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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Tue Jan 11 07:15:05 2000
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 22:51:52 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: LABOUR-LATAM: Women Workers Here to Stay
Article: 86411
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: c4bf7296b95260589643d3933c5e4c7f

Women Workers Here to Stay

By Zoraida Portillo, IPS, 2 January 2000

LIMA, Jan 2 (IPS) The massive influx of Latin American women into the labor market, and their increasingly evident contribution to the region's economies, is one of the more important facts of the 20th century.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimated that the participation of women in the labour market rose 211 percent in the last 30 years, while the increase for men was 84 percent.

The regional countries where the presence of women in the workforce is below average are Brazil, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, according to ECLAC.

And the International Labor Organisation (ILO) predicts that the trend of incorporation of women in the Latin American labour market will continue over the long term. As evidence of this, it noted that since 1970, when three of every 10 women had a job, that figure has doubled.

A number of international organisations agree that by the year 2015, the ratio of women in the economically active population of Latin America will hit 50 percent.

The 1980s heralded a flood of women into the workforce due to the pressing need of families to augment their incomes, as a result of the foreign debt crisis, according to various studies.

Today, the reasons for the increase in working women are more diverse and range from the need to raise household income levels, to better education for women and a greater sense of their social worth.

Education has been a fundamental factor in permitting women to enter the labor market. The education gap between men and women is much smaller today than it was for the previous generation, said Alicia Villanueva, coordinator of the Programme to Generate Income of the Manuela Ramos Movement.

That has gone hand in hand with the new perception of women themselves about their role in society, not just as mothers or housewives, but also in making decisions about maternity, the number of children and the interval between children, which also determines their entrance into the labour market, she added.

Whatever the motivation, it is clear that the presence of women cannot not be ignored in macroeconomic indicators, as their contribution is becoming more significant every day.

The facts speak for themselves: nearly 30 percent of Latin American homes are headed by women, while their share of household income is also increasing.

The most dramatic case is Peru, where the wages earned by women constitute 80 percent of net household incomes, according to a study on women, employment and poverty in Andean countries carried out by a Multi-disciplinary Technical Team from ILO.

Generally speaking, the study says that the majority of new family members in the labor market in Andean nations are women, and notes that in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, women in poor homes earned more than men.

Lamentably, the massive presence of women in the workforce has not improved their quality of life. On the contrary, it usually has meant more women performing menial labour.

ECLAC estimated that the jobs most often performed by women continue to be in domestic service, family-run businesses and the informal sector.

This is partly a consequence of larger employment trends throughout Latin America. According to the ILO, in every country in the region, except Bolivia, the industrial workforce has grown less than other sectors, and is lagging far behind the service sector.

This trend has increased the demand for unskilled labor - mainly women and youth - particularly in the informal sector, which has seen a large expansion.

On the other hand, the wages earned by women continue to compare poorly with those of men in similar jobs.

The ILO study revealed that the average salary of women in Andean countries is 20 to 47 percent less than that paid to men.

This gap cannot be explained solely by the difference in productivity between men and women, as is usually claimed, but rather is evidence of discriminatory practices in the labour market that are detrimental to women, underlines the report.

Another problem that remains unsolved is the double duty faced by working women, who leave their jobs at the end of the day only to perform household chores when they get home.

Women in the labor market work much harder than men, as (men) get support from their families or girlfriends - who always carry the heaviest burden, says Villanueva who, however, is convinced that in spite of this, it is still a good thing that women are working and earning money.

It gives security and support in their personal development, the expert added.

Teresa Galvez, a textile worker with four children, agrees. Since I started working, I feel free. Now, my husband doesn't dare lay a hand on me, he knows that I count, too. I feel important, it doesn't matter that I end the day dying from exhaustion. I'm tired, but content, she said.

Women entered the labour world out of necessity, but they are staying not just because they have to, but because they want to, ECLAC concluded.