“The time for women’s empowerment has arrived,” writes Susan Segal, president and CEO of Americas Society/Council of the Americas and publisher of Americas Quarterly, in a new op-ed in The Miami Herald. Segal writes that in Latin America, though women and girls have achieved gender parity in access to education and health care, they have not yet achieved political and economic parity. Segal emphasizes economic empowerment in particular as a key to poverty alleviation and the eradication of gender-based violence.
One of the most pressing issues facing the hemisphere and the global community today is gender equality and female economic and political empowerment. How will we ever fully unleash the potential of our hemisphere as long as we fail to meaningfully engage half of its population?
In Latin America, women have achieved parity in access to education and healthcare, but have yet to attain political and economic parity. Women account for only 10.5 percent of board positions globally, approximately 16 percent in the U.S. and 7.2 percent in emerging markets. In Latin America, the percentage is even smaller. According to Catalyst, only 39 Fortune 500 companies boast female chief executives — and in most Latin American countries, the number barely rates a mention.
Economic empowerment of women is critical to making a real and lasting impact in the hemisphere. It is the key to reducing poverty and gender-based violence, and to achieving universal education and improving maternal and child health. Female economic empowerment must be addressed at every level of society — from the most impoverished to the most educated.
This requires active changes to cultural norms that dictate gender roles. The antiquated notion that a woman should stay at home with little or no economic independence, or that a woman is not qualified to become the next CEO or key board member, must be rejected. Overthrowing the gendered status quo requires education, training and mentorship in school and in the workplace. Women need to wake up and believe they can succeed.