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Latin America and Gender Post Covid-19: An Ignored Crisis

April 29th, 2022

Imagine how you would feel if someone forced you to live in a world where you only had access to technology from the 1990swhile everyone else around you was using modern ones (Google, social media, video calls)?

Unfortunately for millions of women, they don’t have to imagine this. They have lived in that social “blackout” world made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, with gender gaps reaching levels not seen since the 1990s. While governments took measures to confront the pandemic, the overall response has been inadequate, and most efforts ignored those who were most affected. Yet, recommendations pushing for fiscal tightening are already on the table, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other organizations suggesting this consolidation be ‘immediate’ while choosing to ignore the need for continued social protection.

This year’s ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development which ended on Thursday, was supposed to help address this crisis. The outcome document of the FfD Forum highlights the need for more investment in gender-responsive social protection measures, which the Financial Transparency Coalition has repeatedly called for. However, the FfD showed no actual preference for helping people over helping companies. Thus, the forum recognizes the problem but has failed to propose any solutions.

This should be seen as a lost opportunity, especially in regions like Latin America which has the most inequality, gender discrimination, and violence in the world. In terms of inequality, Credit Suisse estimates that those in the top 1% of Latin America hold 39% of the total available richness (measured as earnings plus assets). The top 10% own 75.5% of the general wealth.

The fact that 252 men have more wealth than all 1 billion women and girls in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean speaks volumes about existing discrimination. There are more than three men for each woman in positions of power in the private sector. The reality is no different for public positions.

Impunity and social tolerance around gender violence are also widespread. Among the top 25 countries with the highest femicide rates, half were Latin America. Also, reported domestic violence grew by 553% with the pandemic.

Women’s empowerment is key to breaking this cycle, but it must be conceived from economic, physical, and emotional perspectives. Access to economic opportunities shows progress. Despite this progress, structural limitations persist with human bias. While women predominantly opting for care-related careers is not problematic, the value gap these careers face is.

Physical limitations and lack of safety also reduce women’s ability to exercise their rights fully. For the most part, speaking up and out against rights violations is regarded as a weakness and can result in additional restrictions. Physical limitations also impact working options, including supposedly more accessible job markets.

The emotional and mental load associated with unpaid care work has not been faced either. This lack of action comes even though Latin American women are close to doubling the time spent on these activities compared with other regions (370 minutes a day compared to 200 in South Asia and the Pacific).

To identify opportunities to close gender gaps in the region, LATINDADD explored public interventions that had taken place. The three top takeaways are:

  1. Governments’ interventions to confront the pandemic did not consider women and how we exist in the world.

Among the 1100+ Covid-related interventions that the region registers in the UNDP Gender Response Tracker, 40% were reported as gender-sensitive. Half of them concern explicit violence. While campaigns to raise awareness are necessary, they are not effective by themselves. In the six countries sampled with LATINDADD’s studies, which are representative of 40% of these measures, the participation of gender-oriented efforts decreases to 5%-10%.

Additionally, women’s economic security measures are highly concentrated, with half of them occurring within 4 out of 47 countries. Only 30 measures (0.2%) relate to unpaid care, but the problem of these measures coming in temporary “assistance” persists. This tracker also does not focus on budget implications. Social interventions in Ecuador represented around 40% of the budget dedicated to the crisis, yet economic support specific to women constituted less than 1%.

2. Social interventions must redefine their vision of what constitutes crucial investments.

According to LATINDADD’S studies, some Latin American countries devoted only 15% of their Covid-19 expenditure to social needs, presumably because social investment is not seen as crucial. Further, some interventions did not consider the channels, times, and conditions through which the public would access these investments. Thus, the representation of women (and other minorities) is a vital task here.

A study in Ecuador reveals that while 11.2% of the national budget goes to debt service, only 8,6% is assigned to health. Ecuador is not an isolated case. US$379 billion (13%) out of the US$2.9 trillion invested globally in social policies were spent by developing countries. While high-income countries allocated an average of US$847 per capita on social policies, the average of the Latin American region was US$124, and individual values were as low as US$4.

3. It is urgent to act upon care and gendered access to opportunities.

Numerous developed countries are already prioritizing care-related services. Those practices remind us that authentic change needs investment, political backing, and cultural shifts. Governments’ role in prioritizing issues, including our registers, the embarrassingly low significance given to women-focused measures (especially in budgetary terms) still disappoints. What’s more frustrating and disheartening is that guidance and influence on a gendered response could also come from the IMF, the World Bank, and other financial backers, but it has not.

Nonetheless, from the financial side, there are two main calls to action:

  1. Latin American governments have tools to access alternative funds and keep working with the most vulnerable groups:
    1. Beneficial ownership registries. 3-5 countries already “use” them, but only two (Ecuador and Argentina) are exploring the possibility of doing it openly. Technical and conceptual limitations still refrain them from reaching their potential.
    2. Wealth taxes. Two countries implement them, Argentina and Bolivia. Through the pandemic, Argentina six-folded this tax collection with a significant adjustment but, despite seeing its potential, it remained temporary.
    3. Registries and exchanges. These are crucial to tax effectively within contemporary economic and social practices. Country by country (CBC) reports are among the most relevant.
  2. Global leading figures and financial backers must promote better social investment in Latin America and the global South. Financial backers must use their influence to guide countries on the quality and impacts of allocated resources.

The FfD concluded that austerity is a high cost to pay for tax abuse and inadequate financial regulation since this it particularly undermines women’s rights and reinforces entrenched gender inequalities. On the other hand, the forum also recognized the multiplier impact of women’s support to communities and economies. However, gender equality continues to be largely ignored in Latin America and elsewhere in the world, something we should not allow to happen for everyone’s sake.

 

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels

Written by Klelia Guerrero García

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