By Bernardo Kliksberg (for Safe Democracy)

Seventy percent of the 3,000 millions of poor in the planet (half of the world population) are women and girls. Two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women. Bernardo Kliksberg believes that notwithstanding the fact that the conditions of women have improved in the last fifty years, the outstanding challenges are of a great importance: discrimination and exclusion of women have lasted too much in the world –he warns– and it is high time we all contribute to eradicate it.

Bernardo Kliksberg is one of the world’s major experts in the struggle against poverty, and leads from Washington the “The Inter-American Initiative on Social Capital, Ethics and Development” patronized by the IDB.


SEVENTY PER CENT OF THE 3,000 MILLION OF POOR in the planet (half of the world population) are women and girls. Two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women. The living conditions of women have improved in the last fifty years. The hard struggles fought for gender equality, with the support of wide sectors, has achieved equality in rights: a major political participation, a strong integration in the educational systems and an increasing incorporation in the job market. All the above mentioned has affected the woman’s self-esteem, her position in the familiar nucleus, and her social insertion. However, the outstanding challenges are of a great importance.

Poverty looks like a woman in the planet and in Latin America. Most of the working women are in inferior positions and inside the informal economy. In two of the most populated countries in the world, India and Indonesia, 90 percent of the women who work in non-agricultural activities are inside the informal economy.

In seven countries of Latin America, 50 percent of the working women experience the same conditions. Wage discrimination is still an unacceptable reality. In the European Union, for example, women earn 25 percent less than men. In Latin America such a difference is of more than 30 percent. According to World Bank research, the economic adjustments applied in the region during the nineties have reduced women wages much more than men’s. This is due to the fact that women were concentrated in inferior positions with lower salaries, which were the most affected. Women’s unemployment rate is superior, and the time need by a woman to obtain a new job is longer.


Poverty strongly affects the urban-marginalized women, the country-women and the native women. It has critical consequences in their lives.

An OPS-IDB-WB research shows that during the nineties (in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Perú), the percentage of childbirths helped by professionals was 40.2 percent, families with no access to health services was 53.2 percent, and women’s life expectancy was 69 years. The mother mortality rate (death over 100,000 born alive) was 30 times more than said rate in the developed countries. Between 1990 and 1997, it was equal to 280 in Perú, 220 in Honduras and 190 in Guatemala. In Haití, it was equal to 600.

Furthermore, family dislocation is another consequence of the beating of poverty. More than 20 percent of the families have a single poor woman as head of household. Without her courage to defend her family after the abandonment of the man -although her life is really hard- it is considered that the poverty in the region would be 10 percent superior. This scenario has been called the “feminization of the poverty in the region”.

Moreover, women from other social sectors face hard challenges. The incorporation of women into jobs and professions, without assistance to fulfill home duties, obliges her to multiply efforts. Besides, due to the discrimination, she must strive much more than men in order to promote herself in her career.

The process is followed in the region with the subsistence of slants of gender in the culture, stereotypes and important doses of “machismo” (male chauvinism). The laws recently passed in Spain are a model to follow. For example, the law against gender violence seeks to increase the protection and help to women, through several legal, educational, social and working initiatives.

At the moment of its unanimous passing, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, declared it was “the triumph of women, a powerful tool against the domination suffered by them, in order to definitively eradicate it”. A main aspect of such a law is the fight against the “machismo” (male chauvinism) at school. “Ethic and equality between men and women” will be taught at schools, and there shall be an “equality responsible” that will have to create measures and initiatives in order to achieve said equality at schools. Moreover, Spain has established different steps so as to legislate about women discrimination in companies.

Gender discrimination is immoral and limits the contribution to the society of half of such society, half which bears exceptional abilities. Among multiple aspects, mothers have become the main actors of the most successful social programs, and according to different international researches, “there, where the women influence in public life is more important, minor is the level of corruption”.

On the other hand, her role in the family, which is not yet measured by the national statistics, has an invaluable importance. Frequently such a role is underestimated, by qualifying it as “doing nothing”. A sharp Spanish writer, Manuel Castells, remarked: “If women who do nothing, stop doing just that, the whole urban structure as nowadays known, would be incapable of keep on functioning”.

Discriminations and exclusions to woman have lasted too much in the world and in the region; it is high time all of us contributed to eradicate them.