of stepping aside. I believe the next generations must be given space, and this is the main reason for not running again for president.

The second reason arises from the political ungovernability in Costa Rica. The opposition doesn’t bother me; on the contrary, I have always believed that in a democracy if there is no opposition, it has to be created. I believe a good government requires someone on the other side of the sidewalk, reminding it of its commitments and holding it accountable.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the opposition in our country which, instead of demanding that the government in office make good on its promises, uses any tool to keep it from doing so. Rather than allowing it to implement the government plan that voters supported at the polls, they spend four years carrying out a continuous election campaign, standing in the way of progress in the direction that the people said they wanted.

On May 8, 2006, when my second government took office, I made the following appeal to Costa Ricans, which continues to apply today:

“I hope that we learn that no party or social segment has a monopoly on honesty, patriotism, good intentions and love for Costa Rica. I hope that we can understand that the responsible use of political power is much more than pointing things out, complaining, and hindering, and consists above all of engaging in dialogue, working together and building.

“I hope we will be able to tell the difference between adversaries and enemies; understand that willingness to compromise is not a sign of weakness, just as intransigence is not a sign of strength. I hope we can do away with the pettiness of our political debate, raise up our heads, look forward and think big.”

The third and last reason that pushes me to make this decision is that I think there are many ways to work for the people of Costa Rica. They say that someone who is only good at being president is not even good at that. That is, if you can only exert influence from the presidential seat, it will not be a strong influence.

I don’t plan to retire. I will continue to express my opinions about the way things are going in the country, and I will continue to support the causes I believe in: I always defended what I consider is best for our people, and above all, for the less fortunate.

I will continue to tirelessly advocate the need for Costa Rica to approve educational reforms that make it possible to boost the quality of education in our primary and secondary schools and our universities, such as dual education, evaluation of teachers and ensuring that our young people receive the skills needed to compete in today’s world.

I will continue to insist on the need for Costa Rica to modernise its economy, invest in infrastructure, insert itself even more in the global markets, significantly bolster its competitiveness and rev up its engines of productivity, the best instrument to reduce inequalities. And I will continue defending democracy, peace and disarmament, because the small size of our country should never be the measure of its moral authority.

I have decided not to run for a third presidential term because I believe that the main problem we are facing is medium- to long-term. If we don’t manage to elevate the quality of politics and increase interest in public service, if we fail to get the most capable, educated and honest people to participate in political life, the sustainability itself of our democratic system is at stake.

To preserve this way of life that we have enjoyed for years, we have to encourage young people to lay their hands on the helm of history.

This is a country of young people. It’s the new generations that have to fight for, and exercise, power. If they don’t like the direction the country is moving in, they should change it. You can do a lot of good outside of politics, but a country where everyone is outside politics is a country adrift.

Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, said “The greatest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they are governed by people who are.”

Young people must occupy their rightful place in decision-making. They should take the helm of this ship we call fatherland; it will go in the direction of their commitment, or their indifference. I hope the Costa Rica of the future will not be the fruit of their omission, but of the most determined transformative action!

My profound gratitude to everyone who has supported me. Thank you so much for your affection and your trust. Thanks so much for the people of Costa Rica, who continue to move me, to inspire me, and to give me reasons to believe that politics is an instrument for doing good, for achieving peace, for doing justice; that politics is the workshop of dreams where perhaps they can become more realistic, more precise, more concrete, but also the place where dreams can come true.

The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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The Next UN Secretary General Should Be a Woman – and Must Be a Feminist Wed, 03 Aug 2016 21:35:25 +0000 Winnie Byanyima Winnie Byanyima is Executive Director of Oxfam International.

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Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Winnie Byanyima
Oxford, UNITED KINGDOM, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The process for arguably the top political job on the planet is well underway.  And the time is right for a woman and a feminist to take the helm.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council is continuing its consideration of candidates for the next UN Secretary-General, with the next “straw poll” due to take place on Friday August 5th.

Backed by public debates and online campaigns, this selection process for the Secretary-General has been the most transparent and accessible yet – driven in part by tireless efforts from civil society.

