3. Discrimination in the family

Discrimination in the family is the most pervasive form of discrimination in social institutions in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC):

  • The LAC region’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) score in the “Discrimination in the family” dimension is 311 – compared with a global average of 44 –, denoting a medium level of discrimination in social institutions. While there are no considerable differences among the three LAC sub-regions – the Caribbean and Central America score 31, and South America scores 32 –, important discrepancies exist at the indicator level.

  • The “Child marriage” and “Household responsibilities” indicators constitute the most salient issues in South America and the Caribbean, respectively. This is largely due to high rates of child marriage among girls and the persistence of legal loopholes governing the role of women and men within the household. Conversely, the “Inheritance” indicator stands out as an area of concern in Central America due to the existence of practices that discriminate against women’s rights.

Since the third edition of the SIGI in 2014, legal frameworks have continued to protect women’s inheritance and divorce rights:

  • Discrimination towards women in terms of divorce is low. The majority of LAC countries formally guarantee equal divorce rights. In addition, 25 LAC countries2 provide women with the same rights as men to be the legal guardians of children after divorce.

  • Women in the LAC region enjoy equal inheritance rights. All 29 LAC countries grant female surviving spouses and daughters the same legal rights as their male counterparts to inherit land and non-land assets.

Despite progress and governments’ efforts, hurdles remain in two key areas affecting women’s and girls’ empowerment:

  • The LAC region is the only region in the world where the prevalence rate of child marriage among girls has stagnated since 1995. At the current prevalence rates, it is estimated that 20 million more girls will become child brides in LAC countries by 2030 (UNICEF, 2018[1]).

    • Some countries have made progress in putting an end to this practice. Countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago have strengthened their laws on the minimum legal age for marriage by eliminating legal exceptions that allowed children to get married.

  • Traditional gender roles with regard to household responsibilities have been remarkably persistent, confining LAC women to their domestic and reproductive roles.

    • LAC women continue to bear most of the burden of unpaid care and domestic work. Women spend, on average, three times more time on unpaid care and domestic work than men do. This includes raising children, caring for sick or elderly family members, and managing household tasks.

    • On average, 52% of respondents believe that children will suffer when a mother is in paid employment outside the home, and 51% consider being a housewife to be just as fulfilling as working for pay.

Ending gender-based discrimination and inequalities in the family is considered paramount to achieving gender equality in other spheres of life. The social norms and attitudes that have developed towards women and girls regarding their status and role in society are shaped by, and learned from, the family. Moreover, women’s equality within the family is intrinsically linked to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, some SDG targets urgently call on all countries to end discriminatory practices, such as child marriage3 and unequal inheritance rights, and to promote shared responsibilities within the household4 by 2030. Empowering women and girls within the context of the family remains crucial for the well-being of the family and of society as a whole. In order to tackle these issues, the SIGI looks at four major areas potentially limiting women’s rights within the family sphere (Box 3.1).

In the LAC region, child marriage and responsibility for household tasks are the most pervasive and acute forms of discrimination against women in the family sphere. Legal loopholes and traditional gender roles within the family uphold these practices. This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the factors contributing to the LAC region’s results in the “Discrimination in the family” dimension, highlighting the complexity of new and traditional gender roles, and their implications in the family sphere across LAC countries.

The LAC region displays a medium level of discrimination in the “Discrimination in the family” dimension, with a score of 31, compared with a global average of 44. There are no significant differences between the three LAC sub-regions in this dimension, with scores of 31 in the Caribbean and Central America, and 32 in South America. The top regional performer in this dimension is Colombia, with a score of 10 (Figure 3.1), thanks to a comprehensive legal framework that provides women and men with equal rights in terms of divorce, inheritance, decision-making abilities and responsibilities within the household.

  • In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago is the top performer with a score of 18, and ranking 8th globally in the “Discrimination in the family” dimension. The government has made advances to align and harmonise conflicting laws around child marriage. The Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Act, 2017 requires consent to the marriage but becomes distinguishable regarding the legal age at which persons can contract a marriage, and the variations of this age between the sexes. The most critical amendment provided by the 2017 Act, therefore, is the universal prohibition of marriage before the age of 18 years (Girls Not Brides, n.d.[3]). Among the ten countries in this sub-region, four5 display low levels of discrimination. Cuba (29), the Dominican Republic (30), Jamaica (32), Haiti (38) and Dominica (42) lag behind with medium levels of discrimination. Grenada (54) is the only country in the sub-region with a high level of discrimination (Figure 3.2).

