5. Restricted access to productive and financial resources

Restricted access to productive and financial resources is the second most pervasive form of discrimination in social institutions in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

  • The LAC region scores 231 in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension, denoting a low level of discrimination, below the global average of 27, but well above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 13.

  • Important discrepancies exist across LAC sub-regions. Scores in this dimension range from 18 in the Caribbean to 20 in Central America and 27 in South America. Geographical discrepancies also exist for the “Secure access to land assets” and “Secure access to non-land assets” indicators, which constitute particularly salient issues in South America.

Since 2014, access to financial services and workplace legal protection have improved.

  • Since the third edition of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) in 2014, many LAC countries have progressively strengthened their legal frameworks to improve the protection of women’s workplace rights. New laws now cover harassment in the workplace, discrimination in employment and parental leave.

  • The LAC region has also experienced an important increase in women’s financial inclusion, primarily in terms of absolute level of coverage. The share of women who have an account at a financial institution went up in 16 LAC countries2 between 2014 and 2017; in four countries,3 it increased by more than 14 percentage points. However, the gender gap remains significantly large.

  • The region has a good score in the “Secure access to financial services” indicator because of strong legal frameworks and improving financial inclusion. Almost all LAC countries’ laws provide women with the same rights as men to open a bank account and access credit. Financial inclusion – particularly for rural, poor and indigenous women – is supported by numerous microfinance initiatives that cover individuals who often lack the necessary collateral to obtain credit.

Yet, limitations in the “Workplace rights” indicator continue to affect women’s empowerment.

  • Legal provisions prevent women from entering certain professions and hinder equal remuneration, while some legal frameworks fail to comprehensively address employment discrimination. A direct result is women’s limited labour force participation and a large regional pay gap (ILO, 2019[1]).

  • Negative attitudes towards women working for pay outside the household are low in the LAC region compared with the global average. Nonetheless, the shift in this social norm has yet to translate into real change in the labour market, with the gender gap in labour force participation standing at 24 percentage points.

  • Indigenous women face important intersectional discrimination in laws, social norms and practices. They suffer from a double burden, as their right to own the land they have traditionally occupied (ILO, 1989[2]) is not recognised in 15 LAC countries.4

Access to productive and financial resources allows women to gain economic and productive power, and ensures equality between men and women in the labour market, whether in terms of equal remuneration, attitudes towards women’s labour participation or women’s representation in managerial positions. It is an essential precondition for achieving women’s economic empowerment. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 5.A calls on States to: “Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws” (United Nations, 2016[3]).

However, numerous factors restrict women’s rights and ability to fully participate in their respective countries’ economies. These factors include: legal frameworks that constrain women’s access to land and non-land assets; obstacles to financial inclusion in its numerous forms; and barriers that prevent women from entering the labour market and thriving in their jobs. Moreover, other indirect factors affect women’s control over economic assets, such as discriminatory inheritance and divorce rights, as well as the decision-making power structure within the household (see Chapter 3). The SIGI looks at four major areas that concern women’s restricted access to productive and financial resources (Box 5.1).

In the LAC region, workplace rights constitutes the most salient issue. Many countries’ legal frameworks limit women’s protection in the workplace and prevent them from entering certain sectors or jobs. Access to land and access to non-land assets are also important challenges, particularly in South America, where laws continue to uphold traditional views on ownership of land and non-land assets – the male head of household being the primary decision maker and owner of such assets. This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the factors contributing to the LAC region’s results in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension, highlighting the economic constraints that women face, as well as the progress they have achieved, in ensuring equal access to productive assets.

The LAC region displays a low level of discrimination in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension, with a score of 23, compared with a global average of 27 and an OECD average of 13. However, important discrepancies exist across the LAC sub-regions, where scores range from 18 in the Caribbean to 20 in Central America and 27 in South America. The top regional performer in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension is Peru, with a score of 5, stemming primarily from a strong legal framework that provides a fully comprehensive approach to preventing discrimination in women’s access to productive and financial resources (Figure 5.1). Moreover, gender norms and attitudes show that only 5% of the Peruvian population considers it unacceptable for women to have a paid job outside their home, if they want one.

