By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Women in Latin America are giving up on work or struggling to find jobs as the pandemic threatens to wipe out a decade of female economic progress, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Across Latin America, women's labor force participation fell to about 46% in 2020 from 52% a year earlier, according to the report by the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).

In the same period, the rate for men fell to 69% from 73.6%.

"The economic and social effects of the pandemic are expected to have a significant impact on the autonomy of women," the report said.

The unemployment rate for women reached an estimated 12% last year, CEPAL said.

In the previous three decades, it had said the percentage of women in the labor market in Latin America had increased by 11 points, a faster gain than in other regions of the world.

Now shutdowns and the economic fallout of COVID-19 have worsened inequalities between men and women, studies show.

Increased childcare and unpaid domestic duties have fallen more heavily on women, who have also lost income in hard-pressed sectors such as retail.

In June, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated women's jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men's.

In Wednesday's report, CEPAL recommended using fiscal policy to create job opportunities, eliminate barriers to women entering the growing digital sector, and guaranteeing access to finance for female entrepreneurs, among other steps.

"Its fundamental to create a new fiscal pact that promotes gender equality and that avoids deepening the poverty levels of women," Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of CEPAL, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit


Demand Equity

COVID-19 Could Cost Women a Decade of Economic Progress in Latin America