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Pandemic set women’s working conditions in Latin America back by a decade – ECLAC

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A year of crisis has meant a decade of labor regression for Latin American women. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) points out that women have been the most affected by the economic impact of covid-19, as they are the majority in occupations where jobs are more precarious and at risk of disappearing, such as trade, hospitality, industry, and domestic services, and with limited access to credit to preserve or recover their businesses.

In other largely female-dominated professional sectors, such as health and education, jobs are not in danger, but female workers are often insufficiently prepared and protected against the coronavirus.

Corabastos Market, Bogotá (Photo Internet Reproduction)
Corabastos Market, Bogotá (Photo Internet Reproduction)

In a report entitled “economic autonomy of women in a sustainable recovery with equality”, presented on Wednesday in Santiago, the United Nations’ ECLAC urges governments to implement gender-based economic recovery policies to reduce inequality and leave no one behind. “High-risk sectors concentrate about 56.9 percent of employment for women and 40.6 percent for men in Latin America,” the report notes. In some countries, this gap is even greater, as in the case of Mexico: 65.2% of female workers are employed in sectors heavily hit by the crisis, against 44.9% for men.

ECLAC proposes to reactivate sectors that have been severely affected, such as trade, tourism, and services, as it considers that “in addition to stimulating economies, they have a powerful impact on the recovery of women’s employment”. It also calls for investing in care infrastructures to foster economic growth: “On the one hand, investment boosts internal consumer demand and, with it, activity levels. On the other hand, it increases the potential for long-term growth and development by freeing up women’s time and professionalizing and regulating the quality of care, which helps countries escape the low-growth trap.”

The expansion and accessibility of care services (day care centers, etc.) is crucial to expanding women’s share of the labor market. Before the pandemic, women’s activity rate stood at 52%. Now, the organization estimates it to be around 46%. In addition to the loss of economic autonomy, there is an overload of unpaid work, particularly that linked to care and support in their children’s schoolwork, now that in-person classes have been suspended.

Among the data compiled in the report, some that reflect the magnitude of the impact of this crisis on women are highlighted, such as the collapse of domestic work. In Chile and Colombia, 4 out of 10 domestic workers have been jobless since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic. In Brazil, it is 2 out of 10. Those who have preserved their jobs have often seen their tasks increase, either as a result of greater hygiene requirements due to the coronavirus or the need to care for relatives who were not permanently at home in the past.

The healthcare sector has taken on special relevance since the coronavirus spread worldwide. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 7 out of 10 workers in this area are women, but their salaries are at least 25% lower than those of their male colleagues. “Faced with the current crisis, working hours are intensifying, and in some cases people working in this sector do not have enough protective equipment, which increases the chances of infection and also aggravates stress among workers,” ECLAC alerts.

The organization is also concerned about setbacks in education, where 70.4 percent of jobs are filled by women. “The teaching staff (largely female) has had to cope with new education methods, in many cases with no prior training or preparation and lacking the skills or resources to adequately adjust their work to the demands of distance learning and the use of platforms,” the report notes. The fact that in many places in Latin America the role of schools extends beyond education – ensuring that children are fed, for instance – has forced educational staff to also cooperate in tasks such as distributing food, sanitary products, and school supplies.

Faced with this scenario, ECLAC proposes that countries should design gender-based economic reactivation policies. This implies that care should not be perceived as a social cost but rather as an investment to create employment, and that the need to reverse discrimination in the labor market should also be considered.

Source: El Pais

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