  • In Central America, Panama is the top performer, with a score of 16, ranking 5th globally. In 2015, the government of Panama removed provisions permitting marriage before the age of 18 years with parental permission (OECD Development Centre, 2019[4]). In addition, el Plan de Acción de Igualdad de Oportunidades para las Mujeres 2016-19 (Plan of Action for Equal Opportunities for Women 2016-19) establishes the family as one of the plan’s 17 thematic axes. The plan is aimed at promoting an equal distribution of domestic and family responsibilities between women and men, and at recognising the importance of women’s unpaid care and domestic work for the national economy (Gobierno de Panama, 2016[5]). The eight countries in this sub-region display low6 to high levels of discrimination (Figure 3.2).

  • In South America, Colombia is the top performer with a very low level of discrimination (10), ranking 2nd in this dimension globally. Colombia’s Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (National Administrative Department of Statistics) has implemented methodologies that measure the contribution of domestic work and unpaid care to the national economy. In this sense, it has developed a simulator of domestic work and unpaid care at the household and community levels to measure and make visible the contribution of domestic work (CEPAL, 2019[6]). Among the 11 countries in this sub-region, two countries display low levels of discrimination: Guyana (22) and Argentina (23). The remaining eight countries7 have medium levels of discrimination, ranging from 28 in Uruguay to 48 in Peru (Figure 3.2).

International legal instruments recognise child marriage as a serious violation of a child’s human rights. It remains an important barrier to girls’ empowerment and has numerous negative consequences. The practice of child marriage and informal unions has profound effects on girls’ education, physical integrity, health and emotional development. Since around 2010, governments have taken a strong stance against child marriage, and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDG Target 5.3 recognises the importance of eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage (United Nations, 2016[7]). Furthermore, ending child marriage will contribute to meeting at least eight8 of the SDGs (Girls not Brides, 2017[8]).

Governments have made strides in preventing child marriage, which is prohibited in 23 LAC countries.9 Almost half10 of LAC countries also stipulate legal sanctions for those facilitating the marriage of an individual who is under the minimum legal age for marriage. For instance, Argentina’s Penal Code sanctions civil servants who authorise an unlawful marriage. In Belize, child marriages are void and anyone who performs or witnesses them is liable to seven years’ imprisonment.

In addition, 23 LAC countries11 have set the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years or older for both boys and girls. In 2017, for example, Honduran legislators unanimously prohibited child marriage and raised the minimum legal age for marriage for both women and men from 16 to 18 years. Five countries in the Caribbean,12 three countries in Central America13 and three countries in South America14 have public measures to generate social support for the enforcement of laws on the minimum legal age for marriage. In Colombia, el Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2018-2022 (the National Development Plan 2018-2022) establishes the goal of eliminating child marriage and early unions (DNP, n.d.[9]). Moreover, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru have established awareness-raising and/or education programmes on the minimum legal age for marriage. In the Dominican Republic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched “The Worst Soap Opera”, a campaign to spread awareness about early and forced marriage, and to change people’s attitudes and norms regarding child marriage. The innovative communication campaign reached more than 20 million people in three months and won several awards (UNICEF, 2018[10]).

Nevertheless, legal loopholes and exceptions set by the law, combined with the widespread practice of informal and unregistered unions, may allow girls to marry before the age of 18 years. Five countries – Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and Uruguay – allow girls to marry before the age of 18 years, translating into an indicator score of 75 or 100, depending on whether or not the minimum legal age for marriage is the same for boys and girls. Only seven LAC countries15 have passed legislation that eliminates exceptions to set the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years for both boys and girls. In the remaining 22 LAC countries, girls can legally get married before the age of 18 years with parental and/or judicial consent. In some instances, conflicting laws specify different minimum legal ages for marriage. In the Dominican Republic, for example, the minimum legal age for marriage for girls is 15 years with parental consent but 21 years under the Civil Code.16 Similarly, in some countries, the legislation regarding the minimum legal age for marriage discriminates solely against girls, allowing them to marry at a younger age than boys. In Mexico, while girls can marry at the age of 14 years, boys can marry at 16 years with parental consent in the State of Baja California17. Overall, these legal loopholes translate into indicator scores of 50 for most countries. Even where laws exist to prevent child marriage, unregistered unions often constitute a way to get around the minimum legal age for marriage. Informal unions are common in the LAC region, and there is some evidence that the practice is gaining acceptance among young couples. According to recent estimates, early non-marital unions constitute nearly 70% of all early unions and marriages in the LAC region (UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women, 2018[11]).

