Summary: For the last decade economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has sharply accelerated, pushing poverty and inequality to historic lows in the most unequal region in the world. Even a global economic downturn and a four-percent contraction in the regional economy in 2009 could not stop the region's progress and its significant reductions in inequality. In 2012, as the world's ongoing economic problems make optimistic predictions less certain and threaten to undermine gains against poverty and inequality, it is critical to better understand the structural forces that have promoted recent positive social outcomes. These include more inclusive labor markets, expanded safety nets, improved educational outcomes, macro-stability and relatively high rates of growth. This report explores how women have played a critical role in achieving the poverty declines of the last decade, with their labor market participation rates growing 15 percent from 2000 to 2010. It further considers how future progress will require increased female economic power and more effective policies to promote it. If female labor income had remained the same during this period, holding all else constant, extreme poverty in LAC would have been 30 percent higher in 2010. In other words, 17.7 percent of the population in the region would have been below the extreme poverty rate, compared to the actual 14.6 percent. Female labor market income contributed 30 percent of the reduction in extreme poverty, compared to 39 percent for male labor market income, while the remainder was due to public and private transfers (remittances, cash transfer programs, etc.). The contribution made by women to both extreme and moderate poverty reduction helps explain why this century's first decade was good both for LAC generally and females in particular. The report suggests focusing public policy on three priorities: expanding female labor market opportunities; improving female agency which while important in its own right has important potential benefits for equality of economic opportunities and assets, and supporting the growing number of poor single female-headed households. Along with these suggested policy priorities, strong monitoring and evaluation systems should be included to every extent possible. The study ends with a look at the gender impact evaluation initiative, launched by the World Bank's LAC poverty, gender and equity unit to increase understanding of what works to promote greater gender equity.
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