As we come to the end of the year, we, the women of Latin America and the Caribbean can be satisfied and hopeful, thanks to the commitments made by our countries in the area of gender equality.
In two important meetings organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, governments signed the Montevideo Consensus and the Santo Domingo Consensus; both contain specific agreements aimed at endowing women with more physical, economic and political autonomy.
For decades the women of our region have used social movements and institutional mechanisms to campaign for effective state action to end discrimination in society. The fact that equality is now guiding government agendas is a triumph in which they can legitimately claim to have played an important part.
The Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in October in the Dominican Republic, mainly addressed the space that women occupy in the digital economy — a current focus of the work being carried out by ECLAC.
We believe that Latin America and the Caribbean should undertake a process of structural change, seeking to diversify its production patterns, by applying a combination of industrial, economic, social, environmental and labor policies. From our perspective, this will enable the region to grow steadily with environmental responsibility and greater equality. The structural change we are proposing relies heavily on generating knowledge and incorporating innovations into the production system and society as a whole. Information and communications technologies (ICTs) play a crucial role in this process.
We add a gender perspective to this debate, because the opportunities generated by the new digital economy are not always distributed equitably among countries or people. We are seeing first- and second-generation gaps, not only in terms of access to computers and the Internet, but also in relation to the skills and use of such technology.
Data show that while women do benefit from the advances of the digital society, they lag behind men.
The average Internet usage rate in 10 countries is far lower among women than among men.
A public policy sensitive to this reality should recognize that gender equality in the digital economy is mainly seen in the workplace (paid and unpaid).
It is therefore urgent to implement policies that prevent labor segregation, avoid income gaps and promote a fair division of labor by gender.
The slow rate at which labor-market gaps are being closed, highlights the persistent obstacles to access faced, not least of which is the fact that women remain those mainly responsible for unpaid and care work in the home.
Also consider, in our region a woman with 13 or more years of education still earns 37 percent less than a man with the same level of qualifications.
For ECLAC, equality is synonymous with entitlement to rights, and the state has a unique role to play in achieving minimum thresholds of well-being without using up resources or reducing the momentum of economic buoyancy.
The positive advances registered by the consensuses reached at these regional conferences point to a systematic defense of the integral and indivisible nature of rights, enhancement of the state (possibly going against prevailing viewpoints from the recent past) and the quest for a new equation in the relationship between the state, society, market and the family.
The idea is to the change the balance of power so that Latin American and Caribbean women can enjoy their rights effectively.
Alicia Bárcena is the executive secretary of the Economic Commission forLatin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)