Promoting gender equality helps boost productivity and economic growth in Latin America

In its new Labour Overview for March 2024, the ILO carries out an extensive analysis of gender gaps in Latin America and analyses its importance in promoting productivity, economic growth and promoting more equitable societies.


LIMA (ILO NEWS) – The existing disparity in labour participation rates between men and women represents a gap that, if reduced, could translate into a significant increase in business productivity and regional economic growth, according to the Technical Note Closing the gender gap to boost the economy and productivity of Latin America . The Technical Note was prepared by the ILO’s Gender and Non-discrimination Department (GEDI) of Latin America and the Caribbean, in collaboration with the Bureau of Employers’ Activities (ACT/EMP) after several months of consultation that included the International Organization of Employers (IOE).

The research details how the unequal participation of women, exacerbated by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work and marked employment discrimination, is holding back the productive and economic potential of women in the region.

The report highlights a persistent labour participation gap, with rates of 51.8% for women compared to 74.4% for men (ILO Labour Overview data, 2023). “There is an urgent need to address gender inequalities and carry out transformative changes that allow women to fully integrate into the labour market under the same conditions as men”, said Ana Virginia Moreira Gomes, Regional Director of the ILO Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Note also reveals that Latin American economies with the smallest gender gaps in certain key sectors, are also those that record the highest levels of labour productivity per hour worked. For example, in sectors where greater STEM disciplines are required. Furthermore, it highlights that the prevalence of violence has a negative impact on the performance of women in the workforce and underlines the need to promote safe and inclusive work environments.

On the other hand, businesses led by women prove to be more profitable with smaller investments compared to those led by men. This observation reinforces the importance of eliminating the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs, including limited access to financing and technology.

To address these challenges, the ILO proposes a set of areas of opportunity to reduce gender gaps, promote better regulations and public policies so that all individuals and companies can take advantage of their full productive potential, offer equitable solutions to unpaid care work, encourage female participation in the labour market, combat labour discrimination and close income gaps between genders, eradicate violence and harassment in the workplace, and support female entrepreneurship.

“The ILO urges governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to collaborate in the implementation of policies aimed at closing gender gaps. The goal is clear: to unlock the full economic potential of Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting a more equitable and productive society”, concluded Moreira.

  1. Relevant data

    – Disparity in labour participation: in 2023, women managed to recover pre-pandemic levels of labour participation, however, the gender gap in labour participation persisted significantly, with a rate of 51.8% for women compared to 74.4% for men (ILO, 2023).

    – Gap by educational level: at the regional level, the employment rate of men with a university level is 11 percentage points higher than that of women with the same educational level. At lower levels of education, the gender gap reaches 32 percentage points and is even more pronounced (ILO, 2023).

    – Contribution of unpaid work: women dedicate 22 to 43 hours per week to unpaid care activities, compared to 10 to 20 hours dedicated by men, which significantly reduces women’s productive potential in the region (ECLAC, 2023).

    – Economic cost of gender-based violence: violence against women can represent a cost of up to 2% of global GDP (UN Women, 2016).

    – Female entrepreneurship: companies co-founded by women report higher economic returns with lower investment compared to companies co-founded by men, underscoring the untapped potential of female entrepreneurship in the region (WEF, 2018).

    – Formalization of paid care work: in Latin America, domestic work accounts for 11.3% of total female employment, with 7 out of 10 domestic workers belonging to informal employment (ILO, 2021).

    – Impact of women’s financial and digital inclusion: women’s financial and digital inclusion is key to their economic empowerment, providing access to information on job opportunities, more flexible jobs and educational resources (OECD, 2012).

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