Gender stereotypes still weigh on the career selection process followed by men and women in vocational training institutes of Central America and of the Dominican Republic. This situation is exacerbated as concerns women, mainly trained for careers that are traditionally deemed feminine, leading to less productive, remunerative, and socially recognized jobs. This occurs despite the fact that all countries of the region have by now adopted legislation and policies promoting gender equality. As it may be noticed, such policies do not always permeate sectoral policies, such as those related to employment and vocational training.
The situation illustrated above requires a special attention to the need to adopt specific strategies so that women may be able to overcome such barriers and enter the careers offering the best prospects to find a decent job and thus overcome the inequality currently shown by the labour market of the region.
This market, in the instance of Central America and of the Dominican Republic, presents high rates of gender segregation. Such a situation affects both men and women, but women have to bear the brunt. Women are highly concentrated (7 out of every 10 are engaged in traditional activities such as sewing, household work, administrative support services, sales, and cooking,) whereas men show a lesser degree of concentration (4 out of evert 10) and a greater number of jobs in the sectors of agriculture, industry, construction, and trade.
In addition to this, women are apparently more excluded from strongly masculine jobs than men are excluded from strongly feminine branches. On the other hand, women concentrate in branches offering lower wages and are less socially acknowledged, they earn less than men even in the more feminine branches and concentrate in the less skilled branches.
Similarly, if we examine the distribution of men and women in occupational groups we will find that the participation of women is especially weaker (almost half as compared with men) at average technical and professional levels of qualification. And it is precisely at such levels that vocational training institutes may have a greater impact to correct the current imbalance.
Such a situation, although much more widespread in Central America and in the Dominican Republic, is still ongoing in Europe, where recent reports of the European Commission and of the Steering Committee for equality between men and women of the European Parliament have admitted that many women and men engaged in vocational training and in secondary education base their decisions concerning their future careers on traditional gender roles. Moreover, European labour markets are still reproducing gender segregation. For instance, a study conducted in Spain in 2013 on “Women’s vocational training and new sources of employment” concluded that “The almost complete coincidence existing between the levels of gender segregation in the educational system and in the working world leave no doubt about the relevance of the formative-vocational factor in the formulation of any strategy aimed at balancing the participation of women and men as sources of employment (as well as in any other sector of economy).”
To get to know more in depth the current situation in Central America and in the Dominican Republic ILO, jointly with the Network of Vocational Training Institutes of this sub-region, conducted a study called “Diagnosis on Gender Equality in the Vocational training Institutes of Central America and of the Dominican Republic” (http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—americas/—ro-lima/—sro-san_jose/documents/publication/wcms_314342.pdf) with a view to the design of strategies to approach the above-mentioned issues.
That study has shown that institutions have managed to increase the total enrolment of women during the past decade, but they have done it at the cost of great internal imbalance among the different specialities. Over 60% of the specialities of the combined vocational training institutions in the region are unbalanced . Although, as in the labour market, this segregation affects both men and women, the adverse impact on women is much more intense. They are under-represented in a greater number of careers, and highly unbalanced specialities are even more unbalanced when it comes to women. Furthermore, women are a minority in long-term training (both skilled and semi-skilled) as well as in courses for actively working people. They are concentrated in short-term training, after which they only get a a course completion certificate. To sum it up, women’s training options are more limited and have a lesser impact in terms of improvement of their employability.
There is a quantity of reasons for this situation. On the one hand we have the imbalance among specialities, essentially due to gender stereotypes and social rules, which still weigh heavily on the decisions made by men and women when choosing their areas of study. On the other hand, their integration into courses of different duration is related to the form that structures the training opportunities offered by institutions. Moreover, longer and more entitling courses require time and dedication, based on the profile of a male student with no family responsibilities. And such requirements may not be accomplished by women, whose majority are engaged in unremunerated and care-giving work.
We should also take into consideration other factors that are typical of institutions and that determine, to a large extent, the possibility for women to participate. Some of these factors are related to the reduction of economic costs (free enrolment, subsidies for materials, food, and transportation, among others.) These are more beneficial for women who, in their majority, have no resources of their own. Moreover, the increase of geographical coverage aimed at bringing the biggest centres closer to the communities, flexible timetables, and the availability of care-giving services have brought about more study opportunities for women, who usually have less time to study being charged with family and care-giving responsibilities. As we have already pointed out, flexible timetables are fundamental for women to build vocational routes that may enable them to reconcile both spheres. Hence, all efforts towards a greater flexibility of long-term training will be beneficial to achieve a better balance in the enrolment of the more entitling courses.
We should also pay attention to the fact that the existence or otherwise of care-giving responsibilities determines the expectations of female students, whereas it has no incidence at all among men. Women with family responsibilities who are aware of the difficulties inherent in finding a job allowing them to reconcile both spheres, hope to go self-employed in the area for which they have been trained, while those who have no such responsibilities hope to improve their skills in order to start up or to consolidate their professional careers within companies.
The above-mentioned study also investigated on the existence of situations of violence against women in classrooms. Problems of sexist and sexual harassment against women or LGTBI persons were reported in the majority of institutions. Sexist harassment is especially widespread in careers that are not traditional for women or men, and it challenges their ability to accomplish the tasks assigned to them on the basis of what stereotypes dictate as “typical” of men and women. Except for Costa Rica, institutions have not yet provided for denunciation mechanisms for such cases or specific actions to prevent and fight such phenomena.
Even though the situation herein summarized contains both lights and shadows, all countries of the region have adopted Equality Laws and/or Policies or Plans for Equality. Therefore, there exists a regulatory and policy framework promoting equality. Furthermore, some institutions follow gender policies, are endowed with institutional mechanisms for the promotion of equality, and have already actuated specific measures that are yielding their earliest results.
To this purpose, the report sets out a series of recommendations related to key areas for the promotion of equality, including: production and dissemination of knowledge about key factors to break with segregation in vocational training; consolidation of mechanisms to promote equality in institutions; development of promotional campaigns, and access for women and men alike to non-traditional areas; review of the training offer as regards timetables and dedication; facilitation of care-giving options to achieve equal permanence and exit opportunities for women and men; improvement of labour orientation and intermediation services; prevention and fight against sexist and sexual harassment; strengthening of institutions, also entrepreneurship training.
 The specialities where the participation of men or women is less than 40% are unbalanced specialities. When the participation of one of the two sexes is less than 25% the speciality is highly unbalanced.
María José Chamorro
Ms. Chamorro is a Spanish sociologist from the “Universidad Complutense” in Madrid, has a master’s degree on Environmental Management from the School of Industrial Organization of Madrid. Before joining the International Labor Organization in 1998, she worked in the private sector as a specialist on studies of environmental impact. From 1998 to 2004, she held the title of program officer for the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) in Central America. From 2004 to 2008, Ms. Chamorro was a technical officer for IPEC-Geneva covering three areas: domestic child labor, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and children in armed conflict. In 2008, she began working with a team promoting decent work.