Such legal loopholes translate into high incidence rates of child marriage in the LAC region. The regional prevalence of child marriage among girls (16%) is much higher than the prevalence of child marriage among boys (5%). However, countries in the LAC region have some of the world’s highest levels of child marriage among boys (Gastón, Misunas and Cappa, 2019[12]). The incidence of child marriage among girls varies greatly among sub-regions and countries (Figure 3.3). While the prevalence rate of child marriage among girls in the Caribbean and South America sub-regions is 14% and 15%, respectively, it reaches 20% in Central America. The lowest prevalence rates are mostly found in the Caribbean, where Barbados, Dominica and Grenada all exhibit rates below 1%. Meanwhile, the share of girls married before the age of 18 years exceeds 20% in the Dominican Republic (27%), Ecuador (22%), El Salvador (21%), Guatemala (22%), Honduras (27%) and Nicaragua (30%).

The intersectional nature of child marriage is accentuated in the LAC region. Girls who are at the highest risk of getting married early live in rural areas, are less educated, come from poor families, and belong to indigenous or afro-descendant groups. Child marriage in LAC countries is twice as prevalent in rural areas as in urban areas (ECLAC, UNICEF, 2018[14]) (UNICEF, 2019[15]). While education may delay the age of the first marriage, child marriage increases the likelihood of dropping out of school and completing fewer years of formal education. For instance, 25% of girls with no education in the LAC region are married before the age of 18 years, compared with 12% of girls with secondary school education. The practice of child marriage also shows distinct differences across income levels and ethnic groups. Women in the poorest quintile are 4.8 times more likely to marry during childhood than those living in the richest quintile (UNFPA, 2012[16]). In Colombia, among girls who were married before the age of 18 years, 35% belong to indigenous communities and 22% to afro-descendant groups (UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women, 2018[11]). In Honduras, illiteracy and school dropout rates for girls living in indigenous and afro-descendant communities are disproportionately high compared with the rest of the population, often owing to early marriage and pregnancy (CEDAW, 2016[17]).

Child marriage is strongly associated with the high rates of adolescent pregnancy found in the LAC region (Figure 3.4). The causality is not necessarily clear, as the two phenomena tend to reinforce each other in a bidirectional process – girls who marry early and who are in informal unions are more likely to become pregnant as adolescents, while adolescent pregnancy or the fear of becoming pregnant out of wedlock may push young girls into child marriages or early unions (Taylor et al., 2015[18]) (UNFPA, 2012[16]). The LAC region exhibits the second-highest regional rate of adolescent pregnancy in the world, with around 15% of all pregnancies occurring between the ages of 15 and 19 years (PAHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, 2017[19]). As with child marriage, rates of adolescent pregnancy have been slow to decline, although the rate of births per 1 000 women aged 15-19 years has declined from an average of 107 in 1960 to 66.5 in 2018 – well above the global average of 46 (PAHO, WHO, 2018[20]).

Women’s and men’s equal rights and responsibilities in the family sphere are a key precondition for gender equality in other domains and play a critical role in the well-being of families. Gendered biases and negative attitudes affect women’s and girls’ education, career choices, and hence their role in the workforce (see Chapter 5). For instance, women’s larger share of unpaid care work has a negative impact on their labour force outcomes (Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka, 2014[26]). Since around 2015, the SDGs have recognised the importance of promoting shared responsibilities within the household and have highlighted the need to acknowledge and value unpaid care and domestic work (United Nations, 2016[7]). Similarly, the Montevideo Strategy for Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the Sustainable Development Framework by 2030 recognises unpaid care work and reaffirms the economic, social and cultural rights of a female head of household (ECLAC, 2017[27]).

