Young Women Speaking the Economy
A Crisis Upon a Crisis
Though Latin American women have made continued strides toward progress, they've done so while still constrained by continued social inequality. The current economic crisis, says expert Lidia Heller, is an additional hurdle to overcome, along with existing structural crises. Heller, author, professor, and founding member of the Latin American Network of Women in Management, talked with IMOW to explain why the influx of women in the Latin American job market hasn't gone as well as it could have, and how women are banding together to weather the storm.
International Museum of Women: Compared to the rest of Latin America, how do you think the recent economic crisis affected women in Argentina? Has it led to more gender inequality in Argentina?
Lidia Heller: Argentina had its great crisis in 2001. At the time male unemployment was above the two-digits, so more women went to the informal market to earn income, in jobs such as domestic work. In general, many women join the labor market for the first time during a crisis and continue to work, but this does not solve the gendered division of labor in the home and gender equality loses relevance during extreme situations.
Also, the current economic crisis is superimposed on other existing crises in Latin America-structural phenomena that affect women to a greater extent. But when there is a crisis, poor women are willing to take any job that is available, whereas when the economy grows, alternative employment opportunities are created. The recent economic and financial crisis worldwide confirms this trend in most countries of the region; for example, when the crisis affected labor markets, there was an increase in the female labor force employed in informal domestic work.
IMOW: Why a growth in domestic work?
LH: Analyzing the supply and demand of domestic service and its relationship to the economic crisis has shown that outsourcing domestic work is a symptom of a problem that is based on social inequality between men and women. Women are essentially pulling a "double workday," going to work paid jobs as domestic work, and doing unpaid work at home at the end of the day.
IMOW: Besides domestic work, more women than ever before are working paid jobs in Argentina. Why doesn't this put them in a better position to weather the crisis?
LH: According to International Labour Organization (ILO) data, the female labor force participation rate rose in less than three decades from just over 30% (1990) to 54% today. From the standpoint of equality, Latin American societies were simply not prepared to adequately deal with the massive influx of women into the labor market. For example, more educated women are entering the labor market but are still being underutilized and the "double workday" prevents them from exploiting new opportunities in the paid labor market and having a career.
Public policies have not noticed the new needs that have arisen from this phenomenon, and there hasn't been a redistribution and democratization of domestic and care work between men and women at home. The organization of work and life in society continues to be based on a family model where there is a woman dedicated exclusively to reproductive functions and a male breadwinner.
The new reality of Latin America shows that that model is actually a minority in current Argentine families. Most families now have dual income providers, and female-headed households constitute one third of all households in the region and continues to rise.
IMOW: Part of your expertise is in women in business management roles. To what extent have women in management positions in Latin America been growing?
LH: Women have reached educational levels that equal or exceed those of men, they have taken on leadership roles in different ways and they have succeeded in overcoming barriers and developing strategies. But the anxiously-awaited equality at the level of board positions and top management positions are, as of yet, unseen.
Women in Latin America occupy less than 5% of CEO positions in larger companies, according to recent international reports. Of the Fortune 500 in Latin America, only 13 have a female president. Attempts to explain this phenomenon, as well as measures to modify it, have not had a large impact in Latin America in the last decade.
IMOW: Since this latest economic crisis, have you seen any new or surprising trends in terms of women's economic participation?
LH: The strong growth and vitality of the women's movement in the region is truly shocking. The movement is enabling the emergence of networks and partnerships between women to encourage and support productive development in different sectors. These partnerships are making it easier for women to understand complex requirements to starting a business--bureaucratic procedures and credit access, for example. In addition these networks help expand the minds of entrepreneurial women to see more possibilities for their contributions to the business world, and promote social commitment and effective leadership.