First report on work and the family in Latin America and the Caribbean

11 Jun 2009

The massive and irreversible inclusion of Latin American and Caribbean women in the workforce has highlighted the challenges of traditional interplay between work and family life. Responding to these tensions is an essential step towards gender equality and for more productive economies, says a joint report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Today, more than 100 million women throughout the region work – an unprecedented number”, according to the first report  “Work and Family: A new call for public policies of reconciliation with social co-responsibility”  prepared by ILO and UNDP.

The publication presented in Geneva within the context of the 98th International Labour Conference seeks to “address one of the greatest challenges of our time: the reconciliation between work and family”, which is “a fundamental aspect for promoting equality in the world of work and for reducing poverty”, the report says.

Tensions between work and the family entail a high cost not only to women and those to whom they provide care, but also to countries’ economic growth – to the proper functioning of labour market and companies’ productivity.

According to the ILO-UNDP report, 53 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean are part of the workforce, a rate that rises to 70 percent when considering only women between 20 and 40 years old. This has been significantly improving countries’ ability to generate wealth, enhancing wellbeing of households and reducing poverty.

“Today, women and men work, but there has been no similar process of change in redistribution of domestic workload. Nor have public services that support such duties been improved significantly –and there has been little change towards reorganization of social life”, states the report.

The strains between family life and work result in problems that affect performance, commitment and stability in the workplace, slow up progress in relation to gender equality and adversely affect the life quality of individuals and their environment, which leads to wasting labour potential.

The report states that the inclusion of women in the workplace has unveiled the existence of rigid gender roles, the undervaluing of domestic work and the overall perception that caring for the home and family are tasks that should be carried out by women.

Tensions between work and the family and their effects on women’s labour perspectives highlight the quality of jobs that are available for many women in the region, who are then forced to work in the informal economy.  “Wage discrimination is one of the consequences of sexual division of labour. As a result, in Latin America, women’s wages on average amount to only 70 percent of men’s income”, according to the report.

The ILO-UNDP report’s objective is to identify solutions to balance family life and work with collective social responsibility — redistributing care responsibilities between men and women, as well as among the family, the State, the market and society as a whole.

 The two United Nations agencies recommend a number of public strategies — legal, political or administrative – that should be pursued by the States, companies, trades unions, individuals and various social organizations.  The study also shows best practices, with initiatives from governments, businesses and trade unions, stressing the importance collective bargaining.

“The mindset that the household duties are part of women’s roles has obstructed improvements in quality of life”, the report states, since “caring for family members is also the responsibility of men.”

The report was presented in Geneva by the Regional Directors for Latin America and the Caribbean –  from UNDP, Rebeca Grynspan, and from the ILO, Jean Maninat. A discussion panel was also held, with the participation of Minister Nilcéa Freire, Secretary for Special Women’s Policies (Brazil); Max Puig, Secretary of State for Employment (Dominican Republic); Dagoberto Lima Godoy, Employers’ Representative on the ILO Governing Body (Brazil) and Julia Requena, Director of the National Central Unit of Workers (CUT), in Chile.

The report “Work and Family: A new call for public policies of reconciliation with social co-responsibility” is available online: http://www.oit.org.pe and http://www.undp.org/publications/pdf/undp_ilo.pdf

Contact Information

Download the report
ILO website: http://www.oit.org.pe

For more information, or to organize interviews, please contact:
In Geneva: Luis Córdova, Tel.: +41 76 4285624 o +41 22 9176948; cordova@oit.org.pe
In New York: Carolina Azevedo, Tel.: +1 212 906 6127 o +1 917 208 3732, carolina.azevedo@undp.org
In Panama: Pablo Basz, Tel.: +507 305 4864 o +507 6448 3004; pablo.basz@undp.org