  • In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is the top sub-regional performer, with a score of 12, ranking 26th globally in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension. Other Caribbean countries also achieve low levels of discrimination, with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti scoring 19, 20 and 22, respectively (Figure 5.2).

  • In Central America, Nicaragua is the top sub-regional performer, with a score of 16, ranking 37th globally. All other countries in this sub-region, with the exception of Costa Rica, display low levels of discrimination, with scores ranging from 16 in Panama to 24 in Honduras. Meanwhile, Costa Rica displays a medium level of discrimination with a score of 28 (Figure 5.2).

  • South America presents high discrepancies across countries, hosting both the LAC region’s best and worst performers in the “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” dimension. Peru is the top sub-regional and regional performer, displaying very low levels of discrimination with a score of 5 and ranking 16th globally, while Chile displays high levels of discrimination with a score of 65, ranking 117th globally. Four countries5 in the sub-region are classified as having medium levels of discrimination, with scores ranging from 27 in Uruguay to 44 in Ecuador. The sub-region’s remaining four countries6 are classified as having low levels of discrimination (Figure 5.2).

Restrictions on women’s access to land assets is a major barrier to gender equality and perpetuates women’s economic dependency on men, particularly in land- and agriculture-based economies. In 17 LAC countries7 out of the 26 for which data are available, more than 10% of the workforce is employed in agriculture; in 8 of those 17 countries, the agricultural sector accounts for more than 20% of the employed labour force (World Bank, 2019[5]). In countries with large agricultural sectors, women’s land ownership is linked not only to income growth, but also to greater bargaining power within their households, better child nutrition, and higher educational attainment for girls. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognises gender-based discrimination as an “obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the […] economic life of their countries” (United Nations, 1979[6]). In most LAC countries, the law guarantees women’s right to access, use and make decisions about land assets. Legal frameworks in all LAC countries, except for Chile, provide unmarried and married women with the same rights as men to own, use and make decisions about land assets, as well as to use them as collateral. In Chile, Article 1749 of the Civil Code establishes the legal presumption that husbands are the heads of household and control the administration of marital property (Gobierno de Chile, 2000[7]). In addition, Article 135 of Chile’s Civil Code provides that under the default matrimonial regime, the husband takes full control of the administration of his spouse’s assets. Meanwhile, legislation in many Caribbean countries – in particular Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago – discriminates against women when it comes to their rights to access and own land after divorce or separation (Figure 5.3).

Social norms and customary practices in the majority of LAC countries often hinder women’s access to land and favour men’s land ownership. Traditional views consider the male head of household as the primary owner and decision maker. For instance, in Ecuador, most land titles are actually attributed to the husband and remain under his disposition. In rural areas, buyers’ double signature for the acquisition of estate or property is not common, which means that only one name among the buyers (often the husband’s) is stipulated in the contract (OECD Development Centre, 2019[9]). Similarly, in Dominica, property ownership is recorded under the name of the head of the household, who is usually a man. Men also generally own larger parcels of land, are involved in larger-scale agricultural production for export, and rear larger livestock (OECD Development Centre, 2019[10]).

Many countries display customary and traditional practices that favour the inheritance of assets passing from fathers to sons. For instance, Haiti and Peru show evidence of primogeniture – that is, a preference for the eldest male, and sometimes other male siblings, over female siblings for inheritance (OECD Development Centre, 2019[11]; OECD Development Centre, 2019[12]). In Guatemala, practices enable children – and particularly sons – to immediately inherit part of their father’s estate, rather than have it go first to his widow, making her precariously dependent on her children. Moreover, widows whose names are not on land titles often lose their inheritance rights altogether (OECD Development Centre, 2019[13]).

