"It's up to us to make sure that the term gender equality is not just an empty phrase", says Maria Nikolopoulou, President of EESC Equality Group

The EESC's External Relations Section held a debate during its section meeting dedicated to the situation of women in Latin America. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities worsening the situation of women in the region. Participants in the debate called for legislative reforms to the social and employment system in order to eliminate gender inequalities. They also flagged up the role of civil society in the empowerment of women. The thematic discussion concluded the series of EESC events, following up on the European Parliament's Gender Equality Week initiative started in October 2022.

The situation in Latin America is complicated as the region faces the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused further economic, social, structural and gender inequalities.

It still remains the most dangerous region for girls and women as a high number of deaths are caused by gender-related violence. 400 000 girls and women lost their lives simply by the fact of being women, said Maria Noel Vaeza, Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean.

Haydee Castillo Flores, a Human Rights Defender from Nicaragua, who was forced into exile and had been a political prisoner in October 2018, highlighted the role of human rights activists and civil society organisations, as Central America is witnessing a return to dictatorships.

What do you call a regime which has arbitrarily closed down thousands of civil society organisations, leaving universities without any autonomy and keeping 256 political prisoners, 25 of whom are women all subject to cruel and inhuman treatment.

The UN has recognised Nicaragua as the most dangerous place in the world for human rights activists, with 7200 attacks carried out on human rights defenders and their families since 2018.

Participants agreed that building bridges with Europe is important to protect women's rights and find better ways of recognising the contribution of civil society.

When it comes to employment, 56% of women had an informal form of employment before the pandemic, now they suffer more as they have a higher domestic workload and do unpaid care work. To overcome the gender gap, the participants stressed that active involvement of women in civil society organisations and fora is necessary as these civil platforms have the power to mobilise legislation and bring changes to the social care system and employment. Furthermore, men need to share responsibility when it comes to the unpaid work women are faced with.

Liliana Paniagua, Coordinator of Redes Chaco Argentina, highlighted the work on sustainable development and all social issues with a focus on gender inequality carried out by more than 300 civil society organisations. Our aim is to make this region fair and inclusive. At the moment, we have two major agenda movements, the environmentalist and the gender equality movement. We cannot be a harmonised society without giving equal opportunities to women, stressed Ms Paniagua.

Concluding the event, President of the EESC Equality Group Maria Nikolopoulou thanked all the women guests for their contributions, mentioning that the problems women faced were common, both when it came to the impact of COVID-19 on women and their reproductive rights, and women refugees dying on the borders of Latin America or Europe. But as she said we are not alone; you are not alone. Defending our rights internationally will achieve broader social justice and together we will continue to make our world a better place.

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"It's up to us to make sure that the term gender equality is not just an empty phrase", says Maria Nikolopoulou, President of EESC Equality Group