Legal frameworks provide women and men with equal household responsibilities and rights across LAC countries. With regard to decision making about children, the majority of LAC countries18 grant women the same rights and responsibilities as men during marriage and informal unions, including equal guardianship. For example, Ecuador’s Constitution provides women and men – whether they are married or in de facto unions – with the same rights and duties to raise and care for their children. Furthermore, no country in the LAC region requires women to obey their husbands, and all countries except Haiti provide women with the same rights as men to choose where to live, irrespective of their marital status.

Discriminatory customary practices reinforce traditional gender roles in the household, especially in rural areas and within indigenous and afro-descendant communities. In eight LAC countries,19 there are customary, religious or traditional practices or laws that discriminate against women’s decision making within the household. In Mexico, rural and indigenous men mainly take on the role as the head of the household and choose the family residence. Norms establish that women become part of their husband’s family after marriage and are thus obliged to serve them – failing to fulfil domestic duties may lead men to return wives to their families (OECD Development Centre, 2018[28]).

Despite legal equality, discriminatory attitudes confine women to their domestic and reproductive roles. Mothers’ paid employment during their children’s early years is closely associated with assumptions that such employment negatively affects the children’s development (Corrigall and Konrad, 2007[30]). On average, across the ten LAC countries20 for which data are available, 52% of the population declares that children will suffer when a mother is in paid employment outside the home; this share ranges from 33% in Haiti to 67% in Argentina (Figure 3.5). In addition, across the 12 LAC countries21 for which data are available, 51% of the population believes that being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay, with shares ranging from 19% in Haiti to 70% in Guatemala (Figure 3.6).

Women in LAC countries continue to do the bulk of unpaid care work and fulfil domestic responsibilities. In comparison to men, women spend three times as much time on unpaid care and domestic work, including raising children, caring for sick or elderly family members, and managing household tasks (Figure 3.7). In Central America, women spend seven hours on household chores and childcare daily, whereas men spend only two hours daily. In the other sub-regions, women spend an average of four hours on unpaid care and domestic work per day, whereas men spend an average of between one and two hours on these activities per day.

Furthermore, women bear the double burden of work and domestic responsibilities. Recent research in ten LAC countries22 found that women allocate between 6 and 23 hours more per week than men to paid and unpaid work combined (IPPF/WHR and Promundo, 2017[31]). This double burden disproportionately affects women’s and girls’ lives, leaving them with less time for personal care, leisure, education and economic opportunities (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[32]).

Disparities in time spent on household chores are also associated with household income status. In LAC countries, women in the poorest quintile spend substantially more time on unpaid care and domestic work compared with their counterparts in the richest quintile. Recent time-use data for 11 LAC countries23 reveal that women in the poorest quintile allocate approximately 6 hours to unpaid care and domestic work per day, compared with 2.5 hours for women in the richest quintile (UN Women, 2019[33]). Regardless of their household income level, men continue to undertake considerably less unpaid work than women.

Unpaid care work and household responsibilities limit women’s economic empowerment and reinforce broader gender inequalities. Research has shown that women’s time constraints contribute to lower rates of female labour force participation, increased gender wage gaps and higher sectoral segregation. In order to balance their work and family responsibilities, women tend to opt for more irregular and flexible jobs, often at a lower pay rate (Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka, 2014[26]).For instance, in the LAC region, 58% of working-age women are employed, compared with 82% of working-age men (World Bank Group, n.d.[34]). In addition, women’s wages are still more than 30% lower than their male counterparts’ wages (Baker McKenzie, 2018[35]), and the proportion of women workers in the informal sector exceeds that of men in LAC countries (OECD/ILO, 2019[36]). Such negative impacts are exacerbated for women from low-income households due to the lack of affordable childcare and limited social benefits (UN Women, 2019[33]).