Consequently, women tend to be underrepresented among agricultural landowners, in particular in countries where they represent a significant share of the agricultural labour force. Although lack of data and informal practices make it challenging to produce precise estimates, women are considered to represent only 17% of formal agricultural landholders, while accounting for 48% of the total rural population in the LAC region (FAO, 2017[14]; OECD, 2019[8]). The share of women among landowners is 20% in the Caribbean, 17% in South America and 15% in Central America. In Peru, 43% of the agricultural workers are women. Yet, they only own 31% of agricultural lands. The same discrepancy between women’s representation in the agricultural sector and lower land ownership is evident in the Plurinational State of Bolivia (hereafter “Bolivia”), Ecuador and Haiti (Figure 5.4).

As agriculture continues to be largely perceived as men’s business, another factor limiting women’s land ownership is widespread informal land occupation, especially within poor communities and in areas where land appears to be the main means of subsistence. In Honduras and Nicaragua, studies show that increasing the percentage of female landholders is associated with an increase in household food expenditures and children’s educational attainment (USAID, 2016[15]).

Indigenous women’s access to land in the LAC region remains a major area of concern and a source of vulnerability. The International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 of 1989 outlines the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to own the land they have traditionally occupied (ILO, 1989[2]). Fourteen LAC countries,8 and almost all South American countries, have ratified the Convention. Yet, the principles outlined in the Convention are far from being accepted throughout the LAC region. Indigenous women in both ratifying and non-ratifying countries often face a double burden: on the one hand, they lack legal recognition regarding their ownership of, and decision-making power over, traditional land; on the other hand, they face discriminatory social norms and practices within their own communities. Fieldwork studies in Bolivia and Colombia have shown that the lack of formal property titles, which is often associated with land-grabbing practices, jeopardises indigenous women’s traditional access to land (Bose, 2017[16]).

The legal framework in the majority of LAC countries protects women’s rights regarding ownership of property and non-land assets. The law provides women with the same rights as men to own, use and make decisions about property and non-land assets in 16 LAC countries,9 as evidenced by the score of 0 obtained by these countries in this indicator (Figure 5.5).

However, in some cases, discriminatory laws continue to prevent unmarried and/or married women from fully owning non-land assets. In Antigua and Barbuda, as well as in Dominica, legal frameworks fail to mention equal rights for adult unmarried women to use non-land assets as collateral, and Antigua and Barbuda’s legislation does not explicitly mention married women’s equal rights to use non-land assets as collateral. Meanwhile, Chile and Ecuador exhibit very restrictive legal frameworks regarding married women’s rights to own, use and make decisions about property and non-land assets, as well as to use them as collateral. In Chile, the law grants administrative rights over the household’s assets to the husband; he administers joint property as well as any of his wife’s private property unless she acquired it solely through her own financial means (Almodóvar-Reteguis, 2019[20]). In Ecuador, even though the law provides married women with the same rights as married men to own non-land assets, legal provisions prohibit married women from equally using and making decisions about non-land assets, or using them as collateral. In Ecuador’s Civil Code, the administration of the household’s assets is attributed by default to the husband unless the wife has a signed agreement stating otherwise (Art. 180 and 230). The spouse who is in charge of administering goods and assets needs the other spouse’s authorisation for major transactions (Art. 181) (OECD Development Centre, 2019[9]).

Significant gaps persist between legal frameworks and their implementation. In the five countries10 for which data are available, women still represent a low proportion of homeowners. In Honduras, women account for only 12.8% of homeowners; in Colombia, they represent 6.7%. Throughout the LAC region, the combination of various additional factors hinders women’s full legal access to and use of non-land assets. Such major impediments consist of: extreme poverty; the prevalence of committed, yet informal, unions or partnerships; women’s lack of knowledge about their own rights; and the difficulty women face in covering notary fees (Chaves, 2018[21]).

