Gender Rights

The Dialogue’s work on gender rights aims to promote a better understanding of issues of concern to women, with a focus on women’s leadership, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive rights. It also raises awareness of challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. Our work explores ways to advance more women into political power and enhance their influence over policies affecting women at all levels, in both the private and public sectors. The Dialogue provides a platform to discuss the unique challenges women face today and seek ways to address them.

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The International Month of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity not only to reflect on the state of their participation in scientific studies but to promote social awareness about the importance of achieving equal access for women to decent work in an industry such as STEM, with enormous demands nowadays.

According to the United Nations, women only represent 28 percent of engineering graduates and 40 percent of IT and computing professionals, which are most of the fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In emerging areas like artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals is a woman. Additionally, Coursera's 2022 Global Skills report highlighted that despite increases in women enrollment rates in STEM courses in Latin America since 2019, they remain overrepresented within human competency fields ("business psychology" or "human management"). At the same time, fields with less female representation coincide with those emerging and highly demanded technological skills ("operating systems" or machine learning), areas with a high potential for job returns and fewer risks of automation.

Women were one of the most affected demographics by the pandemic, which also magnified the gaps within the most vulnerable groups, especially in rural and marginal urban areas. Young women were one of the groups most affected by the labor market demand drop through high unemployment, job informality, and overwhelming care-based demands. In 2020, for example, the female participation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was 47 percent. Compared to 2019, these figures presented an unprecedented decline of five percentage points. This meant a significant setback in female labor participation which had increased from 41 percent in the early nineties to 52.3 percent in 2019.

Although gender gaps in STEM remain significant, the pandemic has highlighted the power of technologies to leverage greater democratization of opportunities. The emergency has become a catalyst for innovations, a large-scale experiment in educational practice transformations. For example, from 2020 to 2021, female enrollment on Coursera increased significantly - accelerating a trend and making Latin America the region with the highest percentage of learners on the platform without a college degree (46 percent). Through online learning, more women can have access to new skills and knowledge, which directly impact their long-term personal, economic, and social development.

Given the post-pandemic multisectoral efforts to recover learning and regional governments’ interests in promoting knowledge-based, inclusive, and sustainable economies, the STEM sector has become an attractive market for the insertion of new professional profiles and career development. This industry can be considered a gateway to new job opportunities leveraged by remote and flexible work, strengthening skills through online learning and transnational digital communities.

To explore these challenges and frameworks to address them, the Inter-American Dialogue, in collaboration with Coursera, hosted a webinar on The Future of Women in STEM – Challenges and Opportunities in LAC. The event brought regional leaders such as Kira Gidrón (CEO of Lumni), Mariana Costa (CEO and co-founder of Laboratoria), Nicole Amaral (Coursera's Skills Transformation Leader for Latin America and the Caribbean), and Genaro Hurtado (CEO of Brivé Solutions). We introduce eight recommendations below based on the event’s discussions. We believe these are contributions to a public debate as part of a larger collective effort to reduce gender gaps and magnify the future of women in the region.

Pre-tertiary education: The inaccurate approach at this stage of the educational process can alienate and cause a lack of self-confidence in women. It is essential to invest in an integral and holistic education model that eradicates prejudices and stereotypes, thus deconstructing gender-based roles and norms.

1. Misinformation and home culture are limiting factors in early childhood development. The parenting practices that girls traditionally receive could be conditioned and immersed in a culture of stereotypes reproduced by parents and caregivers. This directly affects their expectations and long-term life projects, making working with families and caregivers essential. An example is that 38.5 percent of toy advertisements reproduce feminine archetypes of beauty, including roles as caretakers, mothers, and wives (Instituto de la Mujer, 2020).

2. Educational policies can address cultural changes and gender stereotypes within educational institutions. With the support of families and caregivers, projects to raise gender-biased awareness, promote STEM studies, and strengthen teachers' and students' socio-emotional skills with a gender perspective contribute to cultural transformations. For example, the NiñaSTEM Pueden program, a collaboration between the Secretariat of Public Education (SEDU) of the State of Coahuila (Mexico) and the OECD, established an initiative for STEM preparation, mentoring, and leadership for girls in different educational cycles. As a result, the program introduced innovative areas of study and careers to girls, contributing to a redefinition of gender roles and opening new paths for women in STEM.

Higher education: The belief in a "natural" division of labor between men and women reinforces gender-based stereotypes that frame some careers as more "feminine" than others. This social preconception distances women from the positions of prestige and responsibility they could reach in IT. In the same way, it alienates women from the highest decision-making spheres, leadership positions in the academic and research world, and other STEM-related activities.