However, traditional attitudes and stereotypes about gender roles in the family sphere are steadily shifting in some LAC countries. Available data from the IMAGES survey in Brazil, Chile and Mexico have shown that two out of three fathers would prefer to spend less time at work and more time with their children (Barker and Aguayo, 2012[37]). In addition, evidence from a 2015 study conducted in Colombia suggests that discriminatory social norms are changing, with only 31% of respondents in 2014 reporting that men should be the head of the household, compared with 45% in 2009. Similarly, the share of respondents who think that a good wife must obey her husband even if she disagrees with him went from 31% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, and those who think that families with a man as the head of household have fewer problems decreased from 38% to 21% over the same time period (Equidad de la Mujer and Paz Equidad Educación, 2015[38]).

Women in the LAC region are increasingly likely to head their households regardless of their marital status. In 2015, women in the LAC region headed an average of one out of three households, ranging from less than 20% in Mexico to more than 35% in Uruguay. While there is not enough evidence to establish a causal relationship between female-headed households and women’s empowerment, recent research has documented a rise in female-headed households in LAC countries: the percentage of female-headed households almost doubled (from 17% to 30%) between 1992 and 2015 (Marchionni, Gasparini and Edo, 2018[39]). The rapid increase in the percentage of female-headed households in the LAC region is closely linked on the one hand with the proliferation of female-headed biparental families, and on the other hand with the steady rise in the percentage of lone-mother households (UN Women, 2019[33]; OECD Development Centre, 2019[40]). This social phenomenon is associated with the feminisation of poverty, which is characterised by a high proportion of single-mother households living in poor conditions with low educational levels and limited employment choices (Bradshaw, Chant and Linneker, 2019[41]). However, there is evidence that the number of female-headed households has also increased among young adults with higher educational levels, indicating changes in patterns of partnership and living arrangements, and women’s increased role in household decision making (UN Women, 2019[33]).

Guaranteeing women’s right to divorce as being equal with men’s contributes to their empowerment and especially to their ability to escape violent partners without having their parental authority threatened. On the one hand, in some contexts, higher divorce rates can be associated with an increase in women’s agency and their ability to sustain themselves financially. On the other hand, it can also entail economic vulnerability, as women often lose their marital and financial assets after divorce (UN Women, 2019[33]). In the LAC region, lack of education, absence of legal literacy, time constraints and the monetary costs involved in litigation proceedings prevent women from seeking a divorce.

Women’s equal right to initiate divorce proceedings is guaranteed in all LAC countries. Haiti is the only country in the LAC region where women have different rights to finalise a divorce or annulment. For instance, Article 1248 of Haiti’s Civil Code infringes on the rights of divorcées, as it states that if the wife does not formally request division of the communal property within three months and 40 days of the divorce resolution, such division shall be deemed declined in favour of the husband. In Argentina, women and men have had the same right to initiate divorce since 1987, and Article 436 of the Civil Code (as modified in 2015) grants citizens the unconditional right to demand a divorce (OECD Development Centre, 2019[40]). A divorce can be initiated by either or both of the spouses based on mutual agreement or for a specific cause, in which case a petition must be presented to a judge.

However, in some LAC countries,24 discriminatory legal frameworks can prohibit women from remarrying within a specified period after divorce. For instance, in Peru, the law establishes additional restrictions for divorced women, who cannot remarry in the first 300 days following divorce. These legal provisions derive from France’s Napoleonic Code of 1804, which was established during a time when pregnancy tests did not exist and therefore confusion could result regarding the paternity of any child born soon after a new marriage.

Reconciliation and mediation procedures can also hinder women’s divorce rights. These procedures can have serious implications for women’s rights, not only due to women’s reluctance to initiate divorce, but also because of the risk of compelling women to remain in vulnerable or dangerous situations. In Chile, during the first hearing of a divorce trial, the judge must urge the parties to reach an agreement to overcome their dispute, and to preserve the marriage where possible. This requirement was intended to satisfy the legislators who strongly opposed the recognition of divorce in 2004 and insisted that divorce weakens the family. As a result, it is considered a duty of the State, represented by the judge, to urge the parties to maintain the marriage as a foundation of the family (OECD Development Centre, 2018[46]). In Jamaica, the final decision regarding divorce is subject to proof of irreparable rupture after a minimum period of six months (CEDAW, 2012[47]).