The LAC region lacks public measures to strengthen women’s access to property and non-land assets through inheritance. Legal frameworks fully grant married women and daughters equal rights to inherit land and non-land assets. In terms of land assets specifically, many countries in the LAC region continue to exhibit customary and traditional practices that favour the inheritance of assets passing from fathers to sons. As underlined in the “Secure access to land assets” section, Haiti and Peru showed evidence of primogeniture (OECD Development Centre, 2019[11]; OECD Development Centre, 2019[12]), while in Guatemala, practices favour children’s immediate inheritance of part of their father’s estate, rather than this inheritance being passed to his widow (OECD Development Centre, 2019[13]).

Restricted access to financial services contributes to constraining women to a situation of economic subordination. It denies them the essential tools they need in order to be financially autonomous and to develop independent economic activities. Implications are wide-ranging, from missed economic opportunities to women’s inability to make decisions regarding how to spend money or when to leave a violent household. Article 13 of the CEDAW specifically calls on States Parties to ensure that women and men have the same rights to “bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit” (United Nations, 1979[6]). In the SIGI framework, “Secure access to financial services” is defined as the ownership of a bank account and access to credit, as well as legal frameworks that guarantee women’s autonomy to open and manage bank accounts at a formal financial institution.

Achieving women’s financial inclusion constitutes a key contributing factor for their empowerment. The more women have access to financial services, the more likely they are to participate in the economy. This participation usually consists of saving money, managing economic risks, investing in businesses, and spending on their own health and education, with lasting positive effects on their families and communities (Hijar, 2018[22]). Research from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) highlights that greater inclusion of women in the economy is associated with a 2-4% increase in gross domestic product (GDP), and shows that women are more likely than men to invest in areas such as education and health (AFI, 2016[23]). Legislation in LAC countries does not discriminate against women regarding their access to bank accounts. In all LAC countries, women enjoy the same rights as men to open a bank account at a formal financial institution, without requiring permission from their husband or a legal guardian.

In practice, women’s financial inclusion has made great strides since the third edition of the SIGI in 2014. The share of women who have an account at a financial institution increased in 16 countries11 of the 20 for which 2017 data are available. In Uruguay and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereafter “Venezuela”), the share of women who have an account at a financial institution increased by 19 and 17 percentage points, respectively, while it increased by 14 percentage points in Bolivia and Honduras (Demirguc-Kunt et al., 2018[24]). Consequently, in 2017, women’s average rate of account ownership in the LAC region stood at 51%. In seven countries,12 more than 60% of women have an account at a financial institution (Figure 5.6). Among the top performers, Venezuela, Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica exhibit women’s rates of account ownership of 70%, 71%, 74% and 78%, respectively. Conversely, women’s access to, and usage of, banking services remain limited in Nicaragua (22%), El Salvador (24%), Haiti (27%) and Paraguay (29%).

Beyond the share of women owning an account at a financial institution, important gender gaps in ownership rates persist across the LAC region. Existing data underline the dual problem that LAC countries need to address in terms of women’s financial inclusion: increasing women’s account ownership at a financial institution on the one hand, and improving equality between men and women on the other hand. While countries can achieve high financial inclusion for women, this does not say much about the differences between men’s and women’s financial inclusion. For instance, in Jamaica, there is virtually no gender gap: 78% of women own an account at a financial institution, compared with 79% of men. Trinidad and Tobago also exhibits a high share of women’s account ownership (74%), but this is in comparison with 88% for men. It therefore translates into a gender gap of nearly 15 percentage points. Overall, in six LAC countries,13 the gender gap is greater than 10 percentage points (Figure 5.6). In particular, Nicaragua and El Salvador exhibit the lowest shares of women’s account ownership at a financial institution and have among the largest gender gaps. Conversely, only three countries – Argentina, Belize and Bolivia – display negative gender gaps, meaning that a higher share of women than men have accounts at financial institutions. In Belize and Argentina, 54% and 53% of account holders are women, respectively.

