ANALYSIS: Do Women Gain from EU-Latin America Cooperation?

New Europe
Saturday, April 9, 2011 - 20:00
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Hundred years have passed since the initiative to highlight the achievements of women in the world was launched. And yet in the 21st century we are still witnessing many social, legal and physical constraints for women to use their potential and to exercise their rights. The list of 100 examples of inequalities between women and men existing in the EU today, prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), demonstrates an obvious reason why Europe must invest in gender equality not only among the Member States but in its external relations as well.

Different regions in the world perform differently in terms of gender equality and women's rights. We hear a lot about an appalling situation of women in the Middle East or countries like Afghanistan. More rarely we hear about the situation of women in Latin America – but not because there are no issues of gender inequality in this region.

It is true, some countries, like Argentina, Chile or Costa Rica, are doing better than others. For example, 40 per cent of all legislators in Argentina are women and women in Costa Rica represent 48 per cent of all local Council members. But even in terms of women's political representation, countries like Guatemala or Ecuador perform much worse. In many Latin American countries women are subject to family violence, disadvantageous labour conditions, much lesser literacy rate compared to men and meagre political representation.

To institutionalise equality between women and men as the fundamental value of the EU, regional cooperation agreements and EU country strategies on Latin American countries require much improvement in this context.

Data disaggregated by sex and gender statistics normally are key instruments for the design and justification of cooperation strategies and support the future areas of intervention with reliable quantitative and qualitative information on the strategic and practical needs of women and men. However, recent EU documents and country strategies on Latin America present scarce and sporadic information and baseline data, insufficient to judge the relevance of certain intervention in respect to the benefits for women and men. Facts gathered by EIGE for 100 inequalities from public sources show that in 2008 the assessment in Europe of the risk of poverty among elderly women stood at 22% compared to 16% for elderly men and poverty risk is on the up amongst women in old age than for men over 65 (22% for women to 17% for men). It is difficult, however, to judge the situation in this context in the analysis of the countries of Latin America because such data is not displayed at all.

From a practical point of view, there are two specific fields where this problem is particularly relevant. The first one is that documents on violence in Latin America do not distinguish between general violence and violence against women. Equally, when discussing human traficking many documents do not provide a break-down by sex, even though women and girls represent the main risk group.

Another problem is that there are no gender-specific measures foreseen in the strategies, which could be useful to support women in taking advantage of the SME schemes, training on human rights and conflict management, institutional management, education or research and innovation.

What is more, very often the potential of NGOs dealing with women's issues is not tapped into relevant policy actions. As a result, interventions might achieve a much lower impact, especially since the lack of specific support mechanisms and networks for social entrepreneurs working in this field is a clearly identified shortage in the region.

The involvement of organisations, like Women Change Makers, that strive to invent and enact solutions to women's empowerment and progress, would be a strong contribution to planned activities. Women like Alicia Leal, who work to promote the creation of justice centers for women as an effort to ensure multiagency services for victims in Mexico, could be an enormous asset to EU policy actions.

In order to make development cooperation effective, just and fair; in order to give the most benefit to those who are in need and those who can implement the change, the EU should do more to mainstream gender equality in its cooperation with Latin America. Specifically it should: 1) improve policy documents with a proper Gender Impact Assessment; 2) develop a sound baseline data which contains sex-disaggregated data for the future monitoring and evaluation; 3) carry out proper analysis of the particular needs of women and men when planning interventions; 4) plan, where necessary, specific measures to strengthen gender equality and, when needed, involve women's organisations; 5) plan and measure interventions on the basis of achievements for men and women.

Dr Laima Andrikienė MEP is Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament and member of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EUROLAT).