3. Women's representation at each stage of their trajectory is essential. Exposure to role models and their trajectory is a critical factor for their success in STEM. According to the International Finance Corporation, women are more likely to enroll in courses with at least one female instructor, and these instructors are better evaluated.

4. Support networks among women contribute to the success and permanence of women in STEM education. Networks support bonds of sorority and solidarity, resources, knowledge, opportunity exchanges, cooperation, and comprehensive understandings of women’s needs. Examples of these are the teachers and instructors of initiatives such as Laboratoria, as well as regional and global networks such as Geek Girls Latam and Women Who Code.

Finally, the labor market must be explicit and affirmative in its support for women, offering incentives and networks throughout processes – from recruitment to promotion.

5. IT businesses must ensure the creation of work cultures that promote and value diversity, inclusion, and equity. These can be done by intentionally monitoring goals and gender indicators that allow for the measure of businesses' progress in gender equality. An example of such an initiative is Accenture's Getting to Equal strategy, which seeks equality and parity in scenarios such as female boards of directors, business units (marketing, sales, development), new hires, and promotions.

6. Support for women must be made explicit in the publication of job opportunities. Inclusive language is an affirmative and effective tool to avoid the self-exclusion of women. For example, the recruitment and selection process of Orange S.A includes a breakdown by gender of the candidacies and the mandatory nature of female applications.

7. Partnerships between the public sector and civil society are crucial to reducing the impacts of the care economy on women's training, placement, permanence, and labor promotion. An example is the District Care System of Bogota. Its objectives are to recognize care work, redistribute it between men and women, and reduce unpaid care work times, offering the possibility of developing skills or accessing training.

8. The creation of leadership-oriented programs for women in different STEM areas helps to break the glass ceiling in this sector. A few of these initiatives include Women Will from Google and Women in Science (WiSci) from Girl Up and Intel.


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In the last few months, the flow of migrants to the US-Mexican border has been labeled a “crisis” by the media, and Vice President Kamala Harris is now leading the Biden administration’s response. While preliminary data shows higher than average border crossings in the last few months, the majority of migrants are expelled in a matter of hours on account of Title 42 – the public health mandate enacted under former President Donald Trump that blocked most migrants from entering the United States to claim asylum. The focus on sheer numbers and the crisis-framing also obfuscate the human aspect of migration, the individual stories, and motivations of those who make the dangerous journey to the border, lumping them together under the generalized label “migrant.” One group that has been largely overlooked is domestic violence (DV) survivors and their claims to US asylum.

US Asylum Applications Today

To be eligible for asylum under US and international law, a person must show a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular group. In 2020, there were 151,800 total asylum applications from individuals in removal proceedings or at a US border or entry point, and today there are almost 1.3 million backlogged due to the large volume of applications and limited resources.

The approval rate of asylum applications has followed a steady downward trend over time, especially in the later years of the Trump administration. The countries most affected by high asylum application denial rates in 2020 are all in Latin America, including Honduras (87.3 percent), Guatemala (85.8 percent), Mexico (85 percent), and El Salvador (81.9 percent). These countries are also some of the most dangerous places in the world for women. In 2018, there were 13.49 femicides for every 100,000 women in El Salvador, the highest rate worldwide, and in 2021 so far, a femicide was committed in Honduras every 36 hours. This gendered violence is often a contributing factor for migration from Central America. Between 2014 and 2018, approximately 10,000 people per year were granted asylum due to gang violence or DV in their home countries. Although there is no exact data to show how many women are claiming asylum because of DV, there has been an increase in female migrant apprehensions from 2012 to 2017.

Asylum applications are filed with the Department of Justice’s immigration court system, known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). As part of the executive branch, the EOIR reacts directly to decrees or guidelines from executive officials. In 2018, the Trump administration used this influence to narrow the purview of asylum law and the ability of DV survivors to claim asylum. Led by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the administration argued that the grounds for asylum should not include domestic abuse because it is “private violence” rather than government persecution, upholding the misguided idea that violence against women is not a public health issue that warrants government protection. Human rights organizations challenged the use of these guidelines during the credible fear screening phase for asylum seekers in a federal court case. Although a federal judge ruled in their favor, this decision does not apply to the second phase when applicants are granted a court hearing. Judges can still use Sessions’ mandate to deny claims and some continue to do so.

