Oxford, UK — The armed conflict in Colombia paired with the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women mean there has been a regression in Women’s empowerment in Colombia. Many lasting inequalities persist or are getting worse, most noticeably politically and economically. Additionally, poverty rates in the country are highest in female-headed households. However, the government has a high level of dedication to make society in Colombia more equal, not just because a fairer society is a better one but because economically, more equitable societies excel economically. One of its initiatives is the ‘Ciudadanía en Acción’ Foundation‘, which works for gender inclusion and equal opportunities. Another is the ‘One Million Empowered Women’ seminars, led by the Vice-President of Columbia herself, which “has impacted more than 12,000 women.”
Colombia ranks well with regards to gender equality thanks to its work to completely eradicate almost any disparity in educational attainment and rates of health and survival. Yet, according to the Global Gender Gap report in 2020, the gap in “economic participation and opportunity” is 26.5% between women and men.
Women are less involved in the labor market due to gender wage gaps and a lack of opportunities due to discrimination. This is also the case because women complete far more unpaid work, allocating almost four times the amount of time to this than their male counterparts do daily. As a consequence, they have less time available for working in the labor market. Women’s unemployment rates are therefore unsurprisingly 1.7 times higher than that of males.
Yet, Colombia was the first country in the world to formally acknowledge the economic contribution of unpaid care work, demonstrating the progressive agenda of its government. As a result, the gender disparity in labor-force participation has plummeted by roughly a third since the year 2000. The gender pay gap in Colombia is much lower than the OECD world average of 13%, standing at just 6% in 2018. This demonstrates that although there is much work to do, women’s empowerment in Colombia has had many successes so far.
Colombia is set to continue its progress thanks to initiatives such as the Autonomous Trust Fund, which promotes and finances women in business. Additionally, the government plans to boost women’s economic empowerment and use it for social change in their plan ‘Commitment to Colombia’s Future’. Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that “closing gender gaps in employment” can “increase GDP by 35%,” demonstrating that these initiatives are good across society and not just for women.
Women are underrepresented on a political level in Colombia, both in voting and in elected representatives. Women’s representation in these areas is hugely important for several reasons.
- There is much evidence that countries with a higher percentage of female political representatives have lower levels of corruption and a positive economic impact.
- Socially, it is necessary for a population as diverse as Colombia’s to have a government that reflects it. Representation in government leads to the legitimization and increased positive for minority communities in their daily life. For this reason, it is also imperative to include Colombia’s indigenous communities. This is a task that has made some progress through their inclusion in the Final Peace Agreement discussions, but which has a very long way to go.
Colombia recognizes the importance of diversity, and the top echelons of government reflect this with gender parity in the ministerial cabinet for the first time in history and with the first female Vice-President, Marta Lucía Ramírez. Furthermore, there are quotas for women to make up 30% of the electoral list and of top positions in all branches of public power.
Unfortunately, governments cannot always meet these quotas. In the 2019 regional elections, “only two women were elected governors” in comparison to five in 2015. However, the capital cities Bogota and Santa Marta have women mayors. These are important cities where the mayors have never been female. This demonstrates progress in the overall perception of women and their political potential, indicating that the fight for women’s empowerment in Colombia is succeeding.
Violence against women
Violence against women in Colombia happens on multiple levels and is a terrible product of women’s unequal status in the country. It has been one of the unfortunate elements of ongoing armed conflict, with the state and illegal armed groups perpetrating these acts. Internal armed conflict increases violence against women. In fact, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights even found that violence against women is still a “strategy of war” in Colombia.
The violence also happens on a more personal level. For example, intimate partners committed 51% of femicide cases in 2015, demonstrating the alarming rates of violence that take place domestically. The Colombian government has shown great commitment to help alleviate this problem through passing laws. More recently, in the context of the pandemic, it erected shelters for women at risk of violence and designated 14 billion pesos to shelter and feed victims and their children. For their progressive and determined work, in 2020 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognized Colombia as a leader in women’s equity policies in Latin America.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Females account for 65% of the affected economic sectors. Due to armed conflict, 80% of those internally displaced are women and children. Yet the various initiatives that work for a reduction of discrimination and for the betterment of women’s socio-economic and political inclusion will undoubtedly continue to help increase women’s empowerment in Colombia.
– Hope Browne