On this International Women's Day, I wish to recognize the contributions of women in Latin America and the Caribbean and to applaud the progress they have made in gaining economic, civil, and political rights. Women are helping to drive the region's recent growth. At the same time, their greater financial security is generating direct benefits for society, which is reducing poverty and inequality.
Women have made significant progress in recent decades in entering the labor force and in gaining access to education and health, even surpassing men in many aspects. Girls today are more likely than boys to be enrolled in secondary schools and post-secondary education, and are more likely to graduate. More than 70 million women have entered the region's labor force since 1980, resulting in an unprecedented growth in female labor market participation.
Increasing participation of women in the workplace is reflected in the political arena. Currently, five countries in the region have women heads of state: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, President Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago, and the newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica. The proportion of parliamentary seats held by women in the region is nearly 24 percent, the highest in the world.
These are all positive achievements in which women in our region can take pride. But as the gender gap closes, new challenges emerge, in particular, the unmet demand for childcare for women who are trying to balance work and home.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is addressing these new challenges.
A year ago, the IDB approved the Gender Action Plan 2011-2012, which supports the implementation of the Bank's Policy on Gender Equality by committing to carrying out more than 160 specific activities through direct investment, technical assistance, and knowledge and capacity building for mainstreaming gender into Bank strategies and projects.
A year after the inauguration of the innovative Ciudad Mujer program in El Salvador, nearly 29,000 women have received access to essential health services, care and prevention of domestic violence, business development, and community education on the rights of women, in addition to the provision of services to the children of participating mothers through comprehensive care centers strategically located throughout the country. Five new centers will be established with the support of an IDB loan for $20 million.
The Bank is also supporting the Justice Administration System Modernization Support Program with an operation for $26 million. Among the program's objectives are to carry out campaigns to inform women about their rights and about how the justice system works. In addition, judges will be trained in conflict resolution in families, including domestic violence and effective enforcement of judgments in alimony cases.
Through such initiatives, the IDB will continue to strengthen the commitment of member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote gender equality and empowerment of women.