DV & Migration under Biden

In sharp contrast, President Joe Biden has publicly stated his commitment to prioritize gender equality and rights and explicitly acknowledged the link between domestic violence and migration. He campaigned on a pledge to reform the immigration system and reverse Trump’s policies. Three of Biden’s plans, all published ahead of the November 2020 election, reference asylum protections for domestic violence survivors. Biden’s Central America Plan outlines a massive effort to invest in the Northern Triangle to address the root causes of migration. Under the section related to the rule of law, it states that Biden will restore “full access” to asylum for DV cases. The “Biden Plan to End Violence Against Women” and “The Biden Plan for Securing our Values as a Nation of Immigrants” specify that the US Department of Justice will reinstate explicit asylum protections, rescinded by the Trump administration, for DV survivors whose home governments cannot offer protection. On International Women’s Day, his administration’s fact sheet included ensuring that women and girls who flee from domestic violence are afforded the opportunity to seek US asylum.

While several executive orders on immigration have been signed into law in the first months of Biden’s term, none fulfills the promise of reinstating asylum protections. Under Sec. 4 (b) (c) (i), EO 14010, the attorney general is ordered to conduct a comprehensive review of the rules, regulations, and internal guidelines governing asylum claims to ensure they comply with international standards. The attorney general was given a 180-day review period, which ends on August 1, 2021. While the steady undoing of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) is a welcome step towards fixing some of the damage done by the Trump administration to the US asylum system, Biden officials have signaled that other reforms will remain on hold. Accordingly, Title 42 remains in place – against the recommendations of public health experts – and the majority of migrants are turned away at the border. Statements by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas tell asylum-seekers to wait.

Next Steps

In the days between now and the end of the mandated 180-day review, thousands of asylum seekers will remain in precarious positions and be potentially exposed to many of the same risks that originally led to their migration. Rather than waiting until August, the Biden administration should immediately restore eligibility for DV survivors and reverse the harmful mandate enacted by Attorney General Sessions. In the long-term, legislation is required to reform the immigration and asylum systems to make it difficult for an anti-immigration administration to dismantle protections. Comprehensive legislation should also include explicit protections for gender-based violence victims under the definition of a “particular group,” ensuring their asylum eligibility. Although the US Citizenship Act of 2021 aims to accomplish some of this, the bill is unlikely to move forward in Congress as is and may instead be broken down in a piecemeal approach.

The intersection of domestic violence and migration in the Northern Triangle necessitates the protection of survivors seeking asylum. Biden’s stated commitments to gender-based issues and promises made on immigration reform prior to the election call on the administration to immediately restore asylum protections for domestic violence survivors. If the universal human rights of women and girls are a priority for the United States, we need to take action at the border.



Gender Rights Program

Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program

The Toxic Intersection of Violence Against Women in the Northern Triangle and the Trump Administration's Anti-Immigration Policies

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History was made on December 30, 2020, when the Senate of Argentina voted to legalize abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. As a result, the number of women in Latin America with access to legal abortion has jumped significantly, from 3 percent to 10 percent.   

This was a victory for campaigners, but their fight is far from over. The day after the news in Argentina, President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the decision and stated that abortion would never be permitted in Brazil as long as he was president. And on January 21, Honduras changed its constitution to make it virtually impossible to legalize abortion, which is punishable for up to ten years in prison.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) continues to be one of the most restrictive regions in the world when it comes to reproductive health laws and policies, particularly abortion. As of 2021, abortion is entirely prohibited in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Suriname. It is accepted in most LAC countries under certain conditions – such as rape, fatal fetal anomaly, or to save the mother’s life – and it is allowed on demand in Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico City and Oaxaca, Guyana, French Guiana, and now Argentina.

Of course, abortions will continue to take place regardless of legal restrictions. Harsh laws and limited access force women to seek unsafe procedures, which often results in severe complications or even death. Although progress has been made in the fight to decriminalize abortion, limited access to the procedure remains a human rights issue, a public health crisis, and a problem for democracy.


Sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) guarantee access to reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education, and safe contraception and abortion. As part of a government’s social contract with their citizens, they must protect SRR, guarantee residents’ health, and correct social inequalities. Some restrictive abortion laws infringe on a number of other human rights guarantees, including the right to privacy and the right to due process.

[caption id="attachment_106293" align="alignright" width="300"]Woman protesting for abortion rights in Argentina Constanza Niscovolos / IPPF/WHR[/caption]

Most Latin American countries have signed and ratified treaties promising to end discrimination against women and uphold their reproductive freedom, including the UN 1981 Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Santiago Commitment at the XIV regional Conference on Women in LAC. Yet many of the signatories continue to have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. In Honduras, these treaties are regarded as on the same level as their constitution, yet abortion continues to be criminalized.


Restricted access to abortion has contributed to a serious public health crisis. Between 2015 and 2019, an estimated 5.4 million women had an abortion in LAC. Three out of four abortions that occur in Africa and Latin America are unsafe. About 760,000 women in the region are treated annually for complications from an illegal abortion, and approximately 10 percent of all maternal deaths resulted from one. A significant number of maternal deaths in Latin America could have been prevented by universal access to family planning.

