Looking through recent studies from the World Economic Forum, I came across something as worrisome as it is enlightening: projecting current trends into the future, the global gender gap will close in almost 100 years. In other words, the girls and young women of today will likely never be able to see the complete equality that we all dream of.

The fight for gender equality is a necessary one that requires collective action and a clear strategy, but also commitment and passion. Despite the progress we have made, this fight is far from over.

During my term as President of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, as only the fourth woman and the first from Latin America to hold the position, I had the opportunity to see different global perspectives around the battle for gender equality. From Africa to the Middle East, each region has its particular challenges. Today, as an Ecuadorian, I want to focus on Latin America and its challenges for complete equality.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Historically, women in Latin America and the Caribbean have been victims of discrimination, exclusion and violence, but we have also been pioneers and fighters in the defense of our rights.  There are great opportunities to move forward. In fact, our numbers are encouraging. So far, we have closed 72% of the gender gap in the region and we are on the way to achieving complete equality in 59 years, just behind Western Europe (54 years).

Moreover, 13 Latin American countries are among the top 50 on  the Global Gender Gap Index, including Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Barbados, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Jamaica, Bolivia, Panama and Ecuador. This ranking measures each country’s conditions in terms of political empowerment, health and survival, educational achievements, and participation in the economy.

We should be proud to know that our region has made such immense progress towards gender equality. However, progress aside, 59 years remains too long to achieve full equality. We need to accelerate the pace.

Unity in Diversity

Gender equality is one of the issues that should bring us all together. We cannot think of building democratic, peaceful societies and eradicating poverty if we do not consider half of the world’s population. Hemispheric organizations such as the Organization of American States have a decisive role to play in accelerating this transformation and guaranteeing a fairer world for the millions of young women who cannot – should not – have to wait 59 more years.

To this end, it is essential to define the areas in which we have made progress, and those in which we still have work to do. For this reason, I share the following overview as a guide to the work that we should be promoting from the OAS:

In terms of health and survival, all countries in the region have made significant progress. This category is defined by two indicators; gender proportions of newborns and the differences in life expectancy between the genders. Today, 13 countries have achieved parity in terms of health and survival, and even the country that lags furthest behind has succeeded in closing 97% of its gender gap.

Furthermore, the region has also made significant progress in terms of access to education. This indicator provides a metric of the gender gap in terms of access to education at all levels, taking into account literacy rates by gender.  Gender parity in the category of educational attainment has already been achieved by 11 countries in the region and Guatemala, the country with the lowest performance, has managed to close 96.7% of the gap.

When we look at the category of economic participation, it is clear that this is one of our greatest challenges. This sub-index measures labour force participation rates by gender, income and wage differences, and the gap between men’s and women’s career advancement. Currently, the only country that is close to parity is Barbados, with a total of 75% of women participating in the labour force versus 80% of men. Guatemala has the lowest rate of female labour force participation, with only 43% of all women in the labour market.  In other countries, such as Brazil and Colombia, women’s participation is close to 60%. These figures show that the economic empowerment of women must be one of the priorities of the OAS agenda.

Finally, political empowerment is perhaps where our work and effort must be strengthened the most. This category measures the gender gap in high-level and executive positions in political decision-making posts. To put it in perspective, Latin America has closed just 26.9% of the gender gap of this sub-index and yet it is still above the global average. However, it is worth noting the progress made by countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico, which have managed to close more than 45% of their gap in recent years. The OAS must be a space for promoting women’s participation in all areas. It is not only a question of numbers and percentages but of the quality, perspective and contribution of women in the different decision-making arenas.

The Sustainable Development Goals, especially the fight to eradicate poverty, will only be possible if we succeed in fully and equally including women in our socio-economic systems. The OAS, throughout its history, has been a pioneer in generating legal frameworks, policies and initiatives in favor of women’s rights. The OAS has the possibility of being a platform for the exchange of successful experiences for the women’s empowerment, where their access to training and education, their access to credit and investment, their right to decent work, and their political leadership are taken into account.

I am sure that if we continue to work together, United in Diversity, we can provide future generations with a fairer, more equal world for all.

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