Although there has been a considerable effort in bringing about gender equality, women in the Latin America and Caribbean region are still seeing many hurdles on their way to achieve economic progress, according to the World Bank.
The Bank’s report has praised several countries – particularly Nicaragua, Jamaica and Suriname – for their efforts to enforce equal rights. Nicaragua emerged as the top reformer in the region by introducing paternity leave, giving married men and women equal rights to be head of household and to choose the marital home. The country also raised the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys and improved women’s property rights in cases of divorce.
In Suriname, women were granted the same rights as men to transfer their nationality to their husbands and children. In the past two years, Jamaica repealed a restriction on night work for women that had been in place since 1942. And the Caribbean country now has a credit bureau which reports small loans. The accessibility of credit information can benefit women’s ability to get a loan and start a business.
There are several other successful examples too: Mexico made payments for childcare tax-deductible; and Uruguay increased the length of maternity and paternity leave. Uruguay also raised the minimum age of marriage with consent, for both boys and girls.
Colombia, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago increased the maximum threshold of a claim that can be heard in a small claims court, expanding access to justice to small businesses that are often owned by women.
The report, which examines laws that impede women’s employment and entrepreneurship, finds that married women, in particular, face many legal restrictions to economic opportunities. In Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, wives need to provide additional documentation when applying for a passport, which is not required of husbands.
In the Bahamas women face more difficulty in conferring citizenship to their children and in Barbados they cannot do so at all. “Such restrictions can limit women’s access to government services,” says the report. In Bolivia, married women cannot get a job without the permission of their husbands.
In addition, 16 economies in the region prohibit women from doing the same jobs as men, says the report, which monitors 173 economies throughout the world, including 33 economies in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Belize does not allow women to work at night in factories or handle goods at a dock, and Honduras and Colombia restrict women from working in jobs deemed hazardous.
In terms of violence against women, every economy in the region, with the exception of Haiti, has domestic violence legislation in place. “But implementation and enforcement of laws protecting women from violence remains a challenge,” the report added.
The region is also making gains on other fronts. Five economies (Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, the US territory of Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago) have laws prohibiting gender discrimination in access to credit.
Several economies in the region are promoting women’s political participation through the use of legal quotas in elected bodies. For example, Bolivia has been able to achieve a 53 percent representation of women in its parliament with a legally mandated candidate list quota of 50 percent and sanctions for violating the requirement.
El Salvador also imposes sanctions for not properly implementing candidate list quotas. In just the past two years, Mexico increased gender quotas for party lists in federal district elections to 50 percent and introduced the requirement that male and female candidates alternate on the list, while Haiti enacted a new electoral law requiring one of three city council members to be a woman.