Twenty years into the new millennium, we still face the challenge of creating a just and equal society and of narrowing the inequality gaps. There are policies, practices and mindsets that we must overcome in order to build a just world. Among these are patriarchy, misogyny and disregard for the opinions of youth and Indigenous people. We continue to look at the world as if it were homogeneous. We analyze data considering averages, overlooking the extreme differences which reveal the injustices and inequalities.
In 2015, the United Nations Development Summit adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a 15-year plan with 17 goals. Goal #5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The inclusion of gender equality as part of the 2030 Agenda shows that in spite of all the progress that women have made in attaining legal rights, access to education, decreased maternal mortality, increased political participation, greater engagement in the workplace and better access to credit, the position of many women in society has not changed significantly! Women still get paid less than their male counterparts; they are still less likely to be in positions of leadership; they provide caregiving three times more often than men; they continue to suffer physical, sexual and psychological violence; and countless still die at the hands of their current or former partners.
Over the last year, a group of women who work with the various apostolates of the Jesuit Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean(CPAL), have come together to share their experience and to elaborate concrete proposals from a gender justice perspective that reflect the courageous and valiant role of women within the Society of Jesus and in society in general.
Women are central to the social, pastoral, and educational work of the Society of Jesus in Latin America. Jesuit apostolates work with rural, Indigenous and migrant women as well as those involved in the urban popular movement. These women face discrimination based on class, ethnicity, race and poverty in addition to gender bias. Inspired by Ignatian Spirituality, women lead projects and take action. Jesuit apostolates support their initiatives; conduct research; give voice to their testimony and experience; and question society’s attitude towards gender inequality.
In the city of Sucre, Bolivia, Fundación Acción Cultural Loyola, a Jesuit institution inspired by Ignatian Spirituality and the struggle for social justice, has set out to analyze and raise awareness of how COVID-19 has affected women in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, Chile and Peru, where the pandemic has hit hard. Our research shows that COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated preexisting gender based inequalities despite global, regional and local recommendations that give priority to the care of life and make the care economy (i.e. looking after children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities; education; healthcare; and recreation services) central to public policy.
In Bolivia, as in many countries, women are at the forefront of the care economy and defense of life. They bring knowledge and creativity as well as give time and effort on the frontlines:
- in healthcare: as doctors, nurses, nursing assistants and cleaning staff;
- in the food supply chain: from food production to selling at markets or managing stores;
- in community solidarity initiatives: preparing meals in community kitchens; collecting and delivering basic items;
- on the streets, reinventing the informal economy and creating new opportunities: making protective equipment and supplies;
- in homes, where domestic activities have grown; some homes have even become small schools.
Countless women’s faces and stories are at the centre of the fight against the pandemic, poverty, hunger and unemployment; yet, their names, rights and dreams are seldom seen or heard. Furthermore, many women face situations of uncertainty. The violation of their rights and the recommendation #stayAtHome is, for many, synonymous with #shutUpAtHome.
To advance towards a just and equal society, it is necessary for men and women to be catalysts of change. Women who are heads of households, as well as those in positions of leadership in groups, collectives or unions, and especially leaders of governments, public and private organizations, academic institutions and religious organizations, need to commit themselves to social justice. May their actions benefit not only powerful women but also women who empower others!
 In 2019, 3,750 women in 18 Latin American countries were killed in domestic violence incidents. Source: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).
Banner photo: Farmers prepare meals in Padilla, a small town in the Chuquisaca Department, Bolivia (Credit:Elizabeth Fernandez –Pedagoga de Fundación ACLO).