Caribbean women still struggle despite huge strides

A new World Bank study says that while women in the region have made huge strides in labor participation, access to education and health over the recent decades, they still face new challenges to succeed as mothers and as working women at the same time.

The study, “Work and Family: Latin American & Caribbean Women in Search of a New Balance,” says that women in the region even surpass men on many counts and rank well above many other regions of the world.

It states that more than 70 million additional women have entered the labor force in the region since 1980, marking an unprecedented growth in female participation in the labor market.

The report states that three decades ago, only 36 percent of working age women were in the labor force.

Since then, it says female participation in Latin America and the Caribbean has risen faster than in any other region in the world.

“These results are closely linked to females scoring huge successes in education where they have been outperforming men on a number of indicators,” the report says, stating that girls are today more likely than boys to enroll in secondary and tertiary schooling and also more likely to complete both.

But, as the gender parity gap closes, new challenges arise, the report warns, stating that a first generation of gender policies has addressed disparities and ensured equal access to services ranging from education to health.

“However, a new set of policies is needed now to help women balance the demands of their careers and family lives,” the report says.

“Ironically these advances in the gender agenda are bringing new challenges for the policy makers, in particular the unmet demand for flexibility by women who are trying to balance their lives at work and at home,” said World Bank economist and report author Laura Chioda.

“Whether it is the provision of childcare services or the formalization of part-time arrangements in the labor market, policies allowing more flexibility at work have been proven to improve the quality of women’s participation in the workforce,” she added.

Chioda said evidence provided in the study shows that women in the region increasingly face the complex challenge of balancing different roles, identities, and aspirations.

She said many see joining the labor market as a move towards a career rather than just a source of income – “a move that doesn’t translate into giving up on their desire for marriage, motherhood and family.”

These complexities have to be brought to the center stage of policy design, the report argues.

“Legislation that acknowledges the pressures of motherhood and of the day-to-day demands on households’ time, can generate important results by enabling women to fulfill their identities as mothers and workers, raising the quality of their economic participation, thereby increasing their well-being, as well as that of the entire household,” Chioda said.

She said the expanded professional engagement of women in society has also translated into higher participation in formal politics-including many high-office positions.

The study says the share of parliamentary seats held by women in the region is currently nearly 24 percent, the highest in the world and marginally exceeding that of high income Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (23 percent).

It says while women representation in parliaments is on the increase region-wide, it remains unevenly distributed across countries.

It is about 10 percent in Belize, Haiti, Panama, Brazil and Suriname, but it is more than 30 percent in Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guyana.

The report warns against “simplistic conclusions and views” on gender issues in the region, calling for a deeper understanding of women’s decision making processes in order to improve the design and efficacy of policy.

“In light of the region’s remarkable achievements over the past four decades, it may be tempting to conclude that the gains in access mechanically translate into gains in labor market outcomes and that welfare can unequivocally be inferred from these trends,” the study says.

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