GENDER EQUALITY IN THE SOCIAL POLICIES OF LATIN AMERICA: TENSIONS, ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES (Leticia Benedet)

This article deals with the process to integrate the gender equality agenda into the public policies of Latin America, by identifying tensions, oppositions, and advances; by focussing especially on a new kind of public policy to be developed in Uruguay, due to its potential to become the right gender equality policy: the National Integrated System of Care. Lastly, we will mention some challenges in maintaining the improvements achieved and to achieve even more.

The agenda of gender equality in public policies emerged during the 1990s, due to the political incidence of the feminist movement and to the presence of women in the World Forums of the United Nations.

Such forums were a suitable space to effect a critical analysis of the multiple discriminations and inequalities affecting women in the different scopes of their everyday life, including institutions such as the family and the State, and to agree on a coordinated action strategy.

Being aware of the important role played by States in social protection and inspired by the integration of new concepts of gender, as well as by the setting out of equality between men and women as the objective of public policies, they agreed to develop the institutionalization strategy of gender approach or gender mainstreaming[1].

The application of this new strategy is related to a new interpretative framework denominated Gender in Development (GID,) which not only focuses on unequal relations between the sexes but also on the very structures generating inequality. This implies that the changes in gender relations require deep transformations of the existing structures. Therefore, it has been proposed to integrate gender in the mainstream. The objective of gender mainstreaming is to integrate the gender equality approach – not as a separate issue but in a cross-cutting way – in all policies, programmes, administrative and financial activities, and even in the institutional culture, so as to really contribute to a change in the situation of gender inequality.

To this purpose they promoted the creation of specialized mechanisms for gender approach (ministries, councils, and Women’s Institutions) that will be charged with the leadership of this process.

“The peculiarity of gender agendas in the region lies in their having anticipated the criticism to neo-liberalism, by asking for an active role of the State, which was about to withdraw.” (Guzmán and Montaño, 2012, 10.)

The incorporation of this strategy into the State generated multiple tensions and resistances because, among other reasons:

  • It criticizes the status quo, considering that the State has produced and reproduced the many dominations and discriminations of societies, thus also gender relations, which produce inequality and discrimination against women.
  • It makes the analysis of reality even more complex when it states that, beyond economic injustice, there is another injustice produced by gender inequality, which it locates at the same level of significance.
  • It expects to articulate the gender dimension with other dimensions such as class, ethnical-racial, sexual orientation, gender identity; in a State that is used to see itself on the basis of an ideal model represented by a male, white, heterosexual human being, coming from an ideal family (the nuclear family.)
  • It suggests the development of a new institutional culture and therefore it has an innovating and transforming nature.
  • It combines specificity with mainstreaming and inter-institutionality as opposed to the centralistic, sectoral, and hierarchical logic of the State, suggesting a new way of thinking, implementing, and evaluating public policies.
  • It requires the formulation and application of new instruments and the training of officials in the whole structure of the State so as to develop them.

To the tensions and resistances mentioned above it should be added that 40% of such mechanisms for gender equality in Latin America are not allotted high-level hierarchical positions, as recommended by the Beijing Platform for Action, and thus are not endowed with sufficient resources or authoritativeness to access the different scopes of decision and to influence all public policies.[2]

The gender equality agendas of the State propose a new paradigm, where inequality is seen as having a systemic origin whose roots are settled at different levels: symbolic, normative, in social practices, and in individual subjectivities.

On the basis of this new way of thinking human relations, gender segregation has been made visible in the labour market, in education and in political representation, in gender-based violence (domestic violence, sexual harassment on the job, and the trading and trafficking of women and children,) in the value of unremunerated work performed by women in the household and of its contribution to social welfare, in the deaths of women because of abortions performed in conditions of risk, among other aspects.

At the present moment, after a series of advances and setbacks, the States have made progress as concerns the implementation of public policies expressed in Plans and Equality policies, laws, regulations, and decrees.

Among the most adequate gender equality policies an outstanding role is played by[3]:

  • The policies to tackle violence against women of Brazil and Uruguay;
  • The policies to ensure access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy (VIP) of Colombia and Uruguay[4];
  • The policies of parity and alternation of gender in the electoral laws of of Bolivia and Costa Rica;
  • The policy for labelled expenditure for women and gender equality of Mexico;
  • The policies for the acknowledgement of unremunerated women’s work contained in the welfare reform of Chile.

Such policies are oriented towards gender justice and the independence of women, since they recognize the existing inequalities and try to contrast them through specific measures:

  1. Integral responses for the prevention, attention, eradication, and reparation for women who have been the victims of gender-based violence;
  2. Health services, procedures, and methods to guarantee the voluntary interruption of pregnancy (VIP) and its follow-up;
  • Affirmative action measures towards the political participation of women through the establishment of parity;
  1. Compensations for women regarding social welfare, starting from the acknowledgement of their disadvantaged situation as compared to men, due to their responsibilities in terms of education and care for their children;
  2. Measures to make public expenditure visible in the different budgetary institutions and programmes of the State, allocation and guarantee of resources for gender equality policies.

