March 2017
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ECLAC Advocates for Women’s Autonomy in Latin America and the Caribbean

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ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, took part in the high-level event organized by the Chilean Government in collaboration with UN Women. Photo: Carlos Vera/ECLAC.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean should guarantee women’s physical and economic autonomy as well as their independence in decision-making in order to achieve gender equality in the region, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said on Friday, February 27 during a high-level event called Women in Power and in Decision-Making: Forging a Different World, organized by the Chilean Government in collaboration with UN Women.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we women know what is needed to achieve gender equality. Now it’s time to act,” said Bárcena, who explained that physical autonomy refers to exercising sexual and reproductive rights; economic autonomy to access to income, assets and credit; and autonomy in decision-making to participation in spheres of political power.

The issue of gender equality must be put at the center of the political agenda, ECLAC’s top representative emphasized. Bárcena jointly presided—along with the Minister of the National Women’s Service of Chile (Sernam), Claudia Pascual—a session called Secrets to share: Women’s leadership in the construction of a more equal society, in which female leaders from throughout the world participated, including ministers, trade union representatives, international officials and other personalities.

“Women’s bodies are their territory,” Bárcena said regarding the need to ensure that the female population can exercise sexual and reproductive rights in the region’s countries.

On another topic, she said that the main obstacle limiting women’s labor participation, in conditions equal to those of men, stems from the fact that women primarily have the responsibility of caring for dependents.

According to ECLAC’s statistics, one in every two women is outside the labor market in Latin America and the Caribbean and one in every three does not have her own income, while only one in every 10 men is in the same situation.

A study by ECLAC concluded that if women had the same access as men to employment, poverty would fall between 1 and 14 percentage points in the region’s countries, Bárcena said.

In terms of work, she indicated that women are segregated horizontally (in low-productivity sectors) and vertically (in lower-ranking positions). Women are mainly found in low-productivity sectors as salaried employees (37.6%), self-employed workers (20.2%) and domestic service providers (10.7%).

Bárcena proposed, as a challenge, the development of public care systems and the redistribution of domestic work and care among men and women, and among the family, the State and society.

ECLAC believes that the current process for defining the post-2015 development agenda represents an important opportunity to consider the active and substantial participation of women in both its design and its implementation, with the aim of ensuring that men and women benefit from development.

“We have the opportunity to free coming generations from the scourge of poverty, inequality and other major, silent crises such as climate change. We have the ethical and political obligation to open doors so that women can fully exercise their freedoms,” Bárcena said.

“That’s why we are here, to commit ourselves to making more progress, to swear that we will not cede ground, to equip ourselves with new arguments and skills that allow us to return to our places of work convinced that gender equality is another name for liberty and democracy,” she said.

The inaugural ceremony of the event, which concludes on Saturday, was attended by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.