Progress of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean


Former Deputy Minister of Education Uruguay

Fernando Filgueira

Co-author of the Report
Social Policy Expert
Former Deputy Minister of Education, Uruguay
October 31, 2017

Latin America and the Caribbean stand at a significant juncture for achieving women’s economic empowerment. Following a period of prosperity, social progress and democratic deepening, many countries are experiencing economic slowdown or even recession, social polarization, distrust in government and, in some cases, political crises. External factors further contribute to the gravity of this moment, such as falling commodity prices, protectionist tendencies, uncertainty about the sustainability of remittance flows  and possible changes to immigration policies.

Against this backdrop, women’s economic empowerment must be placed at the centre of the public agenda in order for the region to build economies that are not only more prosperous and resilient but also more equitable. Those responsible for the formulation of public policies face a dual challenge: to protect the gains women have made against the economic downturn; and to overcome the persistent obstacles to their economic empowerment.

The progress women have made in the region during the last two decades is indisputable but so too are the persistent gaps—not only between women and men but also among women themselves. As this report shows, both women’s achievements and the constraints on their economic empowerment reflect the deep socioeconomic inequalities that are characteristic of this region and are exacerbated by patriarchal family relations and violent patterns of behaviour. These inequalities —which are strongly influenced by differences in geographic location and ethnic origin—are obstacles that must be overcome if economic empowerment is to be achieved for all women.

Based on the analysis of the progress women have made over a quarter of a century (1990-2015) and the remaining challenges they face today, this report offers six key strategies to overcome remaining obstacles and advance women’s  economic empowerment in the region:

  • Recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work;
  • Establish universal and gender-responsive social protection systems;
  • Create more and better jobs and transform labour markets for women’s rights;
  • Promote egalitarian family relationships that recognize the diversity of households and the rights and obligations of their members; 
  • Create the conditions for women to fully enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights; and
  • Contain the adverse effects of economic slowdown on gender equality.

Women’s economic and social position has improved in Latin America compared to men in the last three decades, but among themselves women have also become more stratified socioeconomically, sociologist Fernando Filguiera told a research lunch gathering at the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas. Increasing class divisions among women have made equity gains vis-a-vis men stall in recent years, and require government policies that do not further segment women along class lines, put them at risk for downward mobility or overlook the hours of unpaid work they contribute in home life and care-giving roles.

Filguiera presented these and other findings from the United Nations report Progress of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, which he co-authored. The report analyzes the increased participation of women in the labor market, their educational attainment, and other indicators of an erosion of patriarchal systems in Latin America from the 1990s to the 2010s. Filgueira underscored the need for governments to address obstacles to mobility for women across three class levels, which he illustrated with the titles glass ceilings, broken ladders and sticky floors.