Gender imbalances in the workplace slowdown progress in Latin America and the Caribbean

Dec 14, 2015

In Latin America and the Caribbean, since women shoulder the burden of care, the disparities in unpaid work could increase further as the population ages. Photo: UNDP Argentina

The 2015 Human Development Report urges governments to develop policies that boost benefits and minimize the risks and challenges of an evolving world of work.

Montevideo, Uruguay, 14 December 2015 –The rapid transformation of the new world of work is presenting opportunities for some but profound challenges for others. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a stronger focus on work—leveraging the talents of women and men alike—is needed to contain widening inequalities, says the 2015 Human Development Report, released globally today in Ethiopia, with a regional launch in Uruguay.

The report, ‘Work for Human Development’, promotes sustainability and equitable and decent work for all, through encouraging governments to consider the many kinds of work —such as unpaid care, voluntary or creative work – that are important to human development. The report stresses that only by taking a broader stance on the concept of work can its benefits be truly harnessed for human development.

Through this lens, gender inequalities are starker. According to estimates of the share of all work, not just paid, women perform three out of every four hours of unpaid work worldwide. In Latin America and the Caribbean, since women shoulder the burden of care, the disparities in unpaid work could increase further as the population ages, compounded in the region by gaps in pension coverage.

“The report confirms that women in Latin America and the Caribbean face the triple challenge of working outside the home, caring for their own children and increasingly for the older generation, further increasing unpaid work,” said Jessica Faieta, Assistant Administrator Director of UNDP’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In order to meet the new Sustainable Development Goals, the region needs to address the care burden, an important step to leave no-one behind.”

On paid work, women perform only one hour for every two performed by men, while earning 24 percent less, globally.  In Latin America and the Caribbean women earn 19 percent less than men and are often excluded from senior management positions: the report cites that more than half of all businesses in the region have no women in senior management. Female top managers in the region also earn on average only about half of male top managers´ salaries, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

The region also has the highest proportion of domestic workers - mostly women, 37 percent of the world’s total; an occupation where working conditions frequently need improvement. Latin America and the Caribbean also has the second highest rates of female domestic workers as a percentage of total female employment, following the Middle East.

For both women and men the highest rate of early-stage entrepreneurship (businesses less than 3.5 years old) is in Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. However, in all regions women are less likely than men to initiate their own enterprises. Particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, a disproportionately large number of female-headed enterprises do not survive to become established businesses.

In all regions, the Human Development Index (HDI) value—UNDP’s composite measure of income, longevity and education—is lower for women than for men. But women fare better than men in 14 countries, two of them in Latin America and the Caribbean: Barbados and Uruguay.

The region is laying foundations upon which to build progress in gender equality. When it comes to education among the adult population, the region has the smallest gender disparity in mean years of schooling of adults (0.1 years). Moreover, the region’s share of female parliament seats (27 percent) is higher than the global average (21.8 percent). The average figures, however, mask grave disparities with the percentage of women in parliament reaching less than 10 percent in Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Paraguay, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. This progress has contributed to Latin America and the Caribbean having the narrowest gap between women and men’s HDI among developing regions, at 2.4 percent, compared to 7.6 percent globally.   

The report urges efforts to improve women’s lives by ensuring equal pay, providing decent parental leave, tackling the harassment and the social norms that exclude so many women from paid work. Only then can the burden of unpaid care work be shared to help women to enter the labour force, the report states.  

Action for equality and inclusion can advance human progress           

Among the developing regions, Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest Human Development Index values at 0.748 - the same for both regions. Addressing inequality in human development will galvanise human progress, since Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest inequality in income and loses 23.7 percent of HDI value when the HDI is adjusted for inequality (IHDI). Poverty remains a challenge, particularly in terms of multidimensional poverty, which complements monetary measures of poverty by also considering overlapping deprivations that people suffer.

“Human progress will benefit when everyone who wants to work has an opportunity to do so under decent circumstances, yet in many countries, many people are often excluded from paid work, or paid less than others”, said report lead author Selim Jahan.

In Latin America the wage gap between indigenous ethnic groups and the rest of the population is estimated at 38 percent. Exclusion and discrimination, whether by ethnic and racial lines, disability, gender or sexual orientation, must be addressed.

The report outlines a risk of exclusion for unskilled workers and those without access to ICTs, who will miss out on the increasing role of digital technologies for work. There has been a rapid spread of digital technologies penetrating Latin America and the Caribbean’s labour markets – of all developing regions it is the one with most internet users and most mobile subscriptions (50 percent average internet use compared to 40.5 percent world average in 2014). For those who already left the education system, lifelong learning and training, especially in ICTs, is crucial to train for new types of work. 

Setting the new agenda for work

While policy responses to the new world of work will differ across countries, three main clusters of policies will be critical if governments and societies are to maximize the benefits and minimize the hardships in the evolving new world of work. Strategies are needed for creating work opportunities and ensuring workers’ well-being. The report therefore proposes a three-pronged action agenda:

A New Social Contract between governments, society, and the private sector, to ensure that all members of society, especially those working outside the formal sector, have their needs taken into account in policy formulation. 

A Global Deal among governments to guarantee workers’ rights and benefits around the world.

A Decent Work Agenda, encompassing all workers, that will help promote freedom of association, equity, security, and human dignity in work life.

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ABOUT THIS REPORT: The Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme. For free downloads of the 2015 Human Development Report, plus additional reference materials on its indices and specific regional implications, please visit: http://hdr.undp.org

Full press package available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/2015-report/press

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