• Panama women, like women around the world, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Panama was one of the first countries to partner with the Equal Pay International Coalition.

• Now the government continues to introduce further measures to build the participation of Panamanian women in the workforce.

The struggle for the overall equality and economic empowerment of women has persisted for many generations and became more acute as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted more women in the workplace than men. This was no different for Panama women, with 46.5% of employed women working in sectors most impacted by the crisis, compared to 29.6% of employed men. As economies strategize to rebuild in a post-pandemic scenario, gender-oriented policies that put the needs of Panamanian women and girls at the forefront must be a central part of recovery efforts if we are to eradicate this problem once and for all from all our countries. What we urge is less talk and more action towards a more equitable future.

Equal pay for Panama women: the issues

The issue of achieving equal pay is a complex one. There are many Panamanian women who, even having the skills to reach leadership positions, lack the specialized education or training that would fast-track their trajectories because they did not have the necessary resources, incentives or support. More broadly, there are deep structural issues that play into women’s role in the workforce, some of which are connected to the perception and even self-perception of women at work, and others related to more tangible issues, such as childcare. Women in Panama who are impacted by these issues and others are denied a future and pay commensurate with their abilities.

As part of our country’s efforts to address this issue, Panama’s National Institute for Vocational Training and Training for Human Development (INADEH), with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), has developed a roadmap to promote the participation of Panama women in non-traditional careers and courses. It includes short-term measures such as pilot courses in technical areas and campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes around technical occupations. Long-term measures of the roadmap include increasing the number of female technical and vocational education training (TVET) instructors, as well as piloting childcare facilities in selected training centres.

EPIC for Panama women

As one of the first countries to partner with the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), Panama stands on the road of social transformation. We recently had the honour of joining its Steering Committee as part of our country’s renewed efforts and commitment to closing the gender pay gap. As a woman with almost two decades of experience in law, business and government, I’ve experienced firsthand how women in Panama must fight twice as hard to get half the recognition. And the greatest recognition in our mercantilist society is wages.

Situation of Panama women: Gender gap index where 1 represents gender parity, 0 inequality
Situation of Panama women: Gender gap index where 1 represents gender parity, 0 inequality
Image: Statista.org

Panama also follows a Gender Parity Initiative (IPG), an ambitious platform to promote Panamanian women’s participation and leadership in the labour force and close the economic gender gaps. Through IPG, Panama’s public and private sectors have worked together to promote a number of initiatives to encourage hundreds of young women of Panama to study and follow careers with higher future demand. These initiatives include the More Women in Technology Programme, a digital awareness campaign to enhance participation of Panama women in engineering and technical careers, and the I’m a Woman, I’m Capable Campaign, aimed at encouraging 12- to 18-year-old girls to choose STEM careers. IPG also includes initiatives such as scholarships, internships and job placement programmes.

Panama has signed the ILO Convention No. 100 on equal remuneration for equal value and we stand with EPIC in calling for its universal ratification by 2030. As part of our country’s own commitment, we are preparing to pass a law that establishes 23 May, the day on which Convention 100 came into force, as Equal Remuneration Day, and are working on changes to Executive Decree No. 53 of 25 June 2002, which governs Law 4 of 29 January 1999, which institutes equal opportunities for women of Panama as regards equal pay.

As we create opportunities for Panama women's education and fruitful participation in the workforce, another pillar of achieving equal pay is equal representation in leadership positions. In line with this thinking, our government established a quota for women to make up 30% of state boards of directors. We recognize this is just a start and are committed to ensuring we surpass this metric in the future.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Panamanian women have to be an integral part of the solution for the recovery of economies in a post-pandemic era, and the types of programmes we create must be gender-sensitive and actionable enough to make a difference in our participation in the labour force. It is past time for leaders across the globe to commit to using the tools at our disposal and craft tangible policies to increase women's participation in the workforce, reduce the gender pay gap, promote Panama women in leadership positions and boost female entrepreneurship. We must demand equal pay for equal work – not a combative slogan, but one calling for justice.