LAS VEGAS —The Beijing Declaration for Action, created in 1995, called for governments throughout the world to create economic and social policies that were geared toward gender equality, allowing women a better foothold in the new millennium. Since then, a number of changes have occurred for women but there are signs that there is a long way to go until gender equality is reached in many regions. Yet, in Latin America and the Caribbean, governments have invested in social policies that have benefited the inclusion of women, including programs that benefit families and domestic workers.
For decades, the women of Latin America and the Caribbean struggled for basic social remittances that would allow them equal footing with their male counterparts in society. Being employed as caretakers and domestic workers primarily, 54 percent of women in these sectors were not offered benefits such as social security and childcare. What’s more, women in the region were expected to earn 17 percent less than men for the same job. Though this is considerably lower than many countries, the Beijing Declaration for Action advocated for reformations that would put the wage gap at zero.
Despite the ongoing struggles for wage equality, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have made the greatest progress with regard to the Millennium Development Goals, according to U.N Women’s reports. Women’s participation in the labor force grew by 11 percent and many governments enacted social policies that focused on providing benefits to mothers and growing families. These social policies, rather than economic policies demonstrate the potential of social reformation to make a profound impact on economic development. Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are a few countries whose social policies, providing pensions, family allowances and conditional cash transfer have allowed women the opportunity to escape total deprivation and dependence.
U.N. Women’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Luiza Carvahlo said, “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”
Two successful examples of these social policies come from Brazil and Mexico. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia and Mexico’s Prospera, have gained international recognition for their positive outcomes.
Since its introduction in 2003, Bolsa Familia has benefited around 11 million families in Brazil, and is one of the largest conditional cash transfer programs in the world. Bolsa Familia provides poor families that make an average of $35, with cash assistance as long as the children of the household remain enrolled in school and receive regular health exams. As a program designed to serve a targeted or specific group, it has reduced the instances of poverty among more than 46 million Brazilians.
A study of Bolsa Familia conducted by Brazil’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth said, “Bolsa Familia has helped reduce inequality and extreme poverty and has improved education outcomes, without having a negative impact on labor force participation.”
Mexico’s Prospera was designed with the same goal; to provide assistance to a specific group that had been excluded from previous policy making. For the 17 years it has been in operation, Prospera has helped 5.8 million families in Mexico. In addition to providing cash assistance for families that send their children to school, Prospera has expanded and now allows its beneficiaries access to higher education and better employment opportunities. Therefore, not only does it reduce the problem of monetary poverty but also the prevalence of miseducation, thereby limiting the cycle of poverty amongst uneducated families.
The social protection specialist at World Bank, Francesca Lamana said, “The program has expanded activities to favor the social and productive inclusion of beneficiaries.”
Critics of social policies like Bolsa Familia and Prospera often point to the fact that they only include women who are domestic caregivers or women whose primary responsibility is taking care of their families. However, what they do not take into account is that the majority of women in Latin America and the Caribbean have families and have been largely ignored in policy making. Though there is work to be done to include women who do not have families, it must be recognized that women are the main beneficiaries of such policies and a step toward the inclusion of women into society means a step closer to eradicating the cycle of generational poverty.
– Candice Hughes