Overcoming Gender Disadvantages. Social Policy Analysis of urban middle-class women in Colombia
Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America (Alviar, 2011). Despite legislative efforts to increase the participation of women in the labor market, (Colombia, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011), gender is still a key category in analyses of economic performance among the population. Indeed, the failure of women in the Colombian economy is a problem produced by a set of market failures that affect the outcomes of female efforts: namely that most women are concentrated in unpaid care, most women participate in the educative process but are underrepresented in well paid professions, most women work in the informal labor market, and when a women achieves employment within the formal labor market, she often receives lower wages than her peers for the same job (Cardenas et al., 2012). However, the social costs paid by society for sustaining the segregation of women in the labor market are externalized in structures such as the health system, pension design, and the pay gap between the sexes.
These circumstances are the objects of policy intervention because they are correlated with poverty and vulnerability effects in the new fragile family conformation. The 2010 GEIH showed that four out of every ten households were headed by a single parent. Among these, three were headed by women (National Administrative Department of Statistics [DANE], 2010). This means that in Colombia, 93% of fragile families are single mother families (more than three million households). These families are in a special situation of vulnerability if we consider that a single mother in charge of a household must suffer the vast majority of the inequalities I describe in this document. As current literature reveals, the fragile families phenomenon is intertwined with deep problems of poverty and vulnerability (Cancia et al., 2010; Cancia & Reed, 2009; McLanahan et al., 2010; Smeeding & Carlson, 2011). In Colombia, the new most common family configuration is a single female parent structure (Cardenas et al., 2012). For this reason, gender inequalities have a determining effect on family income and affect the accumulation of human capital in vulnerable populations, reducing social mobility among members of the current and next generations.
Despite the persistence of these circumstances, observation of gender segregation in terms of the labor market can be only reported with certainty for urban middle-class women, who have previous work training or other labor related skills (Cardenas et al., 2012), as it is only within this profile that we can say women experience labor discrimination despite improvements in education levels. Thus, taking into account the caveat raised by some works of gender studies, I will address considerations of this profile exclusively, in order to avoid a universalization effect due to using the term "women," in general, to refer to groups of people with deep differences in socioeconomic positioning and material distribution (Molyneux, 2008).
The reader will find that this document talks about gender segregation, inequality and discrimination as the same phenomenon. I recognize that for the public policy literature produced by economists, it is important to distinguish between the three, placing them as independent phenomena, but my claim here is that segregation, inequality and discrimination have the same effects in a gender approach and can, therefore, be analyzed together. From a legal perspective, for example, inequality and segregation are causes of discrimination, given that we understand discrimination as the violation of equal rights (Alviar & Jaramillo, 2010). From this point of view--particular to gender studies--segregation, inequality and discrimination bear the same implications on the lives of women. Making a distinction between the three phenomena can help to conceal women's vulnerability in the midst of contemporary problems.
It is also important to mention, at this point, that the paper uses an argument, based on the complexity of conflictive incentives among public policies on health and pensions, and their effects on the gender perspective in the Colombian labor market. For this reason, the analysis presented in this document will not develop a study over a single and homogeneous variable in terms of gender discrimination and forms of measurement. In contrast, its aim is to show that it is at the junction of the effects of public policy, that we can find the biggest problem regarding gender vulnerability in Colombia.
In order to analyze the symptoms and magnitude of the problem and propose goals for policy interventions, I will split this report into three main sections: a description and problem assessment (Part I), solution analysis (Part II) and implementation analysis and recommendation (Part III). In the problem description section, I first describe the gender segregation phenomenon as it affects three different aspects of equality: education, labor market and time use. Second, I describe the social effects and economic consequences of gender inequality, and third, I suggest five possible goals that policy interventions might address. In the solution analysis, I explore the evaluation criteria, describe the main policy alternatives for addressing the problem, and propose a possible avenue. Finally, in the implementation analysis and recommendation section, I describe the feasibility and challenges surrounding the adoption of each alternative and suggest what I consider the best policy option based in an effectiveness assessment.
Three inequality scenarios: education, formal labor market and time use
The failure of women within the Colombian economy can be described by illustrating the gaps of gender experience across three criteria of equality: education, the labor market and time use. An analysis of the available data for these areas highlights the barriers to achieving economic success that women experience in the Colombian context.
Women and men show different outcomes in terms of human capital accumulation, in elements related to education. According with the World Bank, this trend in Colombia is also a world trend (World Bank, 2011). Despite women's showing a high rate of literacy in childhood (male children 9,4% and female children 8,1%) and high school attendance (male children 77% versus female children 79%), paradoxically, the improvement in education outcomes for woman has not been reflected as an improvement in economic performance, participation in the labor market, or poverty reduction. Women still exhibit high participation in the informal labor system (female informal workers are 59,6% of the total in 2008), low scores on publicly administered academic tests (Colombian Institute for the Evaluation of Educational [ICFES], 2010), a high unemployment rate, and more members of the female population report their employment status as "inactive" than do men (DANE, 2009). This means that despite of the improvement in education, women are still segregated in the labor market.
Another factor related to education that affects how well women perform in the labor market is the kind of professions that Colombian women choose or are relegated to. It is usual that women study less demanding or competitive programs such as educational sciences, psychology, or nursing, than men (who are preponderant in engineering, medicine, economy and law), that have lower wage outcomes or face low demand in the labor market (Cardenas et al., 2012). This kind of phenomenon, which can be interpreted as a manifestation of cultural gender roles, ensures that the gap begins during the education process and maintains its effects.
But also, in other kinds of observation, we have that a male graduate student earns 11% more than his female classmate, and this gap cuts deeply across all professions (Cardenas et al., 2012). This kind of trend constitutes a negative feedback loop in terms of incorporating women into the labor market and productive spaces.
* The Labor market
The 2010 data show that men and women differ across a variety of labor market indicators. For example, in Beneria (2003) men are more involved than women in productive activities, (74% vs. 59%, respectively). Women also have higher rates of unemployment (15% vs. 10% for men) and lower participation in formal employment (46% vs. 32%), (DANE, 2009). Not surprisingly, these differences are reflected later in wages, as previously noted. The wage gap in Colombia is 23%, depending on the industry, and has not shown any significant reduction in recent years (Badel & Pena, 2010). These levels are comparable to regional averages as well as the world average (World Bank, 2011). Disparities in labor markets are particularly pronounced in Colombian rural areas (Cardenas et al., 2012). Despite this, it is important to mention that for certain points of the debate, the gender gaps in the labor market do not imply discrimination (Nopo, 2013).
The disadvantages faced by women in the labor market are very significant for explaining differences in several other indicators of well being and mobility. For example, although most of the poverty programs are gender oriented, women and men show almost equal levels of poverty and extreme poverty (47,77% vs. 46,17% and 20,96% vs. 19,58%, respectively) and have lower perceptions of opportunities and social mobility (DANE-ECV, 2010). These disadvantages not only affect the women involved, they also impose barriers to the advancement of society at large. In Colombia, it is estimated that gender disparities in labor markets, especially segregation, are associated with a loss of labor productivity amounting to between 7% and 10% (World Bank, 2011).
The data regarding the 23% wage gap is important in spite of the reflection on...