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Gender Equality in LAC and the IDB

Why gender equality?

Gender equality is not only a human right, but it’s also about economics; it’s about using 50% of the region’s human resources to their full potential. Investing in gender equality is pivotal for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)’s development goals since it is central to human development, productivity, and economic growth:

  • Studies from the LAC region have shown that increasing female labor force participation can lead to per capita income growth and poverty reduction.
  • Experiences with conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs in Brazil, Mexico, and other countries in the region have shown that women spend a higher percentage of their income on education, health, and nutrition for the household, decreasing the inter-generational transmission of poverty.


More women are going to work and managing their own businesses:

  • In most countries in the region female labor force participation is above 50% and has increased significantly since 1990 with growth rates close to 1% a year. In some countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Jamaica, female labor force participation exceeds OECD levels.
  • Increases in employment in the region have accounted for much recent economic growth and most of the rise in employment rates can be attributed to women’s increased participation in the labor force.
  • Women in Latin America are more likely to be entrepreneurs than in other regions. In LAC the gap between male to female entrepreneurs is 24% compared to 43% in Asia and 45% in Europe.

Gender parity in education has been achieved: 

  • Latin America and the Caribbean was the first region to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary education.
  • More women are going to college and entering the labor market more educated than men. For the cohort born in 1980, women in the region have, on average, one quarter of a school year more than men.

Women’s political participation has increased:

  • In 2010, five countries in the region were led by or had elected female heads of state: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, the number of women elected to parliaments in the region increased from an average of 5% in 1990 to 20% in 2010.
  • Between 1998 and 2008, the number of women cabinet ministers more than doubled when compared to the previous decade.

Fewer mothers die at childbirth:

  • The maternal mortality rate (calculated as the rate of maternal deaths for every 100,000 births) for the region decreased by 26%, from 180 in 1990 to 130 in 2005.


Women still earn less than men

  • When comparing males and females of the same age and educational level, men earn 17 percent more than women in LAC. Further, in some countries in the region this wage gap has increased over the last 15 years.

Women are more likely to be unemployed, work in lower quality jobs, be occupationally segregated, and own smaller businesses:

  • Among women unemployment is higher and quality of jobs lower: Female unemployment rates are higher than men’s in most countries in the region; at last count adult women had an average unemployment rate of 6.3% when compared to 3.7% for adult men. The employment gap is more pronounced among young people (15-25) with young women having a 17.6% unemployment rate, compared 11.4% among male youths.
  • Women continue to be overrepresented in informal and low-productivity employment: In Latin America the share of women in the informal economy is 58% compared to 50% for men.
  • Despite gains in education, those women that are employed still hold traditional female occupations in domestic service, teaching and office work.
  • While women are more likely to be self employed or entrepreneurs in LAC than in other regions, they own smaller firms than men do in terms of sales, costs, physical capital, and number of employees.

Boys and young men are more likely to drop out of school and be victims of homicides:

  • In some Caribbean countries, boys have lower primary and secondary attainment rates than girls and in LAC boys are more likely to drop out.
  • Throughout the region increasing violence takes a toll on young men since they are disproportionately more likely to be victims of homicides than young women.

Women are still underrepresented in decision-making positions

  • There are still large gaps between and within countries. In Argentina, for example, 40 percent of the congressional seats are occupied by women compared with 8 percent in Colombia. Additionally, Indigenous and Afro-descendent women are underrepresented.
  • There is only one woman for every nine men in senior management positions in LAC.

Maternal mortality has decreased but remains a problem and there are severe disadvantages in reproductive health for Indigenous, Afro-Descendent, and Young Women

  • Although maternal mortality has declined significantly in LAC there is high inequality between and within countries with Haiti registering the highest rate at 523 and Chile the lowest at 17.3. Additionally, the poorest 20% of the regional population, where indigenous and afro-descendant women are overrepresented, concentrates 50% of the maternal deaths.
  • While total fertility rates in the region have declined significantly over the last decade, the LAC region’s adolescent fertility rate (72 per 1,000 births) remains well above the world average of 51 per 1,000 births, and in some countries that rate increased over the last few years.

Gender Based Violence continues to impact the lives of men and women

  • Data from 15 countries in the region show that 69% of women have been abused physically by their partner and 47% have been a victim of at least one act of sexual violence in their lifetimes.
  • Although most gender based violence harms women, men are also victims and in some countries in the Caribbean between 40%-54% of men report experiencing sexual abuse at some point in their lives.


New Policy on Gender Equality to tackle gender issues in Latin American and the Caribbean.

  • The newly approved IDB’s  Operational Policy on Gender Equality in Development will improve the Bank’s ability to support its member country’s commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • The new policy commits the Bank to applying a gender perspective systematically across its development interventions through proactive actions (gender mainstreaming and direct investment) and preventive actions (gender safeguards).

IDB Direct Investment in Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

  • The IDB and the government of El Salvador are developing the Ciudad Mujer (Women City) project, which seeks to invest US$20 million in centers that will become one-stop-shops for women’s needs. These centers will provide reproductive health services, support for survivors of violence against women, and promote women’s labor force participation and entrepreneurship.
  • Through its US$10 million loan to Peru’s Mibanco the IDB seeks to expand access to financial services for women microentrepreneurs.
  • From 2006 - 2009 the IDB approved 78 technical cooperation grants and projects, totaling over US$180 million, which directly addressed gender issues such as female entrepreneurship, reproductive health, and gender-based violence.

Mainstreaming Gender throughout Bank Operations

  • From 2006–2009 the IDB mainstreamed gender into loans representing a total investment of over US$3 billion in various areas of the bank’s work including reproductive health, education, citizen security, and infrastructure.
  • In 2009 the IDB launched a Gender and Diversity Fund committing $10 million in grant resources and US$6 million in contributions from other donors, to support gender and diversity mainstreaming in LAC.
  • The IDB is also developing guidelines to support gender mainstreaming in its water and sanitation projects funded by Spain’s US$500 million Water Fund. In the upcoming two years, guidelines will also be prepared for the Multilateral Investment Fund and at least three other Bank divisions.
  • The Aid for Trade Strategic Thematic Fund is committed to using resources from Canada’s CAD$10 million contribution to promote gender equality within the Fund’s four core areas of Trade Facilitation, SPS/Standards, Trade Policy and Regulations, and Trade-related Adjustment, wherein a key goal is substantive improvements to the lives of women traders, entrepreneurs and smallholder farmers.

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