Empowering Women in The Americas

By:Jorge Gonzalez-Mayagoitia Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration empowering-women

The world is finally breathing again after one of the most severe global economic downturns. Recovery will require a lot of creativity and innovation, as well as a number of crucial systemic adjustments that leads us to sustained economic growth. Maybe for the first time in history, we need to understand that the use of female talent to address this and other pressing global challenges is not an option, but a critical necessity.

In today’s economy, a country’s competitiveness is its human capital. Women account for one half of the global population and when they are well-educated, participate in public decision-making and can earn and control income, a number of positive economic and social transformations automatically follows— infant mortality declines, child health and nutrition improve, agricultural productivity rises, population growth slows, economies expand and cycles of poverty are broken. All of these outcomes not only improve the quality of life of our communities, they also encourage faster economic growth.

Research conducted by the United Nations and the World Bank in emerging markets of The Americas demonstrates that the combined impact of growing gender equality, a rising middle class and women’s spending priorities will lead to an increase in household savings rates and shift spending patterns that are likely to benefit vital sectors of our economies, such as food, healthcare, education, childcare, consumer durables and financial services. Within the next five years, this trend will be particularly strong in countries like Mexico and Brazil.

Reducing the gender gap and fully incorporating women in the economy could also help to address, more successfully, some of the future problems in The Americas, posed by aging populations and rising pension burdens, particularly in countries where people are aging more rapidly, like the U.S. and Canada, where the median age is 36 and 40 respectively.

Measuring the Problem

To achieve all this, there is still much to do. Persistent gaps in access to education, healthcare, technology and income are some of the biggest challenges keeping women from being fully productive members of society in The Americas. The Global Gender Gap Index 2009 ranks the performance of 134 countries based on four categories: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. In our hemisphere, Trinidad and Tobago, a small island in the Caribbean, obtained the highest grade (19). Argentina (24), Canada (25) and Costa Rica (27) following close behind. The U.S. ranked 31. However, a number of countries in the hemisphere are near the bottom of the ranking, even considering high GDP growth rates—Chile ranks at 64, Brazil at 81, and Mexico at 98. Guatemala is the lowest-ranking country (111), followed only by countries in Africa and the Middle East.

A similar survey, The Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010, ranked the gender equality policies of the 600 largest companies in 20 countries, including Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The results are not very promising, especially if you consider only two pieces of critical information: 1) percentage of women employees and 2) percentage of female CEO’s. In the case of Brazil, these numbers respectively equal 34% and 11%; Mexico 36% and 0%; Canada 45% and 0%; and in the U.S. 52% and 0%.

These revealing figures prove that gender equality policies in The Americas are broadly missing, and the level of disparities that still coexist in our hemisphere, at least in regards to closing the gender gap are ever present. Therefore, it is urgent to empower women and provide them with the full package of rights, tools and opportunities to maximize their potential, whether they decide to be entrepreneurs, elected officials or community organizers. This is one of the keys for true long-term progress in the hemisphere as labor forces expand and become more productive, household income increases and customer bases expand.

A Roadmap to Success

First, we need to make ourselves aware of the challenges posed by gender gaps in The Americas. Second, we must learn from our neighbors with the highest performance rates in gender equality and acknowledge the opportunities that might be created if we empower women in our communities. In these two processes, we need to engage our politicians and policy-makers, the civil society, the private sector and academia.

Third, we need to replicate or adapt frameworks and best practices that proved to be effective in these countries. This will certainly require significant changes in legislation, public policies and social perception of problems and solutions. The new paradigm must promote the empowerment of all women, whether they live in urban or rural areas; strengthen women’s social and economic rights; combat all forms of violence against women and ensure women’s human rights; eliminate gender stereotypes in society; seek women’s equal representation in decision-making; and support women’s diversity. We also need to find out how to channel women into science, technology and engineering to drive innovation.

Persistent gaps in access to education, healthcare, technology and income are some of the biggest challenges keeping women from being fully productive members of society in The Americas.

Even when it is a duty of the government to assure gender equality, in many cases the problem is a matter of women’s access to resources, such as microfinance for female entrepreneurs, training and education opportunities, healthcare, and services—whether public or private—that help reconcile family and professional life. Successful cases around the globe have proved that the involvement of the private sector and civil society is crucial. Finally, indicators for monitoring progress in this field must also be considered.

The Biennial of The Americas: An Exceptional Opportunity

On July 7th, 2010, the Biennial of The Americas organized by the City of Denver will present The Americas Roundtable on Women. This will be a unique opportunity in which a group of exceptional female leaders from The Americas will focus on women as drivers of the new economy and as agents for positive and effective change. It is a forum you do not want to miss.

Jorge Gonzalez-Mayagoitia serves as Consul for Political and Economic Affairs at the Consulate General of Mexico in Denver. He is a career diplomat since 2006 and Colorado is his first post abroad. The Mexican Consulate is the oldest foreign mission in the state, being established in 1893, only 17 years after Colorado became part of the U.S. It oversees the 64 counties of Colorado and 13 counties in eastern Wyoming. As part of its economic responsibilities, the Consulate promotes trade, investment and tourism between Mexico and Colorado. For more information, visit the website at www.sre.gob.mx/denver or call (303) 331-1110.