Moreover, negative contributing factors – such as poverty, labour force participation and low access to technology – intersect with gender discrimination to further constrain women’s financial inclusion. For instance, the results from the 2017 Global Findex database showed that among the unbanked, women are less likely than men to participate in the labour force (World Bank, 2017[25]). At the same time, the gender gap in labour force participation rates already stands at 24 percentage points (Muller and Casabonne, 2018[26]). The combination of both findings suggests that limited female labour force participation intersects with already existing gender-based discrimination, which further constrains women’s financial inclusion. Similarly, the 2017 Global Findex database shows that, in the LAC region, the likelihood of people with secondary education to have a bank account is 16 percentage points higher than for those with only primary education. Likewise, in the LAC region, the share of individuals in the richest 60% of the population who have a bank account is 20 percentage points higher than the share of individuals in the poorest 40% (World Bank, 2017[25]).

Across the globe, and especially in the LAC region, a variety of initiatives, programmes and national action plans has been developed to promote and achieve women’s financial inclusion (Box 5.2). For instance, the Banking on Women programme developed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) intends to support women-led businesses through access to finance. Similarly, the Women entrepreneurshipBanking initiative, developed and implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), aims to support financial institutions by lending money to more than 100 000 women-owned businesses across the LAC region by 2019 (Finnegan, 2015[27]). Across the LAC region, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also implemented numerous microfinance programmes in order to provide rural and poor women with secure access to financial services.

Governments have also contributed to this renewed effort to enhance women’s financial inclusion in the LAC region. For instance, the Mexican government revamped the existing structure of the conditional cash transfer programme Oportunidades (Opportunities) to foster financial inclusion through a newly added pillar that promotes beneficiaries’ access to savings, microcredit and insurance (Francesca Lamanna, 2014[31]). A large part of the strategy focused on harnessing the power of technological innovation to reach underserved areas (such as rural zones) and vulnerable people (such as indigenous communities). The programme, now rebranded as Prospera (Prosperity), started shifting payments from cash to debit cards and expanded access for low-income women (World Bank, 2016[32]). Combined with the launch of Mexico’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy in 2016 (which aims to facilitate access to financial services for the population left out of the formal and regulated financial system), one-half of the Prospera programme’s recipients now receive their payments in digital accounts. Results from an evaluation of the programme show that 25% of the beneficiaries are indigenous women and 95% of transfer recipients are women from poor households (CEDAW Commitee, 2018[33]; OECD, 2019[34]).

Yet, the persistence of discriminatory customary and traditional norms and practices put progress in women’s rights at risk. Although the legal frameworks across LAC countries fully guarantee women’s and men’s equal rights regarding their access to financial services, there is some evidence of the existence of discriminatory customary or traditional norms and practices that restrict women’s access to financial services in more than one-third14 of the region’s countries. For instance, the Caribbean Development Bank notes that in Barbados, in spite of the existing legal framework, credit is rarely granted to women who apply without a male partner or colleague (Allen and Maughan, 2016[35]). Evidence in some countries also underlines cases of gender bias in credit institutions that appear to regard women as less likely than men to make a profit on an investment. In the majority of cases, discriminatory norms regarding women’s financial access directly stem from the discriminatory traditional practices surrounding ownership of land and non-land assets. This also constitutes the main impediment to women’s access to formal financial services – and particularly to credit – as they lack collateral. Numerous organisations and actors across the LAC region note that women’s non-ownership of resources that could be used as collateral constrains their access to credit, which, in turn, could finance productive investments across all economic sectors (Baksh, 2014[36]; FAO, 2020[37]; González Perrett and Deus Viana, 2010[38]).

Equality and the principle of equal opportunities between men and women in the work environment are highlighted in SDG Target 5.5, which calls on States to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in […] economic […] life” (United Nations, 2016[3]). At the core of Article 11 of the CEDAW is the commitment of all States Parties to “eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights” (United Nations, 1979[6]).

