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Poverty and the Gender Wage Gap in Peru

Gender Wage Gap in PeruPeru struggles with high national poverty rates and an economy that inflation and political and financial uncertainty further hinder. While Peru was one of the most prominent performers in Latin America in the last 25 years, COVID-19 hit the nation especially hard. Its economy contracted by 11% in 2020, accompanied by a 10 point rise in its national poverty rate (from 20.2% in 2019 to 30.1% in 2020) as a result of the pandemic. The nation is recovering from this setback, but several obstacles are in its way. One major obstacle is gender inequality — or, more specifically, the gender wage gap in Peru.

Gender Inequality in Peru

Gender inequality in Peru originates from an adherence to traditional gender roles. Women are less likely to work full time for pay, for example, occupied instead with unpaid work such as household chores and child care. Women in Peru spend around 24 more hours per week on unpaid tasks than men, while men spend roughly 21 more hours per week on paid tasks than women. The prevalence of these gender roles affects economic participation and wages for women — the median full-time female worker in Peru earns 17% less than the median full-time male worker.

The labor force participation rate for women in Peru was 65.9% in 2023, compared with 79.5% for men. The effects of motherhood intensify this gap, with 41% of women in Peru stopping working after their first child, a percentage that remains after 10 years. Women with children often seek more flexible occupations such as part-time or informal jobs to accommodate their added responsibilities, according to the OECD. Traditional gender roles reinforce these effects of motherhood and may discourage the full-time participation of women in the workforce.

Bridging the Gap

Increasing the participation of women in the workforce could both strengthen efforts to reduce the gender wage gap in Peru and bolster the nation’s economy. Women represent a large portion of the population — their contributions to the workforce could help Peru’s formal economy grow, especially after COVID-19. Addressing this gap could be key to restoring and revitalizing the nation’s economy in the wake of the pandemic.

Education level is an important step towards achieving these goals. Women who graduated from upper secondary school and university have 80% and 90% labor market participation rates, respectively, while those with lower levels have under 50% participation, according to the OECD. Encouraging higher education could thus stimulate Peru’s economy by incorporating more people into the workforce, while simultaneously addressing gender inequality.

However, while reducing gender inequality in Peru still needs more work, education rates have increased for both genders in recent years. Rates of enrollment for boys and girls from pre-primary to upper secondary education are virtually the same, and illiteracy has essentially vanished among older teenagers of either sex, at a rate of about 0.5 percentage points. By contrast, among 60+ year-olds, women tend to be more frequently illiterate, with the gap between genders reaching roughly 18.7 percentage points, according to the OECD.

Encouraging higher education and economic participation among women could help bridge the gender wage gap in Peru — heightened labor participation and education provide girls with a stronger political voice and representation. Bridging this gap in itself could incentivize more women in Peru to work, including those in disadvantaged communities. Thus addressing gender inequality could gradually reduce the national poverty rate and bolster Peru’s economy.

Addressing Poverty and Gender Inequality in Peru

Organizations such as Peruvian Hearts, a nonprofit that focuses on educating girls and women in Peru, encourage the independence and economic participation of women. This organization’s PH Scholars program offers university scholarships and psychosocial support to disadvantaged girls to empower and educate women. It focuses specifically on girls from low-income families and has raised $666,072, as of June 2024, to address gender inequality and the interconnected problem of national poverty.

Globalteer’s Women’s Empowerment Project also aims to educate disadvantaged women in Peru and encourage their participation in the workforce. Concentrated in rural villages near Cusco, this project provides resources, financial backing, market knowledge and support to women in these areas to encourage economic independence and address poverty in Peru. This organization has currently raised $5,759, as of June 2024, to bridge Peru’s gender divide.

Peru has undoubtedly made significant progress in addressing gender inequality. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the gender wage gap can encourage more women to participate in the workforce and thus bolster Peru’s economy.

– Lana Swindle

Lana is based in Princeton, NJ, USA and focuses on Global Health and Politics for The Borgen Project.

Photo: Flickr