Woman with crossed arms standing in front of other women with sewing machines
Elizabeth Vargas/CARE

Economic justice remains a historical debt for women in Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2020, the labor participation rate of women in Latin America and the Caribbean stood at 46%, while that of men stood at 69%. An average of 55% of women in the region carry out activities in economic sectors related to health care and services, education, domestic work, tourism, and commerce, the last three being those characterized by low wages and higher rates of informality, where less than 45% is covered by the social benefits of the law.

As a result of the pandemic, there was a forceful withdrawal of women from the labour force, who, due to meeting the demands for care in their homes, did not resume their job search. According to a report from the International Labour Organization, of the 23.6 million jobs that women lost at the worst moment of the COVID-19 crisis, at the end of 2021 some 4.2 million still had to be recovered. This meant an unemployment rate of 12.4% in 2021 and 2022, which is above the general unemployment rate of 10% and 8.3% for men.

Added to this reality are other common factors that contribute to the fact that the scope of economic justice continues to be a historical debt for women in Latin America and the Caribbean:

  • Salary gap: On average in the region, women earn 20% less salary than men, that is, for every 100 dollars that men earn, women receive 80 dollars. However, this data does not account for the deep wage gap for women domestic workers and other women in the informal sector of the economy, where wages are considerably lower. In Argentina and Brazil, for example, the gap exceeds 60% compared to remunerations in other sectors.
  •  Workplace Violence: In the world of paid domestic work, the violence, discrimination and inequality experienced by female workers are systematic and structural, and are based on a historical and complex web of unequal power relations and cultural patterns of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and age.
  • Unpaid care work: Women are burdened with a high burden and time dedicated to domestic work and unpaid care at home, which limits their participation in the labor market despite their enormous contribution to the economies of the countries for this concept. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), unpaid work in homes represents 20.0% of the GDP in Colombia, 22.8% in Mexico (2019), and 25.3% of the GDP in Costa Rica.

In most of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, domestic work is the gateway to the labour market for women from the most economically impoverished sectors, with fewer possibilities of access to education and who live in an environment of social exclusion. Additionally, it has been essential to facilitate the labor insertion of many women from middle and high-income sectors, who hire domestic work due to the insufficiency of work-family reconciliation policies in their countries. Raising awareness in this sector is a pending commitment from the governments of the region to advance in compliance with the decent work standards contained in ILO C-189, ratified by 18 countries in the region.

In the last six years, CARE's regional program "Equal Value, Equal Rights" has invested and accompanied the strengthening of more than 40 unions and organizations of domestic workers affiliated with the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Domestic Workers. Key studies on the C-189 ILO support the dialogue with governments and decision-makers with evidence. Digital literacy is also part of the project's achievements, through the development of mobile applications with which more than 11,000 female workers from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Peru access key information to know and exercise their labour rights, as well as to be free from violence and harassment in their workplaces. The professionalization of domestic and care work took a significant step forward with the launch of social businesses in Colombia and Ecuador and the start of one in Mexico, led by the unions and organizations of domestic workers, which contribute to the advancement of their individual and collective empowerment.

Joint inter-institutional actions allowed, during the XV ECLAC Regional Conference on Women held in November 2022, to issue an open letter to governments urging them to adopt policies, institutional and administrative-operational regulations necessary for the inclusion of paid domestic workers and from unpaid caregivers to social security systems, as an indispensable means for social justice and the sustainability of care societies in the region.