On behalf of ECLAC, I warmly welcome the launch of the EU-LAC Women’s International Network of which we are part. The multi-level exchange network between Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and the European Union (EU) comes at a time when it is necessary and urgent to act together for a transformative recovery with equality and sustainability at its core. For this change to happen, women’s autonomy and full participation is fundamental.

I speak of urgency because it has been two years since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are still feeling the effects. What at first appeared as a health crisis has enhanced other structural crises in the region and today, what ECLAC calls the prolonged social crisis, continues to have an impact at the macroeconomic level, but also on the lives of families, individuals, and women, in particular, deepening the structural knots of gender inequality.

In these two years, we have seen an increase in the loss of income, in the precariousness of work and in the poverty of the time available to women. In terms of paid employment, we estimate that 6 out of 10 women are in sectors highly affected by job losses such as commerce, manufacturing, tourism and paid domestic work. Younger women, with children aged 0-4, face the greatest barriers to returning to paid work. First confinement, then social distancing, the closure of schools and children’s centres have directly impacted the availability of time and their access to the labour market.

In the recent ECLAC projections, the slowdown in Latin America and the Caribbean deepens with a lower than expected growth of 1.8% on average, which added to higher inflation, will result in a slow recovery of employment. ECLAC projects that only men will return to precrisis levels, while women will barely reach the labour participation rate of 2008 (49.1%). We would still be at the levels of 13 years ago, with only one in two women participating in the labour market.

On the other hand, care work, which is mostly done by women, has increased. One out of every three employed women in the region is employed in the care economy sectors such as teaching and health, which, despite playing a fundamental role in the sustainability of life and being “the front line”, are occupations where the wage gap and lack of protection persist. If we consider unpaid care work, women spend three times as much time as men on these activities. Countries in the region that have measured the economic value of unpaid work in households indicate that it would represent between 15.7% and 24.2% of GDP and that it is women who contribute about 75% of this value.

During this time, we have seen how women have been absorbing the overload of domestic and care work that the pandemic has produced. We have also seen an increase in their indebtedness, what has been called the “feminisation of debt”, through loans to finance food, basic services and other household needs, as an extension of the care responsibilities assigned to them.

Faced with this reality, responses cannot wait any longer. If every crisis implies an opportunity, we are facing an opportunity for real change to address global challenges such as climate change, inequality, the growing asymmetries between developed and developing countries, and today, the pandemic. This is also an enormous opportunity to strengthen joint work between Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe. Both regions have many experiences to share, and many ideas to think of common solutions. We welcome a fruitful dialogue.

The Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean is a venue for this dialogue to take place. It is one of ECLAC’s subsidiary bodies and the main intergovernmental forum on women’s rights and gender equality in the region. For 45 years, we have had a profound, ambitious and comprehensive Regional Gender Agenda of commitments by the governments of the region to women’s rights and empowerment.

With this Agenda as a roadmap, ECLAC proposes a profound transformation that recognises the links between the economy, society and the environment. The proposal adopted by governments is to move towards a care society that prioritises care for the planet, health, people and self-care. This new social organisation is what we call the care society. It is an urgent call for a new style of development that requires rethinking patterns of production, consumption and distribution, as well as reorienting finance towards the real economy, putting the sustainability of life at the centre and redistributing co-responsibility between the state, the market, the various forms of families and between men and women.

A development style that promotes greater multilateral cooperation at global and regional levels to address global threats such as climate change and disasters from a gender perspective.

This will be the structuring axis at the XV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will take place in Argentina next November. There, around the central theme “The care society: a horizon for a sustainable recovery with gender equality”, representatives of governments, civil society, the private sector, women’s and feminist movements, as well as international organisations will meet to share experiences and envision a joint effort to move collectively towards the care society. We invite you to join us on this journey.

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