Latin America: Progress and Challenges for Gender Equality and Reproductive Rights

Latin America is a region of contrasts when it comes to gender equality and reproductive rights. While progress has been made in some areas, significant challenges remain. Let’s take a closer look at two key issues affecting women in the region: participation in the labor market and reproductive rights.

Participation of Women in the Labor Market

According to a report published by ECLAC in 2021, the participation of women in the labor market in Latin America and the Caribbean was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report shows that the labor force participation rate for women fell from 52.4% in 2019 to 46.7% in 2020, representing a decrease of 5.7 percentage points, the largest drop in the region’s history. Furthermore, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women, particularly those in informal jobs, which account for around 54% of female employment in the region.

Being economically dependent on others, especially men, can leave these women vulnerable to all sorts of abuse, from domestic violence to femicide. On top of that, women have become restricted to informal jobs, making them more excluded from the formal workforce. Needless to say, this exclusion is the result of a lack of the same opportunities to get an education and a qualification.

Reproductive Rights in Latin America

At a time when many Latin American countries are advancing in social policies (gay marriage in Chile, adoption by same-sex couples in Colombia, legalization of marijuana consumption in Mexico), abortion in Latin America is still taboo.

In recent years, there have been some positive developments. In 2020, for example, Argentina legalized abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, becoming the largest country in Latin America to do so. However, many countries in the region still have strict abortion laws that criminalize the procedure and put women’s health and lives at risk.

Access to contraception is also a major issue in the region.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in four pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean is unintended, and many women lack access to the information and services they need to prevent unintended pregnancy.

In Mexico, the right to abortion varies from state to state. The capital, Mexico City, is the only one where women can freely terminate the pregnancy before 12 weeks of gestation. The law, an initiative of the local government PRD (left-wing), was approved in 2007. Guerrero, one of the poorest states, tried to follow the path of capitalism, but the project was rejected by the opposition of right-wing parties. Guerrero has the highest national death rate of women who are hospitalized after having abortions at clandestine clinics, also known as ‘back-yard’ clinics.

The two ends of the spectrum are Uruguay, where abortion has been legalized since 2012, and Paraguay, where abortion is not allowed, not even in cases of rape. It is interesting how two countries that are relatively close to each other have totally opposite attitudes towards women’s reproductive rights.

Being a Latin American woman myself and having lived for a long time in Europe, I definitely feel the gender gap is much bigger there. For 2023, I hope that gender equality and reproductive rights for Latin American women progress – governments will eventually be unable to ignore their voices. 

Main photo: São Paulo - A demonstration for women's right to abortion went through the streets of the central region of the city of São Paulo and occupied the Masp By Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil -, CC BY 3.0,

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