A truly inclusive society is one where all women and men, girls and boys enjoy the same rights and opportunities in all spheres of life. Yet, 25 years after the Beijing Platform for Action, pervasive gender-based discrimination in social institutions around the world still constrains women and girls’ opportunities for empowerment, creating barriers to gender equality and missed opportunities for economic development. Dismantling discriminatory social norms and practices – such as those restricting women’s decision-making power or limiting their access to economic resources and assets – can deliver significant economic benefits. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) alone, it can translate to an additional 3.6 percentage points in annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The LAC region has been a pioneer in promoting women’s rights through strong feminist movements that have sparked an ongoing public discussion on achieving inclusive and gender-equal societies. Additionally, in 2016, all LAC countries demonstrated their commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”) with the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the adoption of the Montevideo Strategy for Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the Sustainable Development Framework by 2030. However, major challenges to transforming social norms and practices that hinder gender equality remain. At this pace, it will take another 200 years to achieve SDG 5 across regions. Furthermore, the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is compounding pre-existing problems and creating new ones through its disproportionate socio-economic consequences on women across the LAC region. It is urgent that governments take action now.

Since the first edition in 2009, the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) has shed light on the multiple structural barriers affecting women and girls’ lives in LAC countries. The SIGI 2020 Regional Report for Latin America and the Caribbean provides new evidence-based analysis on the setbacks and progress in achieving gender equality in the region.

The report makes a strong case for investing in gender equality and calls on governments and all relevant stakeholders to work towards the eradication of gender-based discrimination in social institutions. Specifically, it makes recommendations towards i) updating and harmonising legal frameworks, ii) strengthening enforcement mechanisms, iii) applying a holistic and intersectional approach, iv) investing in data collection and dissemination and v) promoting communication and awareness campaigns.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment can only be achieved and sustained if countries take action now to tackle and eliminate discrimination in their legal frameworks, social norms and practices that leads to changed behaviours and incentives and to truly equal opportunities for all.

Mario Pezzini

Director, OECD Development Centre

Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development

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