After divorce, women and men continue to share legal parental authority in 25 LAC countries.25 In addition, all LAC countries, except for Grenada, grant women the same rights and responsibilities regarding children after divorce. In the majority of LAC countries, after divorce, both parents continue to share parental authority and custody over their children, and if divorcing parents cannot reach an agreement regarding child custody, the courts award custody based on the best interest of the child.

However, parental roles after divorce are often determined by child custody practices, which tend to mirror and reinforce stereotypical gender roles, with fathers having few parental responsibilities other than being the financial providers and mothers remaining the primary caregivers (Table 3.1). Under various circumstances, child custody is often granted to women: if the parents were never married to each other (Costa Rica and Guatemala); if the children are female (Ecuador and Peru); or if the children are under a certain age (Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay) (Sallé, Molpeceres and Infante, 2018[48]). In Guatemala, the Civil Code establishes that if the parents are not married, the mother has automatic custody rights over the children. In another example, in Ecuador, in the case of a disagreement, custody of girls is granted to the mother unless otherwise specified by the judge. Similarly, in Venezuela, both parents continue to share parental authority over their children after divorce, except if their children are under the age of seven, in which case mothers are automatically assigned legal guardianship. In Antigua and Barbuda and in Panama, women are awarded custody more often than men.

Discriminatory social norms still undermine women’s divorce rights. Pervasive customary, religious or traditional practices or laws continue to hamper women’s legal right to file for divorce in the three LAC sub-regions.26 Coupled with these restrictions, women often face a strong social stigma associated with divorce. In Guatemala, for instance, divorce is rare and its incidence hovers well below 1%, as considerable social stigma is associated with separation. This is particularly evident for women, who find it much harder to remarry than men do, especially if they have children (United Nations, 2018[49]). In Chile, separation rates have almost quadrupled since the adoption of the Nueva Ley de Matrimonio Civil (New Civil Marriage Law) in 2004. Despite its higher prevalence in Chilean society, there is still a stigma attached to being divorced (McGarry, 2010[50]).

Some groups of women are more likely to face additional barriers to initiating or finalising divorce proceedings. Although most women are aware of their rights within marriage, indigenous, rural and low-income women: lack legal literacy regarding their rights over property and assets in case of divorce or dissolution of the union; have lower access to justice; and face additional challenges, such as a lack of transportation to, and geographical distance from, justice services and institutions. These factors prevent these women from receiving their full share of the assets, leading to what some authors have called “patrimonial violence”. This occurs not only because of the absence of legal literacy, but also because of cultural norms according to which women should trust their husbands. In addition, while divorce is legal, there are costs associated with the proceedings which make it difficult to afford for most women, particularly those in rural areas (UN Women, 2019[33]).

Increasing women’s access to inheritance rights has numerous significant benefits for their economic empowerment and for society as a whole. Women’s inheritance rights are closely related to the ownership of important economic assets, as most women acquire land or houses through this procedure. In addition, restrictions on inheritance rights negatively influence women’s ability to access formal credit opportunities, as most formal financial institutions require land titles and other forms of collateral.

Women’s and girls’ inheritance rights are protected by legislative frameworks. All 29 LAC countries grant female surviving spouses and daughters the same legal rights as their male counterparts to inherit land and non-land assets. Additionally, all LAC countries provide women with the same rights as men to make a will. In 20 LAC countries, the law takes precedence over customary, traditional or religious practices or laws that promote discriminatory inheritance practices towards women and girls. Four countries in South America,27 three countries in Central America,28 and Cuba in the Caribbean prohibit disinheritance of the surviving spouse. El Salvador and Mexico are the only two countries that criminalise property dispossession or “inheritance grabbing”. In Mexico, for example, property grabbing is punished with three months’ to five years’ imprisonment (OECD Development Centre, 2018[28]).

Women’s and girls’ legal inheritance rights in the LAC region are hampered by high rates of unregistered unions. SIGI country profiles highlight the vulnerable position of a significant share of widows in informal unions, which prevents them from inheriting assets and land (e.g. Chile, Guatemala, Haiti and Peru) (UN Women, 2019[33]). In Haiti, for example, the law does not recognise nor establish inheritance provisions in the case of plaçage – informal, de facto unions –, which constitutes the most common form of cohabitation for couples. The fact that only 12% of couples living together in Haiti are legally married impacts women’s capacity to access their inheritance. Ecuador has addressed this issue by recognising unregistered domestic partnerships as equal to marriage in its Civil Code, therefore ensuring partners’ rights to inheritance.

