Chile’s commitment in recent years to increasing the economic participation of women has produced notable results. More...
Chile’s commitment in recent years to increasing the economic participation of women has produced notable results. The ratio of women’s participation in the economy to that of men has increased from 41.8 percent in 1990 to 65.7 percent in 2012. Although the rate of women’s labor market participation (aged 15 or older)—49%, as of 2012—remains low, especially for the OECD, of which Chile is the only member from South America, the trend since 2000 has been upward. Advances do not yet permeate all corners of society, but women in Chile are increasingly prepared to build enterprises that create jobs and trade domestically and across borders. Women’s education at all levels, along with access to credit, networks, markets, and training, has improved markedly.
On March 8, 2015—International Women’s Day—Chile’s President announced the establishment of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, underscoring the government’s commitment to supporting gender equality in all aspects of daily life, including with respect to economic participation. The creation of the Ministry elevated the status of the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (National Women's Service) (SERNAM), an agency established in 1991 to support the rights of women and to improve conditions in which they live. And as of 2015, the government’s Agenda for Productivity, Innovation and Growth includes targets for women’s economic participation, including through regulatory changes on property within marriage and efforts to improve married women’s legal and financial autonomy. A state-sponsored program for women entrepreneurs, Crece Mujer, was established in 2015 and further seeks to improve access to finance and related services for women entrepreneurs, contributing to the strengthening, development, and growth of their businesses. These new programs complement past efforts by the government to strengthen Chile’s business environment generally and assist women in particular in launching and growing their own businesses.
At the same time, cultural expectations run deep in Chile about how women, especially single mothers and married women with children, must spend their time. Most often, men are the primary breadwinners, often returning home late, leaving women to prepare meals, clean the house, and look after children. Many men live apart from their families, especially those who work in Chile's extractive industries. Professional work schedules in Chile are notoriously inflexible and long (averaging more than 40 hours per week), although the incidence of part-time employment has increased significantly in this decade. Rates of women’s economic participation are directly proportional to their economic status; poorer women are less active in Chile’s economy than women of greater economic means.
Still, entrepreneurship is increasingly viewed as a viable option for women’s livelihoods in Chile, in particular as a means of supplementing family income. In 2013, the Inter-American Development Bank hailed Chile as providing the most supportive environment for female entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean, citing robust economic fundamentals and political and institutional stability as sources of investor confidence and micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) activity. In 2014, the Gender Global Entrepreneurship Development Index (Gender GEDI) ranked Chile 5th out of 30 world economies it reviewed for conditions that foster high-potential female entrepreneurship development, noting that Chile’s promising environment compares favorably to several economies with considerably higher GDPs.
The government’s latest gender initiatives will face a number of challenges specifically with respect to women who work in private enterprise. Well over half of Chile’s 1.7 million businesses remain informal —which in Chile turns on whether they report their activities to the Internal Revenue Service—and, among the 900,000 or so that are formally established, four-fifths are essentially sole proprietorships. As underscored by the Gender GEDI, the rate of women’s engagement in formal banking is just around 40%—a number that starkly limits their access to capital—and women’s participation in Chile’s dynamic environment for technology start-ups is notably low. Moreover, although nearly a third of Chile’s formal enterprises appear to have at least partial ownership by women, the presence of women in high-level management positions remains low—just 4.5%, according to the World Bank’s 2010 survey of more than 1000 enterprises.
Although there is considerable room to grow the universe of business networks that women and their enterprises have access to in Chile, the economy starts with a solid foundation. First, Chile’s commercial infrastructure includes a great many trade and business associations—most with economy-wide representation and regional or local affiliates—that supply their members with important contacts, information, advocacy services, and more. In the majority of these, women are not particularly well represented, although in certain sectors and local affiliates—tourism and local chambers of commerce, for example—their influence is growing.
