Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Panama’s fight for a delayed right: women's economic independence

Like is the rest of the world, the pandemic disproportionately impacted the Panama women

Like is the rest of the world, the pandemic disproportionately impacted the Panama women Image: Dave Lonsdale

Erika Mouynes
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Office of the President of Panama
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Education, Gender and Work

• 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.

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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.

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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.

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Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionEconomic Growth
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