Some LAC countries still deny women’s and girls’ legal rights to inheritance under customary, religious or traditional practices or laws. In these countries, despite legal provisions guaranteeing women’s equal inheritance rights, evidence suggests that the practice of patrilineal inheritance persists. Moreover, rural and indigenous women may face discrimination under customary and local laws, especially if their marriages are not registered with the State. In Colombia, certain indigenous groups (such as the Emberá) have patrilineal societies, meaning that children inherit from their father rather than from their mother. In Mexico, young widows are often victims of property grabbing by their deceased husband’s family. And in Peru, customary laws tend to favour men and give priority to sons over widows for land inheritance.

Discrimination in the family seems to be the most challenging dimension to address in the LAC region and the one where the least progress has been seen since the 2014 edition of SIGI. Women and men still do not have the same status within the family. Women’s advancement in other spheres of life is hindered by the unequal distribution of caring and domestic responsibilities at home, which adds to the probability that women will interrupt their careers in order to care for their family, and contributes to the persistence of gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles within the family. Lockdown situations during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis in some countries can reinforce gender roles, with heightened care responsibilities.

There are major gender gaps in the household responsibilities and child marriage indicators. This is largely due to the existence of legal loopholes and the intergenerational transmission of inequalities and gender biases. However, the LAC region performs relatively well in the divorce and inheritance indicators. Women’s rights in these domains are generally guaranteed, although customary, religious or traditional practices or laws in indigenous communities may weaken these legal protections.


[35] Baker McKenzie (2018), Spotlight on the Gender Pay Gap in Latin America, https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en/insight/publications/2018/06/spotlight-on-the-gender-pay-gap-in-latin-america (accessed on 15 November 2019).

[37] Barker, G. and F. Aguayo (2012), Masculinidades, Equidad de género y políticas públicas y una revisión política en Brasil, Chile y Mexico., Promundo, ICRW, http://www.promundo.org.br/relatorios/ (accessed on 15 November 2019).

[41] Bradshaw, S., S. Chant and B. Linneker (2019), “Challenges and Changes in Gendered Poverty: The Feminization, De-Feminization, and Re-Feminization of Poverty in Latin America”, Feminist Economics, Vol. 25/1, pp. 119-144, https://doi.org/10.1080/13545701.2018.1529417.

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[27] ECLAC (2017), Montevideo Strategy for Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the Sustainable Development Framework by 2030, ECLAC, Santiago de Chile, https://www.cepal.org/sites/default/files/events/files/montevideo_strategy_for_implementation_of_the_regional_gender_agenda_within_the_sustainable_development_framework_by_2030_0.pdf (accessed on 31 March 2020).

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← 1. SIGI scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating no discrimination and 100 indicating absolute discrimination.

← 2. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

← 3. SDG Target 5.3 aims to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage”.

← 4. SDG Target 5.4 advocates “the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family” and highlights the need to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work”.

← 5. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago

← 6. Belize, Panama and Honduras.

← 7. Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 8. SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10 and 16.

← 9. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 10. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

← 11. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela

← 12. Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.

← 13. Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico.

← 14. Chile, Guyana and Venezuela.

← 15. Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago.

← 16. In May 2017, the Congress of the Dominican Republic decided to close the loophole in marriage laws which allowed girls to marry before the age of 18 years. The law change will now have to be approved by the country’s Senate.

← 17. Since 2016, the Mexican government has taken actions to accelerate the process of legislative harmonisation at the local level; currently 31 States have fully harmonised their civil or family legislation with the General Law of the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents, while Article 145 of the Civil Code of the State of Baja California is the only one that contemplates “exemptions” to marriage with or between minors.

← 18. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

← 19. Barbados, Belize, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico.

← 20. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

← 21. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.

← 22. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

← 23. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

← 24. Chile, Mexico and Peru.

← 25. Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

← 26. Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico and Paraguay.

← 27. Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

← 28. Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico.

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