In the LAC region, women’s workplace rights and inclusion in the labour market on equal footing with men are restricted by discriminatory laws, social norms and practices, which translate into gender-unequal outcomes. Across the LAC region, legal frameworks allow some forms of discrimination and negate women’s rights to choose their profession, to fully participate in all sectors of the economy, and to benefit from equal remuneration. Combined with negative attitudes towards women’s right to work outside the household environment, these laws yield gender-unequal outcomes in the workplace. Such outcomes include women’s low representation in decision-making and managerial positions, gender-based segregation in the workforce, and gender pay gaps. Gender-based discrimination in employment is prohibited in most LAC countries. The legal frameworks in 2515 out of the 29 LAC countries include laws that explicitly forbid either gender- or sex-based discrimination in employment. Out of these 25 countries, 10 countries16 have laws that specifically ensure equality in selection criteria, recruitment processes and hiring procedures; 11 countries17 cover some of these aspects, while 4 countries18 cover none of them. These legal loopholes allow employers to discriminate against women. For example, in the Dominican Republic, reports have documented employers in free trade zones requiring female job candidates to take pregnancy tests as a condition for employment, which is all the more problematic considering that women account for the majority of workers in these zones (Human Rights Watch, 2004[40]).

Legal barriers continue to prevent women from entering certain professions. In nine LAC countries,19 legal frameworks restrict the jobs women are allowed to do. For example, in Panama, although a sentence from the Corte Suprema de Justicia (Supreme Court of Justice) from 1994 declared unconstitutional part of Article 104 of the Labour Code which forbade women from working underground, in mine or in construction, the second part of the article is still valid and prevents women from working in professions deemed “insalubrious” by the Ministerio de Trabajo y Bienestar Social (Ministry of Labour and Social Well-being) (Corte Suprema de Justicia de Panamá, 1994[41]; Gobierno de Panama, 1994[42]; OECD Development Centre, 2019[43]). In Barbados, specific jobs in which women are prohibited from entering include working in some chemical industries, whereas in Ecuador, these restrictions are associated with the weight female workers can be asked to lift (OECD Development Centre, 2019[9]). In addition, as of 2019, five LAC countries20 prohibit women from working the same number of night hours as men (Figure 5.7). In 2019, Costa Rica amended its Labour Code and eliminated the prohibition for women to work in night shifts (Gobierno de Costa Rica, 2019[44]). Many of these restrictions arise from the belief that women are not suitable for jobs which may be physically intensive or dangerous. Restrictions are sometimes supposedly in place in order to protect women, but they are nevertheless embedded in gender stereotyping – notably in terms of seeing women as weak and in need of protection. In addition to being generally incorrect, these restrictions risk generating gender-based sectoral segregation in the labour force.

Although the resulting sectoral segregation is declining, it remains significant, with clearly male- and female-dominated occupations (Bértola and Williamson, 2017[45]; ILO, 2017[46]). Women tend to be segregated in the retail, wholesale, tourism and services sectors (Mateo Díaz and Rodriguez-Chamussy, 2016[47]). Data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) show that women are consistently overrepresented in low-productivity sectors compared to men (see Figure 2.4 in Chapter 2). As a result, women, more so than men, hold occupations that tend to pay poorly (Bértola and Williamson, 2017[45]). Moreover, in the vast majority of LAC countries, men continue to be overrepresented in managerial positions compared to women (Figure 5.8). At the same time, most countries do not impose penalties on companies or institutions that discriminate against women in their promotion processes. Across the LAC region, only three countries have more women than men in managerial positions: Jamaica (59%), Colombia (53%) and the Bahamas (52%). Conversely, women account for only 18%, 25% and 26% of the managers in Haiti, Belize and Chile, respectively. Occupational and vertical segregation in the LAC region’s labour force is one of the most important factors explaining the persistence of gender pay gaps, despite countries’ commitments to the principle of equal remuneration.