Such policies also stand out because they recognize new rights, such as the right to a life free from gender violence, and thus the right not to suffer gender violence just because a person is a woman.

Within the framework of the new rights acknowledged by the States of the region, special attention should also be paid to the creation of the National Integrated System of Care in Uruguay, which represents one of the five priorities provided for by the current government (2015-2020.)[5]

The process of its construction begun with the coming to power, for the first time in the history of the country, of the leftist political party Frente Amplio (2005-2010), which included among its priorities to boost the promotion and the recovery of rights and to transform the social protection matrix then in force. In such a context, the new government created the Ministry of Social Development and put in place a set of initiatives such as the Tax Reform (2007,) the Health Reform (2007,) the Labour Reform (2008,) and approved the First National Plan for Equality of Opportunities and Rights for men and women (2007-2011.)

The successful incorporation of this policy in the Governmental Plan was essentially the result of the political incidence of organized women occupying public office positions. They worked hard to have caregiving included in the programmatic political agenda, adopting an approach based on social co-responsibility, gender, and rights (Aguirre & Ferrari, 2014.)

The draft law for the creation of the National Integrated System of Care defines it as “the whole of public and private actions that provide direct assistance to the basic activities and needs of the daily lives of people in situations of dependence. It includes an articulated set of new benefits, the coordination, consolidation, and expansion of existing services, as well as regulations concerning people providing caregiving services.”[6]

In the proposal concerning the national Integrated System of Care, caregiving is for the first time recognized as a human right (the right to provide and receive care), as the object of policies and as a social responsibility shared among the State, the market, and the families. Its target population will be people in situations of dependence: children up to 12 years of age, people with disabilities, elderly people, and people performing caregiving tasks. Gender mainstreaming lies at the very core of this policy.

During the process to design the National Integrated System of Care an essential role was played by feminist organizations (both from the civil society and academic) and by the National Women’s Institute (INMUJERES), the governing body for gender policies. They all contributed to include gender mainstreaming in the construction of a policy for caregiving. The intervention of the governing body for gender policies was decisive for the inclusion of caregivers (mainly women) as recipients of the policy.

From such a perspective, this new policy contains all the potentialities to evolve towards equality between men and women, through the acknowledgement of the task’s value and the redistribution of responsibilities and time dedicated to caregiving.

 

Among the possible impacts of such a policy aimed at advancing in terms of gender equality stand out:

  1. Its contribution to the transformation of the sexual division of labour, to the acknowledgement of the value of such labour, and to the co-responsibility of men and women as concerns the tasks, the responsibilities, and the time dedicated to it.
  2. The possibility of a greater freedom and independence for women who carry out caregiving tasks in sharing this responsibility with the State and the market, making progress towards a scenario of social co-responsibility and of defamiliarization of caregiving.
  • Greater incentives for women to become integrated in the labour market and/or in educational activities while ensuring adequate caregiving for their dependants.
  1. The improvement of the working conditions of female caregivers and the surety of their rights.

By way of conclusion

There is no doubt that in the past decades the region of Latin America has made considerable progress as regards social policies for gender equality. However, it is also evident that such achievements, which entail the recognition of new rights historically demanded by the feminist movement, may be lost since this approach still encounters resistances in different sectors of the society, many of which have veto power and refuse to accept the distribution of power and benefits to women in equal conditions. The possibility to maintain these achievements will depend on the ability of women’s and feminist movements to keep themselves cohesive, vigilant, skilled in establishing alliances with multiple stakeholders and in generating methodological inputs for the design of the policy, its follow-up and evaluation.

[1] To learn more about this strategy we recommend reading the global Platform for Action approved by the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995.) http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/bpa_s_final_web.pdf

[2] Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean of CEPAL. http://www.cepal.org/oig/

[3] For further details on this concept and on each of the policies mentioned, we recommend the perusal of Benavente & Valdés, Políticas públicas para la igualdad de género. Un aporte a la autonomía de las mujeres, 2014, CEPAL, Chile. http://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones

[4] This is a personal consideration of the authoress.

[5] For further details on the process to build the National Integrated System of Care we recommend the perusal of Aguirre & Ferrari, La construcción del sistema de cuidados en el Uruguay. En busca de consensos para una protección social más igualitaria, 2014, CEPAL, Chile. http://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones

[6] The draft law for the creation of the National System of Care is currently being examined by the Chamber of Deputies having already received partial approval by the Senate.

Leticia Benedet

 Leticia Benedet

Graduate in Psychology (UdelaR, Uruguay), Master Degree in Gender and Public Policies (FLACSO, Argentina). She works at the Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay since 2005. Since 2012 she also serves as Adviser on International Cooperation topics and has been a member of the Management team of the National Women’s Institute during the first five years of the Administration led by the Frente Amplio (2005-2009.) She is also a member of the Teaching Staff of the High Diploma in Gender and Equality Policies (FLACSO, Uruguay) and has been an Associated Professor of Reproductive Health, Sexuality, and Gender at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of the Republic of Uruguay (2003-2007.)