But the decision to appoint essentially rests with the Security Council’s five permanent members in what has been, since 1946, a remarkably secretive selection procedure, one which has given us three Europeans, two Africans, two Asians and one Latin American – all men – in 70 years.

This process has never produced a female secretary general.

In 2006 the Secretary-General selection process included only one woman in seven candidates. This time round, half the current candidates are women. There is no shortage of talent. Yet the initial signs are not promising. The Security Council’s first straw poll on July 21st saw only one woman among the top five.

The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

The long selection process ahead must reverse this. The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Growing up as an activist under an oppressive dictatorship in Uganda, the UN was a friend to those of us who fought our way to freedom, as it was for the millions that joined decolonization struggles in the African continent. Today, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement agreed in 2015 are testament to the UN’s global role and reach, and a legacy of Ban Ki-moon’s outstanding leadership.

Yet the UN is failing to meet its founding tenets to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and uphold human rights for those who are powerless. For the UN’s new leader, reversing this sounds near-impossible amidst protracted conflicts, a lack of respect for international humanitarian law and a massive global displacement crisis.

Fulfilling the pledge to “leave no one behind is perhaps the biggest political challenge. The new Secretary-General must grapple with the spiralling crisis of extreme economic inequality that keeps people poor, undermines economic growth and threatens the health of democracies. And a low carbon pathway will not happen without strong UN leadership to drive drastic reductions from the richest in our societies, whose lifestyles are responsible for the majority of them.

Choosing a woman goes far beyond symbolism and political correctness. The discrimination of women and girls goes to the core of any and all analyses of the world’s economic, political and environmental problems.

A feminist woman Secretary-General will, by definition and action, ensure gender equality is put at the heart of peace, security and development. In doing so, she will truly champion the UN’s core values of human rights, equality and justice.

Such an appointment – far too long in coming – would fulfil promises given by world leaders 21 years ago at the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to nominate more women to senior posts in the UN. In the past decade, women have filled less than a quarter of senior roles at the organization, according to UN Women. Shockingly, as recently as last year women made up less than 17 percent of Under- and Assistant Secretary-General appointments.  

A new feminist UN Secretary General will ensure that more women serve as heads of UN agencies, peacekeeping missions, diplomatic envoys, and senior mediators who collectively can strengthen the global peace and security agenda. Without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power and a clear process to get there, gender equality, global security and peace will never be realized.

And it will take a woman feminist Secretary-General to advance the bold, comprehensive women’s human rights agenda in intergovernmental fora that is needed to address the multiple and intertwined challenges facing us in the 21st century. Only a woman feminist Secretary-General can ensure financial support reaches women’s rights movements – proven to have made progress on addressing the challenges of violence against women and girls, climate change, conflict and economic inequality. They can ensure that feminist and civil society movements are not just observers in policymaking, but active and equal participants.

She should, too, boost international efforts to empower women economically – thus strengthening national economies and prosperity for all – and tackling the harmful social norms that trap women in poverty and powerlessness.

The new Secretary-General must also reimagine the role of the UN in a world radically different to the one it was set up to serve and be bold in leading its reform.

The UN must be made more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted. And the UN must be able to protect its unique role as a genuinely multilateral institution that acts in the interests of all people and all countries. Integrity must not be undermined by the influence of private sector actors and their money.

The Security Council, particularly the five permanent members, must choose change and progress over continuity. They must have the foresight to ensure they listen to the voices of the public and select the Secretary-General that the world and the UN needs today: a woman and a feminist.

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Brexit – Perceptions and Repercussions in the Americas Mon, 27 Jun 2016 13:12:17 +0000 Joaquin Roy In this column Professor Joaquín Roy, director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, analyses the repercussions in the United States and other parts of the Americas of Britain’s referendum decision to leave the European Union (Brexit). He states that this is the worst calamity to befall Britain in the last half century, and says it has inflicted severe damage not only on the EU but also on all the countries of the North Atlantic rim.

