Revista de Economía del Rosario

ISSN-e: 2145-454X

ISSN: 0123-5362 

Overcoming Gender Disadvantages. Social Policy Analysis of urban middle-class women in Colombia

Lina Buchely

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The World Bank Report 2012 starts with this statement: “Gender equality matters in itself and
it matters for development because, in today’s globalized worlds, countries that use the skills
and talents of their women would have an advantage over those which do not use it.” With the
frame that suggest that gender equality matters, this paper describes some policy alternatives
oriented to overcome gender disadvantages in the formal labor market incorporation of the
urban middle class women in Colombia. On balance, the final recommendation suggest that it
is desirable to adopt policy alternatives as Community Centers, which are programs oriented
to a social redistribution of the domestic work as a way to encourage women participation
in the formal labor market with the social support of the members of their own community.
The problem that the social policy needs to address is the segregation of women in the formal
labor market in Colombia. Although the evidence shows that the women overcome the
educational gap by showing better performance in education that their male peers, women
are still segregated of the labor market. The persistence of high rates of unemployment on the
female population, the prevalence of the informal labor market as a women labor market, and
the presence of the payment difference between men and women with similar professional
trainings are circumstances that sustain the segregation statement. These circumstances are
inefficient for the society because an economic analysis shows that the cost of maintain the statu
quo is externalized in the social security system that includes health, pension and maternity
leave regimens. Therefore, the women segregation involves a market failure.
This paper evaluates five policy alternatives each directed to the progress of a different causal
dimension of the problem: (i) Quotas in the private market, (ii) Flexible working hours,
(iii) replace the maternity leave with a family leave, (iv) Increase the Community Centers for
redistributing the care work, and (v) Equal payment enforcement. The first alternative looks
to increase women’s participation in the formal labor market. The second, third, and fourth

alternatives constitute a package addressed at redistributing care work by reducing women’s
responsibility for reproductive work in the household with the help of husbands and the local
government. The fifth alternative intervenes to resolve the equal payment problem.
After a four criteria evaluation that measure effectiveness, robustness and improbability in
implementation, efficiency and political acceptability or social opposition, the strongest alternative
is the fostering of Community Centers that promote a redistribution of care work. This
policy performs well in the assessment process because it combines gender focus with important
indirect effects: child support and human capabilities. The policy also shows a bottom
up implementation process that overcomes the main adoption difficulties in the gender focus
programs and is supported by strong evidence of success in the Colombian context; this evidence
is produced by both transnational actors as a World Bank and also in local accountability
reporters executed by local institutions like Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF).

Palabras clave

Gender equality, formal labor market, social policy evaluation, Community Centers

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