Fundamental Rights for a Peaceful Retirement: How Is It in Latin America?

At the end of the 19th century when the modern social security structure was created, women were not even remotely considered as beneficiaries and their domestic labor was grossly undervalued. Nowadays —140 years later— independent businesswomen, devoted mothers and deserted wives are still fighting to grow old with dignity and appreciation.

The Woman Post | Melisa Sanmiguel

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Social security programs were designed as a protection mechanism to ensure financial security to vulnerable individuals who lose their capacity to support themselves. Unfortunately, this mechanism only works when all the fundamental human rights are fulfilled first.

The quality of the retirement system is extremely tied to labor rights policies consequently, women face substantial pension discrimination in regions like Latin America, where from a very young age they have to cope with: lack of resources, poor sexual education, physical and emotional abuse, violence, pay inequity…etc.

According to a report from the  Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Latin America (ECLAC) on average, women obtain for a pension a fifth of what men receive. The author reveals that in nine countries of the region, 75% of women aged 65 and over do not have access to the contributory pension systems.

Ageing without economic autonomy and financial security is a deeply rooted concern for women in Latin America and the Caribbean. Pension systems in the region often respond to biased labor regulation, lower incomes, underemployment, and job informality.

Equity vs. Equality

Colombia has one of the lowest minimum age requirements for women (57 years old) but only 21% of women over 60 years of age receive pension, which unfortunately places them as one of the least economic autonomous groups in the entire region. Why?

Since August 2022, the Constitutional Court has revised a claim of unconstitutionality against the law, requiring women to complete a minimum of 1.300 labor weeks in order to retire —the same amount as men— even though men have five more years to achieve the total required.

The constitutional lawsuit stated: "The current law does not take into account that women, because of their important role as mothers, including childbirth, childcare and domestic labor, find their work life constantly interrupted for months and years and, therefore, their contribution to the pension system is lower, which translates into lower and inequitable pensions for women compared to men."

This law has been affecting thousands of women during the past years and it is curious how a legislation that intended to alleviate the gender gap, ended up obstructing the process even more.

Why can women access to their pension earlier than man?

The main argument to advocate for an earlier retirement age for women according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is to compensate or somehow subsidize women for their traditional, unpaid and unrecognized domestic labor, and their role as caretakers. This role means that they participate less than men in the labor market: 56% versus 83% in the Latin American region and, when they do, it is irregular and with lower salaries.

According to the estimations made by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and its demographic center, by 2050 around 197 million people aged 60 and over, will live in Latin America, of which 108 million will be women, three times the current population.

The call to action from international organizations, women, mothers and entire families, is for governments to strategize and plan a dignifying approach towards a population that will become majority, will be ageing without financial stability and with important healthcare needs.

If gender equity is possible from birth, a society where elders feel appreciated and valued will be a reality.

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