Pandemic Causes Poverty for 23 Million Women in Latin America and the Caribbean

February 10, 2021

Photo: Bill Hackwell

The pandemic caused a 10-year setback in the labor market in Latin America that impacted mainly on women by increasing their poverty and unemployment conditions, which is why it is necessary to design and implement recovery policies that include a gender focus, i.e. feminist.

This is the main conclusion of the report ‘Women’s Economic Autonomy in the Recovery, Sustainable and with Equality’, presented on Wednesday by Alicia Bárcena, Secretary-General of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

According to the report, in 2020 the female labor market participation rate in the region fell by 6.0 % from 62.5 % to 57.2 %. In the case of men, the reduction was smaller, falling from 73.6 % to 69 %.

The unemployment rate for women increased from 8.1 % to 10 %, while for men it rose from 7.0 % to 9.7 %.

The percentages mean that there are now 23 million more women in poverty than the 90 million there were in 2019. In total, 118 million women are not earning an income, which accentuates inequality and undermines their autonomy.


The report recalls that women are over-represented in poor households in the region and that they suffer higher unemployment and expulsion from the labor force, in addition to conditions of informality, barriers to access to financial services and digital divides.

In addition, they are less involved in decision-making on responses to the pandemic, as their presence is concentrated in low-skilled sectors that are most affected by the health crisis and despite the fact that they are the majority of frontline health workers. In this sense, women represent 73.2% of the health sector but earn on average 23.7% less than men.

There has also been an increase in the burden of care, persistence, and exacerbation of gender-based violence due to confinement, or other expressions of violence in networks and cyberspace.

Women, she explains, face greater risks of losing their jobs because of the sectors where they are in the majority of workers, such as manufacturing, tourism, paid domestic work, real estate activities, and administrative and support services.

For example, of the 40 million employed in health, education and paid domestic work, 78% are women, but 36.5% of women in households with children under five are out of the labor force due to home care demands.

In the specific case of the 13 million paid domestic workers in 2019, 76% had no pension coverage, and their situation worsened with the pandemic, as work in this sector plummeted across the region, with the extreme cases of Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica, where the drop was from 43.6% to 45.5%.

On the other hand, women with lower incomes face a double obstacle: the lack of economic independence and the internet access gap, because they are less able to pay for connectivity services and therefore to work from computers at home.


Faced with this scenario, ECLAC proposes a strategy of transformative recovery with gender equality, which will only be sufficient with affirmative actions in the areas of taxation, employment, productive, economic and social policies that protect women’s rights achieved in the last decade that prevent setbacks and address gender inequalities in the short, medium and long term.

In principle, it proposes the implementation of a new fiscal pact that promotes gender equality as a central element for a sustainable recovery, with an analysis of the differentiated effects between men and women, a progressive increase in tax collection levels and the allocation of spending towards gender policies.

It also supports an inclusive digital transformation through a “basic digital basket” that enhances the use of technology and reverses socio-economic barriers; and a productive recovery with employment for women that increases their participation in other sectors in which they traditionally are not allowed to enter, as well as ensuring their access to quality financial services and products.

The organization proposes granting a basic emergency income to women who were forced out of the labor market by the pandemic; valuing the care economy as a strategy to achieve a transformative recovery that includes prioritizing vaccination for workers in health, education and paid domestic work, and guarantees for access to unemployment benefits and emergency cash transfers.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – Cuba, translation, North America bureau