Opinion by Laura Aragón
Washington, D.C. (March 8, 2021) – As March 8th, International Women’s Day, increased in popularity, leaders from the public and private sectors embraced the day. Some sent institutional messages congratulating women “on their day”. However, feminist groups and women’s organizations shared a resounding message: Nada que celebrar. We have nothing to celebrate.
March 2021 marks one year of the initial lockdowns mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas. The United Nations (UN) has warned that women have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recently published a special report stating that “the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a setback of over a decade in labor market participation for women in the region.”
Women’s overrepresentation in the informal economy puts them at greater risk of infection, job loss, and much more. There are between 11 and 18 million paid domestic workers in Latin America; 93 percent of them are women. These women work with no contracts, access to health care services, or social security. They were some of the first to lose their jobs during the pandemic and find themselves without any safety net. This vulnerable group is also impacted by school closures, having to oversee online schooling for children at home.
In some countries in the region, calls for help on domestic violence have increased during the pandemic. Women’s organizations that raise awareness about violence against women and girls and work to advance women’s rights reacted immediately by adapting their services to continue to provide assistance to victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Despite this grim reality, only 1.6 percent of the United States’ philanthropic aid goes to programs focused on women and girls and international aid follows a consistent pattern.
Women in Latin America and the Caribbean have resisted violence for centuries and worked collectively to advance women’s rights. Thanks to them, the region was the first to adopt an international treaty, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará) in 1994. Europe followed decades later. The region also has the highest number of elected women in local and national legislatures. These glimmers of hope are often lost in the gloom of sobering violence and abuse of reports.
The global community urgently needs to wake up and understand that women in Latin America and the Caribbean are facing serious socio-cultural and financial pressures. The biggest drivers of violence against women are gender norms and attitudes upheld by historical patriarchal societies and the pervasive culture of male dominance, or machismo. These societal norms are exacerbated by discrimination and the near absolute impunity of gender-based violence abuses and crimes. In fact, a shocking 98 percent of femicides, or gender-based homicides, go unprosecuted in the continent.
In my role as women and gender thematic leader at the Pan American Development Foundation, I am lucky to work with resilient feminist and women’s organization in Latin America and the Caribbean. I am particularly proud of the brave women who stand up for their rights and for their sisters’ rights. But we need the international community to acknowledge the shortfalls in philanthropic funding for gender equality programs and how widespread gender-based violence is across the continent. We can and must do better.
So, while we may have very little to celebrate on this International Women’s Day, I am confident that with sufficient funding and support for women’s organizations, we can create a region of opportunity and hope across Latin America and the Caribbean for all women.
Laura Aragón is the Pan American Development Foundation’s women and gender thematic leader. She is a published author on issues related to gender and access to justice and has worked on numerous gender and human rights projects in Latin America.