Women’s autonomy is the overarching concept that frames the compilation of data by the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean for use in assessing the progress made towards attaining gender equality in the region, along with the relevant obstacles and sources of opposition. The fundamental belief that informs this initiative is that development is directly related to the advancement of women in public affairs and private life and that, without genuine equality, the democracies and development of the countries of the region will continue to suffer from shortcomings that hinder their efforts to achieve the objectives set out in The Future We Want, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Río+20).
The inequalities that exist in the region are unacceptable and stand in contrast to the material conditions that have been attained. Nor is there any justification for the region’s rates of maternal mortality, teenage pregnancy, substandard forms of employment or the disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic work borne by women, to say nothing of gender-based violence. As has been said before (United Nations, 1995; ECLAC, 2010b), inequality and the lack of autonomy that goes along with it are primarily a result of injustice, of an uneven distribution of power, resources and especially income, and of inequality in the way men and women are able to make use of their time, as well as a lack of awareness of women’s right to take part in all areas of decision-making.
Women’s participation in the labour force over the past 50 years has been a crucial factor in the development process and has contributed to declining fertility rates, which have in turn made it easier for women to enter the workforce. Education has also driven women’s empowerment and reductions in poverty. Many women are still living in poverty, however, and even highly educated women continue to earn less than their male peers. Women’s participation in politics has altered the democratic landscape, but those who reach the highest levels as political representatives are still running up against glass ceilings or cultural and financial barriers that hinder them from playing their political role as citizens with greater independence and with a greater endowment of resources. Yet it is surely what a number of authors have referred to as “time poverty” that has played the most influential role in highlighting the need for public policies that will play an active part in providing solutions for problems that were once considered to be in the private domain, such as the care and reproduction of the family – problems that remain one of the chief obstacles to genuine equality.
The Observatory identified a number of critical areas in which indicators needed to be developed, and those indicators were approved by member countries at the tenth session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean. These indicators provide a more complete picture of the status of women in the region and of the implications of gender-based inequalities in terms of poverty, the differential impact of poverty on men and women, and unequal access to monetary, production and political resources. The development of these indicators has been driven by the need to measure and quantify gender-based disparities in various areas and is in keeping with efforts to implement the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly two decades after the Platform for Action was adopted, all the different international agreements that are in force provide a clear example of the efforts that are being made, but they also attest to the vast challenges that remain.
Orginally published: 2013
Publisher: The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)
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