Latin America still lagging behind in gender equality

Latin America is a land of contradictions. A place where there has been 5 women presidents and still has so much to advance in terms of gender equality. When I say gender equality I mean,  women’s rights and opportunities to be equal as men’s –  same salaries for same job roles for instance.

Here are some examples of the region disparities: only 50% of women in the region is part of the workforce, and 33% has no personal income compared to 12% of men. In Guatemala the percentage of women with no income is 42%, in Bolivia 39% and Venezuela 34%, according to Cepal.

Cepal has been campaigning to raise the awareness of the immense gender disparity in the region – the numbers of women that has no personal income or earn less than men are huge.

Being economically dependent of 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 of the formal workforce. Needless to say, this exclusion is the result of lack of same opportunities to get education and qualification.

Reproductive rights: still a distant achievement for Latin American women

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

2015 in Brazil was the year that women saw their reproductive rights at risk. Currently, abortion in Brazil is restricted with exceptions for rape, if the mother’s life is in danger, and for an encephalopathy, a condition in which a fetus develops without part of the brain or skull. The growing power of the ‘evangelical caucus’, headed by Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of Brazilian Congress, have threatened the legitimacy of the secular state there. Trying to override some pieces of legislation with new proposed bills, making abortion a heinous crime in all instances (for women and for doctors), and women victim of rape would have to undergo forensic examinations to prove that a crime had been committed – only their word wouldn’t be enough to prove that. So far, these draft bills haven’t been voted yet.

fora cunha
Women protesting against Eduardo Cunha

In November 2015, women went to the street of Sao Paulo to protest against Cunha and his proposed bills (Photo).

The Colombian Constitutional Court recognized in 2006 the right to terminate a pregnancy when there is a danger to life or physical and mental health of the mother when the pregnancy results from rape or if there is malformation of the fetus. But it has not been easy to enforce the law .In Colombia, 60 % of pregnancies are unwanted , and women are fighting for health institutions respect the court’s decision. Still, women are powerless in making choices over their own reproductive rights.

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 capital, 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 being through abortions on clandestine clinics, also know 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.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 have been living a long time in Europe, definitely I feel the gender gap is much bigger there. For 2016, I just wish that gender equality and reproductive rights for Latin American women can progress – eventually, governments won’t be able to ignore their voices.

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