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Study underscores inequality for Afro-descendant and indigenous populations

A report entitled State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous People 2010 has found that many Afro-descendant and indigenous populations in the Americas continue to face major inequalities, including in the area of economic opportunities. 

The situation has been compounded by the drop in remittances that accompanied the global economic meltdown. The decline in remittances had marked effects on indigenous and afro-descendant populations that were largely dependent on this source of income to remain above the poverty line.

Further, numerous natural catastrophes including heavy rains, landslides and droughts in many countries took their toll on these marginalized populations who often live in precarious settlements or off the land.

Within Latin America, the report examined the situation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Peru. Brazil’s situation paints a particularly dire picture: of its 90 million Afro-Brazilians, many are poor. They live in poor health and have difficulty accessing education. Thus they constitute only a small percentage of the professional middle and upper classes. Recently, the Government of Brazil has made efforts to curb the inequalities of employment and education, including through affirmative action measures. But many still question the effectiveness of the policy.

LAC countries improve gender equality ratings

The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report 2010, launched on Nov. 4, 2010 illustrated progress in achieving universal education, raising life expectancy and moving toward gender equality in Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. 

UNDP introduced an innovative and improved measurement: the Gender Inequality Index. The new criterion measures inequality between women and men in three areas: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. 

In the Gender Inequality Index ranking, the countries in the Americas tend to place in the high to medium level. Canada is leading the region, placing at 16, followed by the United States at 37 out of a total of 136 countries. In LAC, Cuba, Costa Rica and Chile rank the highest at 47, 51 and 53 respectively, while Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti rank the lowest. 

In the LAC labour market, the average female participation is 55.3 per cent while it stands at 83.3 per cent for males. The average for OECD countries is 65.5 per cent for females and 80.1 per cent for males.

New operational policy for gender equality

In early November, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a new operational policy targeted at direct strategic investments for gender equality and the participation of women in banking or business operations. To further inform this policy, the IDB in conjunction with other key organizations such as the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the World Bank, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft Für Technische Zusammernarbeit (GTZ) held a forum in Lima on women’s entrepreneurship later the same month. Studies on barriers faced by female entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean were unveiled at the event. 

The main findings of the study “Women’s Economic Opportunities in the Formal Private Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean” were related to the lack of training and access to networks and markets, as well as the continuation of traditional gender roles in the disproportionate assignment of domestic labour to women. The study included recommendations such as targeted labour market reforms to lessen the barriers that women face in business as well as the creation of services that facilitate access to business training and financial services. 

These recommendations have been included in the IDB’s new operational policy to promote gender equality.

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