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Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

The hopes of many of those who confidently expected the British electorate to vote, by a slender margin, for the country to remain in the EU have been dashed. All that is left to do now is to ponder the causes and background of this regrettable event, and consider its likely consequences, especially for relations with the United States.

In the first place one must point out and – and this is a general criticism of the present British political system – that Prime Minister David Cameron was hugely irresponsible to steer his country into this risky adventure. It has resulted in the worst calamity to befall Britain in the last half century and has inflicted severe damage not only on the EU but also on all the countries of the North Atlantic rim.

Cameron went out on a limb, thinking to secure total control over the country for his Conservative Party for the next several years. Next he pursued a surrealist referendum campaign agenda, seeking to persuade the public to vote to remain in the EU, against the Brexit proposal that he himself had engineered. He relied on the advantages and special privileges promised to the UK by the EU if the British people voted to remain.

Brussels had already warned that the EU would not grant Britain any further concessions or benefits over and above the conditions that apply in common to all EU members. It pointed out that Britain was in fact already a privileged partner, having opted out of the common currency (the euro) under a special agreement that did not even fix a timescale for its putative future membership of the euro area.

London also retains full control of Britain’s borders, having declined to sign the innovative Schengen Agreement which abolished many internal borders and introduced passport-free movement across the 26 Schengen countries.

The EU has indeed done everything in its power to keep the UK government and people happy and flaunting their prized British exceptionalism.

And now the fateful moment is at hand. The effect on Europe has been devastating. The one possible advantage for the EU – which has discreetly remained unvoiced – is that of ridding itself of an awkward partner, a dinner guest with an unfortunate habit of drawing attention to itself in negative ways. Britain slammed the brakes on progress towards fuller European integration and was a temptation to other recalcitrant EU countries to follow its bad example.

Recently concerns were raised in Washington over the Brexit referendum.

President Barack Obama himself did his best to urge Britons to stick with the EU when he visited London in April.

Cameron, and the people who voted for the UK to leave the EU, have done Obama a disservice. Britain’s image in the United States will deteriorate to unprecedented depths. The vaunted special relationship between the U.S. and Britain will no longer be an effective force underpinning one of the strongest alliances in recent history.

The first victim of the debacle may be the approval process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union, which is already looking shaky, at least for the immediate future.

The TTIP was meant to replicate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious deal to cut trade barriers, set labour and environmental standards and protect corporate intellectual property. The TPP was signed in principle by twelve Pacific Rim countries including the United States, and now awaits approval by legislators in each of the countries.

The rise of populism and anti-free trade sentiment is reflected in speeches by both U.S. presidential candidates, and is likely to slow down what is now viewed as “excessive globalisation”. There is a return to a style of nationalism that exerts control over economic as well as political initiatives.

The next U.S. president will find it difficult to advance their country’s alliance with London on defence issues. The UK will have freed itself from what was already problematic military cooperation with Europe, and only its link with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will endure. Some European NATO partners will be cautious about developing joint operations with a fellow member they view as uncommitted to agreements within the EU.

In the matter of trade per se, Washington will not take kindly to the new position of the City of London once it has lost its enviable status as a financial hub embedded in the EU. Siren songs from other European capitals solidly anchored in the soon-to-be expanded European community will be hard to resist, especially if European leaders adopt policies to strengthen the euro zone.

In Latin America, Brexit will be read as a confirmation that supranational practices and thoroughgoing integration are no longer a priority for the UK. The referendum result sends the message that national sovereignty is now paramount. All the time and effort the EU has spent over the years to promote the advantages of the European model of integration, based on the strength of its treaties and the effectiveness of its institutions, will be regretted as a sheer waste of time and energy.

An alternative “model of integration” based on the U.S. agenda, favouring one-off arrangements or treaties limited in scope exclusively to trade issues, will prevail over the already weakened European model.

The Caribbean region has strong historical and cultural ties to Britain. It will suffer from a less secure bond with the UK and will incline more closely to Washington.

The continent of the Americas, which is closest to Britain from the point of view of history and culture as well as in political and economic terms, will thus find itself further apart from Europe than before.

Joaquin Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Centre at  the University of Miami.

Translated by Valerie Dee


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