All LAC countries have ratified the ILO’s Equal Remuneration Convention No. 100, Article 2 of which states that “each member shall, by means appropriate to the methods in operation for determining rates of remuneration, promote and, in so far as is consistent with such methods, ensure the application to all men and women workers of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value” (ILO, 1951[48]). Across the LAC region, all countries acknowledge women’s right to remuneration that is equal to men’s for work of equal value (Box 5.3); however, this recognition has not been translated into the domestic legal frameworks of all LAC countries. For instance, in Belize, the Equal Pay Act still “stipulates the principle of equal remuneration for equal work rather than for work of equal value” (International Trade Union Confederation, 2010[49]). Similar legal provisions are found in all but three countries21 in the Caribbean, two countries22 in Central America and two countries23 in South America.

The lack of implementation of equal remuneration in domestic law contributes to the persistence of gender pay gaps. On average, women in the LAC region earn 30% less than men. For instance, women are estimated to earn between 49% and 68% of men’s earnings in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela (Baker McKenzie, 2018[50]). Moreover, afro-descendant women are more likely to be vulnerable to low pay and are likely to experience larger gender pay gaps, although data in this regard are very limited (Bértola and Williamson, 2017[45]). Legal loopholes facilitate these discrepancies, as companies in all but three LAC countries24 are not legally required to report on how they pay women and men.

Attitudinal data also reflect the belief held by some that women should not participate in paid work, which further perpetuates salary differences between men and women. Across the LAC region, nearly 8% of the population disagrees with the idea of a woman in their family having a paid job outside the home if she wants to, compared with 4% in OECD countries. The proportion of the population disagreeing with this idea is 5% in South America, 13% in Central America and 14% in the Caribbean. Haiti has the highest proportion of people opposing women’s work (27%), compared with only 2% in Uruguay (Figure 5.9). At the same time, traditional views of women as housewives are also dominant. On average, more than 50% of the LAC region’s population believes that being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay, and in Guatemala and Mexico, the proportion reaches 59%. Similarly, in 2019, 36% of the LAC population agreed with the statement “If a woman earns more money than her husband, it is almost certain to cause problems” (OECD, 2019[8]).

All these negative attitudes and social norms point towards important gender dynamics within the household that limit women’s labour force participation (see Figure 2.3 in Chapter 2). The gender gap in the LAC region’s labour force participation rates stands at 24 percentage points, despite a steep increase in women’s labour force participation in the region. Between 1990 and 2017, the gender gap in labour force participation in the LAC region decreased by around 15 percentage points (Muller and Casabonne, 2018[26]). Moreover, women’s advancement in employment is closely related to beliefs about whether they should be working or not. Supportive environments for women’s employment are essential, especially for women with children, as these women face more demands within the household than women without children.

Women’s lower labour force participation rate is partly explained by the share of caring and reproductive roles they perform in the household. Unpaid care work and lack of childcare facilities limit the time available to women for paid work, education and leisure, and further contributes to gender gaps in terms of access to resources and opportunities. Across the LAC region, and in addition to often working more hours per week than men, women systematically dedicate more time to unpaid work than men (Figure 5.10). For example, in Mexico, many mothers choose to stay home with their children in the absence of affordable, accessible childcare despite labour market programmes in place to encourage women to continue working (OECD, 2017[55]).

Legal frameworks on maternity and paternity leaves throughout the LAC region remain weak and are subject to considerable discrepancies. Maternity, paternity and parental leave schemes play an important role in upholding the belief that care and domestic responsibilities are women’s obligation. All LAC countries grant paid maternity leave to women; however, the duration of leave and salary coverage vary widely across the region. Maternity leave ranges from 8 months in Bolivia and Jamaica, to 26 months in Venezuela. Overall, 16 LAC countries25 fail to provide women with the ILO-recommended 14 weeks of maternity leave (Figure 5.11). Some progress has been made, however, and the legislation was revised most recently in 2017 in Colombia, as well as in 2015 in Peru, El Salvador and Paraguay, to increase the mandatory length of maternity leave. Similarly, the Comunidad Andina (Andean Community) recently recommended that its members – Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – increase the legal length of maternity leave to 24 weeks (Garvan, 2019[57]). Conversely, the law in Antigua and Barbuda continues to contain loopholes and thus fails to protect women’s employment security during their maternity leave. Meanwhile, in all but six LAC countries,26 laws mandate employers to fully cover mothers’ salaries during maternity leave. Salary coverage represents an issue mainly in Caribbean countries, where the law only mandates that employers cover a limited fraction of a woman’s salary. In the Bahamas, for instance, women taking maternity leave only receive 33% of their regular salary. In addition, only 8 countries27 out of the 29 in the LAC region have legislation that prohibits employers from asking a woman about her pregnancy or her intention to have a child during recruitment or promotion processes.

