WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Latin American and world leaders on March 8 commemorated International Women’s Day, which this year has been dedicated by the United Nations to women in rural areas throughout the world.
Since its origin in the 1910s, International Women’s Day has been observed worldwide in recognition of the contributions of women to society.
This year’s celebrations come at a time when five women are heads of state in Latin America and the Caribbean: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, President Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago.
In the region, women are a driving force in economic development. Female labor force participation is above 50%, according to statistics by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and has increased significantly since 1990 with growth rates close to 1% a year.
IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said women in Latin America “are helping drive the region’s recent growth.”
“At the same time, their greater financial security is generating direct benefits for society, … reducing poverty and inequality,” he said in a statement on IDB’s website.
Increasing participation of women in the workplace is also reflected in the political arena, he added.
Beside the region’s five heads of state who are women, “the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women in the region is nearly 24%, the highest in the world,” Moreno said.
Latin American women have made gains in access to schooling, jobs and participation in the economy, Moreno said.
“Girls today are more likely than boys to be enrolled in secondary schools and post-secondary education, and are more likely to graduate,” he said in a statement on IDB’s website. “More than 70 million women have entered the region’s labor force since 1980, resulting in an unprecedented growth in female labor market participation. These are all positive achievements in which women in our region can take pride.”
José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said International Women’s Day comes at a time when “gender equality is acknowledged not only as a human right and a development goal, but as a smart economic policy.”
But many issues remain to be solved, he said.
“Women still access the labor market in a condition of disadvantage, unprotected, in unstable situations, lacking social security and with low income,” he said in a statement.
Countries should “uphold and even strengthen” their commitment to gender equality, he added.
Equality and inclusion around the world
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the gains in equality and inclusion women have achieved worldwide.
“There are more women heads of state or government than ever, and the highest proportion of women serving as Government ministers,” Ban said in a statement. “Women are exercising ever greater influence in business. More girls are going to school, and are growing up healthier and better equipped to realize their potential.”
Despite momentum, more needs to be done before women and girls can enjoy their fundamental rights, freedom and dignity, he added.
“Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world’s rural areas,” Ban said in a statement on the United Nations website. Rural women and girls – to whom this year’s International Women’s Day is devoted – make up one quarter of the global population, yet routinely figure at the bottom of every economic, social and political indicator, from income and education to health to participation in decision-making.
Michelle Bachelet, executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWOMEN), said while tremendous progress has been made in women’s rights and inclusion, no country can claim to be entirely free from gender-based discrimination.
“This inequality can be seen in persistent gender wage gaps and unequal opportunities in child marriage and missing girls due to son preference, and in continuing violence against women in all its forms,” said Bachelet, who was president of Chile from 2006 to 2010.
Bachelet called for International Women’s Day to be a day to “defend human rights, the inherent dignity and worth of the human person, and the equal rights of men and women.”