Skip to main content

IDB urges workplace improvements for Latin American women

SANTIAGO, Chile - Investing to help women who are poor or disadvantaged by their ethnic group, race or disability is synonymous with investing in economic growth and reducing poverty and inequity in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to experts participating in a seminar on women in the workplace sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank.

"Indigenous and Afro-Latino women are marginalized even in times of prosperity," said IDB Executive Vice President K. Burke Dillon in the inaugural session of the seminar "Women at Work: A Challenge for Development," that took place today in conjunction with the Bank's Annual Meeting. "We must find ways to change this," she said. "The challenge is great, but the moment has arrived to address it."

Dillon highlighted the importance of taking strong action in the areas of quality of life of minorities, women in the informal sector, elderly women, and the availability of adequate professional child care for working women, an area that she considered to be crucial for the future of society.

"Progress in one area of a woman's life is closely linked with other areas of her life," she said, referring to the role of women in the family. For example, she noted the impact on the thousands of women working in the informal sector and their children that an increase in their earnings, access to information technology, and social security services could have.

Also participating in the inaugural session was Billie Miller, deputy prime minister of Barbados, who noted Latin America’s debt to its women and the great opportunities that lie ahead. Also speaking was Chilean Minister of Women's Affairs Adriana Delpiano.

The gap between income earned by men and women is closing, according to research carried out in Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Venezuela. But at the same time, recent IDB studies have shown that inequality of income among women themselves is on the increase, for example in Chile, said Mayra Buvinic, chief of the Bank’s Social Development Division.

Women with less education showed increased participation in the labor market at the end of the 1990s, according to a study of 18 countries. This change is perhaps more the result of need than opportunities, added Buvinic. She recalled the words of expert Muhub Ul Haq, who noted in a 1995 United Nations report a "great expansion in capabilities, with restricted opportunities" for women throughout the world. In the case of Latin America, added Buvinic, there has been a great expansion of capabilities, and also of opportunities for some women, but not for others.

"Education and income of poor women particularly promotes the welfare of children," she said. This was indicated by a study carried out in Barbados, Chile, Guatemala and Mexico that compared the height of children born to adolescent mothers with that of mothers with 10 or 11 years of education and those who maintain their households with their own earnings.

The seminar, cosponsored by the IDB, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Governments of Chile and Norway, reviewed the progress achieved in the field of women in the labor market as well as the challenges remaining. It also showcased successful policies and programs to improve working conditions for women.

The impact of globalization on women in the workforce, gender inequity in pension programs and social safety-net systems, labor market discrimination, and the incorporation of gender considerations into development policies, were among the issues discussed at the event.

During the seminar, IDB Executive Vice President chaired a workshop with delegates from civil society organizations who provided examples of successful experiences in the promotion of women in the labor market.

In addition to identifying innovative experiences and sharing the lessons learned from policies and programs aimed at improving the situation of women at work, the seminar explored ways of expanding economic opportunities for women and other disadvantaged groups, such as youths, indigenous and Afro-Latinos, and the poor.

IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias, ECLAC Executive Secretary Jose Antonio Ocampo, and Chile’s Labor and Social Security Minister Ricardo Solari Saavedra, closed the sessions.

The IDB and the advancement of women

Over the last few decades, the IDB has supported numerous programs and initiatives that promoted women and their participation and leadership in Latin America. Gender issues have become a significant concern in terms of the entire IDB project portfolio.

In 1987 the Bank established a policy on women in development to encourage its member countries to incorporate women into regional growth strategies through its lending and technical cooperation programs. The Women in Development Program Unit was established in 1994 to support these activities and systematize them, and to identify new initiatives that would benefit women.

Since then, IDB experts have worked with governments and civil society to identify opportunities for women in all the Bank’s areas of activity, particularly the social sectors, agriculture and rural development, housing and urban development, governance and democracy, income support and productivity, and social investment funds.

Women’s participation in the labor market is taken into account in many Bank-financed projects and a great number of training and employment programs and vocational training in nontraditional areas.

Nevertheless, IDB Executive Vice President K Burke Dillon , emphasized that special attention in the context of government policies is required to offer better economic and job opportunities to the most disadvantaged groups. She added that it is a foremost aspiration of the Bank to mainstream activities to improve the conditions of women and excluded groups in programs financed by the institution.

The IDB’s renewed debate on these issues dovetails with the Bank’s initiative to promote social inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Jump back to top