Second, Chile’s tradition of social networks among women—including religious organizations, civic associations, and student groups—is deeply entrenched and easily accessible to most women. Enterprises owned by women are active on social media, including Facebook, WhatsApp Messenger, LinkedIn, and others, and women business-owners routinely contact one another, and their customers, through the Internet and mobile telephones. Thus, most women in Chile are experienced working in networks in a way that bolsters their ability to construct and take advantage of business networks.
Third, the Chilean government, through its Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (National Women's Service) (SERNAM) and a number of other agencies, proactively engages women who seek to develop networks that may strengthen their base of customers and increase their business opportunities. SERNAM’s training programs help women—in particular, heads of households—develop trade associations, and regional offices provide a great many services, including meeting space for women who are launching enterprise associations and afterschool childcare for working families.
For women operating formal enterprises that employ workers other than their family members, the independent network of women entrepreneurs, Mujeres Empresarias, is an especially strong example of a business network that supports its members on several levels. Members include diverse business representatives, including buyers, sellers, and professionals who work along a variety of value chains. The group has the confidence of many multinational companies and Chile’s traditional, male-dominated trade associations often serve as sources of expertise, connections, and talent. On the other hand, the independent networks that support smaller and/or informal women-owned enterprises tend to be launched with much more limited resources. These networks would benefit from continued efforts to increase membership diversity; train members in traditional and contemporary marketing skills; hone general business skills, including with respect to financial management, customer service, and quality control; and connect members to value chains that will allow them to expand their enterprises.
Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Networks that support women’s access to markets:
Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Networks that support women and innovation and technology:
Compared to the other areas examined through this inquiry—business networks and government services—private-sector initiatives for strengthening women’s economic participation in Chile are hard to find. Several banks and other financial institutions have programs that recognize the special needs of women entrepreneurs and serve women who are striving to build their small enterprises into larger concerns. Most other private initiatives focused on women and the economy are rooted in non-government organizations and are covered in this section. Few private companies are explicitly diversifying their supply chains by accessing women-owned enterprises or to improve entrepreneurial or management opportunities for women. Although enterprises of all sizes are known to participate in internships or partnerships with government or universities that seek their support, there is ample room for companies to launch their own initiatives that signal their commitment to women’s economic empowerment and strengthen women’s access to capital, markets, and skills.
Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Initiatives that support women’s access to markets:
Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology:
Since its return to democracy in 1991, Chile’s government has committed significant resources to increasing opportunities for women to participate and prosper in the economy. Across several cabinet agencies, including the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality, established in 2015, the government sponsors or supports programs that broaden women’s access to training and promotes opportunities for credit and market access necessary for women to expand their enterprises.
The Ministry of Women and Gender Equality is scheduled to be fully operational by 2016. It will assume all functions of the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer/National Women's Service, Ministry of Planning and Cooperation. Established in 1991, the mission of SERNAM is to “design, propose and coordinate policies, plans, measures and legal reforms, through and with the various ministries and services, to guarantee equal rights and opportunities between men and women on the public agenda incorporating the issues affecting women and the family.” SERNAM’s primary objectives have included mainstreaming of gender equality; employment of women; increased women’s participation in political decisions; and prevention of domestic violence. SERNAM remains engaged in numerous activities that support working women, including extension of maternal and parental leave, implementation of a “4 to 7” program that provides child care for working mothers, and development of a standard for certification of businesses on work-life balance. SERNAM has long encouraged the collection and publication of sex-disaggregated statistics by government agencies and the private sector. Between 2010 and 2014, its budget increased by more than 20 percent.
Once it is fully established, the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality will design, coordinate and evaluate policies, plans and programs that promote gender equality and seek to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. It will also oversee the work of the Interministerial Committee for Equal Rights and Gender Equality, which is charged with integrating a gender perspective across all government programs. In addition, the Ministry will operate a fund for gender equity that finances projects, programs, education, and outreach related to the field. The Ministry will also assume SERNAM’s efforts to incorporate women into the workforce and into decision-making positions; eradicate violence against women; improve women’s quality of life; and end gender stereotypes learned from family and school and through media.