Latin America and the Caribbean may take nearly 70 years to close gender gap: WEF

On average, countries in LAC have closed 72.1% of their gaps, ranging between the highest performer, Nicaragua (79.6%), and the lowest, Guatemala (65.5%)

Brazil's subway. Photo: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, on average throughout the region, women’s income is about 60% of men’s;
  • In Brazil, parity has been achieved at all levels of education.

The population-weighted regional score of Latin America and the Caribbean in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report, published on Tuesday, is 72.1%, unchanged from last year. It means that 28.9% of its gender gap has yet to be closed. At this rate it will take the
region 68.9 years to close the gap, according to the report.

On average, countries in LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) have closed 72.1% of their gaps, ranging between the highest performer, Nicaragua (79.6%), and the lowest, Guatemala (65.5%).

Of the 25 countries in the region that are covered in both this and the previous edition of WEF’s report, 15 have improved their overall scores and 10 have registered a negative result relative to the previous edition. Three countries (Belize, El Salvador and Suriname) stand out this year for closing their gender gap by over 2.3% in one year.

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The most improved, El Salvador, has reduced its gap by 3.2%, climbing to 43rd globally, due mainly to significant progress in integrating women among senior officials (44.3%) and ministers (43.8%), says the report.
Eleven countries in LAC have attained full parity, and another 11 have attained a score between 99.8% and 99.0%. In Peru (98.1%), Bolivia (98.1%) and the lowest performer Guatemala (96.9%) large gender gaps in
education have yet to be bridged.

Similarly, most countries in the region grant almost equal Health and Survival conditions to both men and women. Nine countries have achieved full gender parity and another 10 have closed over 97% of their gaps on this subindex and even the lowest performer (Bolivia, 96.2%) has closed more than 96% of this gap.

In terms of the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, the average regional score is 64.2%, unchanged since last year. However, the
best performer, Bahamas (85.7%), is almost 30 percentage points ahead of the worst performer, Guatemala (56.0%). Within this range, the average
country in the region has closed 67.4% of its economic gender gap.

Disparities in labour force participation are even starker. The best performer in the region (Barbados) has closed 93.5% of its gap, with 75.2% of its women in the labour force, while in Guatemala, only 48.1% of this gap has been closed, with just 42.5% of the women participating in the labour market.

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On average, the proportion of women participating in the labour market across the region stands at 59%. Among the largest countries, Mexico has low participation (49.1%), while in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Colombia women’s participation is only between 59.1% and 61.9%.

Parallel disparities remain in terms of income and wages. Only in Barbados are women’s and men’s income relatively similar (women’s income is about
86.8% of that of men’s), while on average throughout the region, women’s income is about 60% of men’s, and in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela, it is less than 50%.

To revert this landscape, the Inter-American Development Bank, in collaboration with Visa and other private sector leaders, launched “Growing Together in the Americas“, a program that seeks to encourage women entrepreneurs in LAC to integrate into foreign trade and regional value chains.

The program, designed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to promote the recovery of the region, will provide through Mujeres ConnectAmericas, technical assistance to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to promote inclusive economic reactivation, generate more and better employment, and reducing gender gaps.

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Latin America’s largest country closed 69.5% of its overall gender gap

Brazil has closed 69.5% of its overall gender gap, achieving a rank of 93rd globally. Only 13.8% of the Political Empowerment gender gap has been closed to date, ranking Brazil 108th on this edition’s index, with a 4-rank drop since last year.

There are very few women parliamentarians (15.2%, 17.9% gap closed so far) and ministers (10.5%, 11.7% gap closed so far), and a woman has been in a head-of-state role for only five years of the last 50 (12% gap closed so far).

According to the report, gender gaps also persist in terms of Economic Participation and Opportunity, where only 66.5% of the gap has been closed (ranking 89th), a slight improvement over the previous edition. These gaps manifest primarily in terms of wage and income. To date, 54.2% of the wage equality gap and 56.7% of the income gap have been closed.

While Brazil has a long way to go to bridge gender gaps in politics and the economy, it has already closed gaps on the Health and Survival and Educational Attainment subindexes. In terms of health, 98% of the gap has been closed, and parity has been achieved at all levels of education.

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Pandemic reduces women labour force participation

To a lesser extent in Brazil, gender gaps also continue in labour force participation, where 61.9% of adult women and 80.1% of men are in the labour force (77.2% gap closed), as well as in terms of women’s presence in senior roles, where women are 39.4% of all managers (65.1% gap closed).

When it comes to education, despite no gaps in enrolment rates in either primary, secondary or tertiary education, only 10.7% of Brazilian women in
university are enrolled in STEM programmes versus 28.6% of men.

According to WEF, this calls for policies to incentivizing women’s enrollment in technical studies which can contribute to opening new and better economic opportunities for them.

The report suggests women are more likely to have exited the labour force since the beginning of the pandemic. This outlook varies by country. Labour force participation statistics show that disadvantage by gender is pronounced in several economies, and less strong in others.

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As LABS has shown, in the US, employers cut 140,000 jobs in December. Women accounted for all the losses. Brazil followed the same direction. Between March and November last year, 107,500 formal job opportunities were occupied by men. At the same time, women lost 220,400 formal work positions, according to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Labor via the General Register of Employed and Unemployed (Caged, in Portuguese).

In economies such as Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greece and Iceland, women were more likely to drop out of the labour market, while in Argentina, South Africa, Mexico and the United States men were more likely to drop out of the labour market.

Across economies, pre-existing gender gaps have exacerbated the asymmetric effect of the pandemic, in terms of employment and
labour force participation. By industry, WEF has seen a widening of gender gaps in some of the sectors most heavily impacted by COVID-19, and a more
pronounced emerging gender gap demonstrated by a reversal of gender parity in leadership positions.

By disrupting childcare support for families, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of working parents. In the current context, this impact has been most acutely felt by working women with children who commonly continue to take on a larger share of care work in the household.

As a job-creating sector, investment in the care economy can prove to be a
social infrastructure investment with high returns for the economy and society in LAC.

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