The lack of paternal leave schemes has serious implications for the division of labour within the household. While all LAC countries have maternity leave entitlements, only ten28 mandate paternity leave schemes, and six29 have legal provisions for parental leave. Yet, research shows that fathers who take leave are more likely to be involved in childcare-related activities, to the benefit of their children’s development and well-being (Huerta et al., 2013[60]). In addition, fathers making use of their paternity leave contribute to the recognition and redistribution of unpaid care work, promoting more gender-equal roles in the family and shifting attitudes that define “care” as something gendered (van der Gaag et al., 2019[61]). Nevertheless, even in countries with paternity leave entitlements, global research shows that men often do not take full advantage of these entitlements. For example, evidence shows that in Brazil, fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to be actively engaged in childcare activities, yet only 32% of fathers take the full five days they are entitled to by law, and 27% take no time off at all (UN Women, 2019[62]; van der Gaag et al., 2019[61]).

Women’s economic empowerment represents an extraordinary economic opportunity for the LAC region. As the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis unfolds across the region and threatens its macroeconomic stability, with crucial socio-economic consequences, the need to achieve women’s economic empowerment becomes even more important in light of the future economic recovery plans. The fundamental preconditions for achieving this are ensuring that women can access productive and financial resources, and that they are fully integrated within economic and labour markets. The LAC region has made progress in terms of women’s access to productive and financial resources. The vast majority of LAC countries have legal frameworks that protect women’s right to access land and non-land assets, as well as to have an account at a financial institution. The remaining challenges for the LAC region revolve around addressing discriminatory social norms and establishing equal rights in the workplace.

Social norms exist beyond official legal frameworks, and include a large array of unwritten and unofficial customary and traditional norms, which continue to constrain women’s right to inherit land or property, to manage their assets, to freely choose their jobs, or even to simply join the labour market. These persistent discriminatory social norms weaken the implementation of gender-sensitive laws and policies, and justify harmful and discriminatory practices in the field of women’s economic empowerment.

The second most pressing challenge concerns women’s rights in the workplace, which entail women’s level of remuneration, women’s full and unhindered participation in the labour market and the social acceptance of working women. In the LAC region, the SIGI reveals that most of the economic discrimination against women concerns the “Workplace rights” indicator. Many LAC countries continue to have legal provisions prohibiting women from entering certain professions, and lack the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value. In order for the LAC region to fully reap the economic benefits of gender equality, it is critical to improve the current legal frameworks so that they guarantee equality between women and men in the workplace, and provide the necessary legal safeguards to eliminate existing discrimination against women.


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← 1. Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating no discrimination and 100 indicating absolute discrimination.

← 2. Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 3. Bolivia, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 4. Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

← 5. Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

← 6. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

← 7. Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

← 8. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

← 9. Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

← 10. Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras.

← 11. Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 12. Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica (data are from 2014), Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 13. Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

← 14. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

← 15. Countries with gaps in their legal frameworks are Belize and Costa Rica in Central America, and Barbados and Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

← 16. Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 17. Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Panama.

← 18. Argentina, Dominica, Haiti and Paraguay.

← 19. Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras and Panama.

← 20. Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Ecuador.

← 21. Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.

← 22. Belize and Costa Rica.

← 23. Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 24. Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

← 25. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Nicaragua.

← 26. Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada and Guyana.

← 27. Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay.

← 28. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.

← 29. Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, Cuba, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

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