Thousands of women around the country will be holding a National Women’s Strike today in the face of a concerning number of acts of gender violence that took place last week, including the rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucía Perez in Mar del Plata. Beyond denouncing violence against women, representatives of Ni Una Menos, the collective of women organizing the event, also seek to bring into attention a simple fact: gender violence and inequality do not only have a human cost, but also a high economic one.
“Behind the increase and fury of femicide violence, there are also economic implications,” reads the Facebook event for the strike. Among the reasons to hold the strike, organizers mention higher unemployment rates for women than men, wage disparity, short maternity leaves, and the non-remuneration of domestic work. All these factors have tangible economic costs.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Human Capital, economists David Cuberes and Marc Teignier estimate that if the gender labor gap were completely closed in Argentina, GDP per capita in the country would soar by around 16 percent in the short-term and 18 percent in the long-term.
“What we see is that the largest gains occur in countries where women currently have the fewest rights. Those are the countries where women work the least,” Cuberes told The Bubble in a recent interview. “Allowing for more women to work through policies such as paid maternity leave, child support, and equal access to financing helps increase productivity, especially in countries with low fertility rates.”
Source: “Aggregate Effects of Gender Gaps in the Labor Market: A Quantitative Estimate” (Teignier & Cuberes, 2015)
Violence has important economic costs too. While there is no specific data on how violence against women affects Argentina’s economy as a whole, evidence from other countries may offer some insight. According to the World Bank, the price of violence against women and girls is estimated at US$5.8 billion a year in the United States, US$8.1 billion a year in Australia, US$29.5 million a year in Nicaragua and US$1.56 billion a year in Chile.
Several factors contribute to these figures: direct tangible costs such as paying for health, shelter, counseling and legal aid, and indirect costs such as lost time in the labor market, lost productivity, and lost consumption.
At a regional level, the World Bank also estimates that if female labor income had remained stagnant between 2000 and 2010, extreme poverty in the region would have been 30 percent higher in Latin American, holding all else constant. In other words, female labor market income contributed 30 percent of the reduction in extreme poverty in the region.
So, how bad is the situation for Argentine working women?
While the percentage of Argentine women who work has risen from 41 percent of the total female population in 1990 to 47.6 percent in 2014, it still remains significantly lower than that of men at 75 percent. Regionally, Argentina has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates — only higher than Mexico.
“On average, the situation for women has improved over the past years. Improvements in education have allowed women to close the gap with men, and on average women in Latin America are more educated than men,” Alma Espino, regional coordinator of UN Women, told The Bubble in an interview. “However, there is definitely a ceiling for women who want to work. A day only has 24 hours, and tasks such as taking care of the family and children often completely fall on women.”
Source: World Bank Development Indicators
Gender inequality in Argentina is significant not only in terms of labor participation, but also in wages. According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, Argentina ranks 130th out of 145 countries in terms of wage equality for similar work between women and men. On average, women in Argentina earn 27.2 percent less than their male counterparts, even though a higher percentage of working women completed tertiary education compared to men.
Much of this wage disparity is, again, due to the time women are often expected to dedicate to household duties. According to Argentina’s INDEC statistics bureua, women spend an average of 6.4 hours a day doing domestic work, compared to 3.4 hours for men.
“We tend to assume that women are the ones responsible for household duties, it’s a cultural issue that’s very rooted in Argentine society,” said Mercedes D’Alessandro, Co-Founder and Editor of the blog Economía Femini(s)ta, in an interview with The Bubble. “Because so many of the household duties fall on women, women often have to work shorter workdays in order to pick up their kids at school or cook dinner. Naturally, this affects their wages.”
At the same time, D’Alessandro argues that the pressure for women to take care of household responsibilities also affects the the ability of women to get formal jobs with proper benefits. In fact, 38 percent of women who work in Argentina are only employed part-time, compared to 16.1 percent of men, and one-third of working women are part of the informal sector.
Source: World Economic Forum and World Bank
Another key issue is the disparity between maternity and paternity leaves. Argentine women get an average of three months of maternity leave, while the legal minimum for paternity leave is a mere two days.
“If you’re an employer and have to choose between a 22-year-old woman who is about to be a mom or a 22-year-old man who is about to be a father, of course you’re going to choose the man,” says D’Alesasndro. “Increasing paternity leave would not only allow fathers to spend more time with their children, but would also diminish this type of discrimination between women and men.”
To address these issues, Argentina’s government has launched initiatives such as labor training sessions and micro-credit programs for women.
Yet, the rate of female labor participation in the country has remained stagnant since 2007. Women’s rights advocates such as D’Alessandro believe the lack of improvement is often due to outdated and inefficient policies. In 2009, for instance, the government implemented the Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH) — a conditional cash transfer program that incentivized children in poor households to go to school, consequently freeing up time for mothers to work. But, under the program’s regulation, it was only mothers who were allowed to collect the cash transfer, further reinforcing the idea of a woman’s role at home.
“We currently have a political and economic system that has been the same since the 1960s, one in which fathers are expected to go to work, and mothers are expected to stay home. But that type of family doesn’t exist anymore. Before, women were mere household accessories, but now they are key sources of income for families,” says D’Alessandro.
With the hopes of changing this outdated system, D’Alessandro will be joining thousands of other women tomorrow to get her voice heard, and demand, once again, “Ni Una Menos.”