These alarming statistics have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. During Covid-19, as gender-based and domestic violence have increased in the region, so will unwanted pregnancies. It is estimated that the pandemic resulted in “2.2 million unwanted pregnancies, more than 1 million abortions, 3,900 maternal deaths and 51,400 child deaths” by the end of 2020. Even in countries where abortion is legal, there has been a decrease in the coverage of sexual and reproductive health services because of Covid-19, and more women have faced barriers when trying to access abortions. A greater number of unintended pregnancies will result in more unsafe abortions, hence more medical complications, maternal deaths, and imprisoned women and medical practitioners.


The Catholic and Evangelical churches continue to wield significant religious, political, and societal influence in LAC. Although declining, religion remains crucial to the region’s cultural identity. Additionally, there has been a growing number of more conservative, evangelical churches, especially in Central America, where abortion laws are the strictest. In Nicaragua, therapeutic abortion was eliminated in 2007 due to an alliance between the Ortega government and the evangelical-religious sector. These conservative forces have fostered the concept of “gender ideology,” which casts access to abortion, reproductive rights, and other gender equity policies as threats to traditional families and values.

Abortion stigma is prevalent in the region, even in countries with more liberal laws, as shown in 2018 study of abortion in Uruguay. Even though the procedure is allowed under certain conditions in most LAC countries, there is still a lack of access to information among citizens, and some medical providers or judges, like in Brazil, still effectively deny women abortion services, even when protected by law.

Finally, high-quality reproductive health services in the region are still more accessible to upper class women, who often have better access to contraceptives and private abortions, while other groups have to rely on public health facilities. In places where abortion is completely restricted, women who cannot afford private treatment or travel must go to public facilities in the case of a complication, where they risk being reported to the police. These restrictions almost always endanger the most vulnerable women, including the poor and rural, indigenous people, and Afro-descendants.


Regarding abortion access, each country’s situation is different, but the most dangerous cases are in Central America. In El Salvador, for example, women experiencing botched abortions or miscarriages are often prosecuted on aggravated assault or homicide charges, a crime that can result in up to 40 years in prison. Health care providers can also face criminal charges for assisting in an abortion. Eighteen women are still in prison since the total ban was introduced in 1998. As is the case in most Central American countries, conservative parties have a stronghold in Congress and municipal governments and will block any measures to loosen the ban in the near future.

[caption id="attachment_106417" align="alignleft" width="300"]Aborto Legal Ya protest Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

In Argentina, abortion reform was not easily achieved. Experts note that a combination of key factors, over the course of proposing 13 bills, finally led to a change in law: long-term mobilization of activists, a progressive executive government, and a large number of female representatives in parliament. Pro-choice Catholic Church members and groups have also played an important regional role. Activists have also shifted the conversation on abortion in many countries from a moral debate to emphasizing public health, pointing to how Uruguay framed the discussion.

The Argentine momentum of the "green wave" may positively affect movements in other countries. In Colombia, the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, and in Mexico, Congress is considering two initiatives to loosen restrictions and remove criminal punishments in specific states. The Supreme Court in Brazil will soon rule on a 2018 legal challenge that would decriminalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Congress in Chile is also debating a bill that seeks to allow elective abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Public opinion appears to be changing, depending on the country. In Mexico, a poll in 2020 showed that support for access to abortion rose dramatically from 29 percent in March to 48 percent in November.


Access to abortion is a human right. States should uphold the promises made in international treaties to protect SRR, and international organizations and regional actors need to hold signatories accountable. Civil society groups should continue to pressure governments to improve their data collection and transparency related to abortion access and unsafe procedures. Transnational advocacy networks are also crucial for information sharing and legitimizing efforts across borders.

Most importantly, countries should institutionalize a comprehensive package of essential reproductive and health services, including safe abortion care and contraception, in their national health systems. They should address the need for greater, equitable investments, taking into account the specific needs of poor and marginalized groups. Furthermore, governments must focus on capacity building to enforce and uphold abortion law equally and prevent its reversal while also addressing discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes. Access to comprehensive reproductive services will result in fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer abortions, and fewer maternal deaths. For women to be full citizens of society, reproductive freedom is fundamental.



Gender Rights Program


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A Conversation with Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso

On the heels of President Guillermo Lasso’s White House meeting with President Joe Biden on December 19, 2022, President Lasso joined Inter-American Dialogue President & CEO Rebecca Bill Chavez for a conversation about the US-Ecuador bilateral relationship.

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