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PuntoLatino and UniBeLat's 2nd Interdisciplinary Podium

Women's Empowerment in Latin America 

Universty of Berna, Room 101, main building (Hochschustr. 4, Bern)

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015, 3pm-5h30pm 


Moderadora y Ponentes

carter jane100x100Jane Carter (HELVETAS). Jane Carter is Coordinator, Gender and Social Equity at HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation. In this post she is responsible for promoting and supporting gender and social inclusion in the organisation's activities in its 32 partner countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe - as well as within the organisation itself. She writes on the blog http://blog.helvetas.org/category/gender-social-equity/blog ,and has also published in international journals. Jane Carter 's academic background lies in the participatory management of natural resources; she holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK.


riano yvonne100x100PD Dr. Yvonne Riaño (University of Neuchâtel and University of Bern) is a Senior Lecturer and Project Leader at the Institute of Geography of the University of Neuchâtel, and at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The title of her conference is "Empowering Latin American Women: A Transnational Perspective". Her main research interests of mobility of skilled migrants, employment inequalities, and urban governance are addressed from a gender perspective. Email: Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo.


robin christian100x100Christian Robin (SECO). Since 2014, Christian Robin is Programme Manager for the State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) in Bern, Switzerland on issues related to value chain development and voluntary sustainability standards. He is further in charge for the trade promotion projects in Peru and Colombia. Previously, Christian Robin has been appointed as Head of Economic Development Cooperation of Switzerland in Peru. Before, Mr. Robin worked as a programme manager and consultant in different Latin American countries (Bolivia, Argentina and Peru) designing and monitoring development projects in the field of trade and economic integration. He holds a PhD in Political Science of the Center for Comparative and International Studies of the University of Zurich.


sanchez yvette100x100Moderator. Yvette Sánchez (HSG). Full Professor, Spanish Language and Literature, University of St.Gallen. Director of the Swiss-Latinamerican Center (Centro Latinamericano-Suizo, CLS HSG), University of St.Gallen. Research projects: Direction of the doctoral programme ProDoc «The Dynamics of Transcultural Governance and Management in Latin America», financed by the Swiss National Fund for Scientific Research (SNF). Research cooperation with Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, «Water & Light: Managing Strategies to Scale Up Sustainable Social and Environmental Projects in Colombia», financed by the Swiss State Secretary of Education and Research (SER).


suter sybille100x100Sybille Suter Tejada (DEZA), Sybille Suter Tejada, Head of Latin America and Caribbean Division at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), will make a short presentation on women's empowerment with a focus on the respective post-2015 agenda and SDC's activities in Latin America and the Caribbean (e.g. with regard to gender based violence, women economic empowerment).




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Panelistas, moderadora, embajadores  y organizadores del II Pódium



Yvette Sánchez (Universität St. Gallen)

Sybille Suter Tejada (DEZA)

Jane Carter (Helvetas Schweiz)

Christian Robin (SECO)

Yvonne Riaño (Universität Bern, Université Neuchätel)

Juan Fernando Palacio Roldán (Universität St. Gallen, PuntoLatino)

Rocío Robinson Wiedemann (Universität St. Gallen, PuntoLatino) 


Luis Chuquihuara Chil, Embajador del Perú en Suiza

Bernado de Sicart Escoda, Embajador de España en Suiza

María Andrea Torres Moreno, Agregada cultural de la Embajada de Colombia

Galería fotográfica → V e r ...


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Yvette Sánchez (directora Centro Latinoamericano-Suizo, Universidad de San) 


Prof. Yvette Sánchez,  Moderator

I would like to start with a word of praise and gratitude to PuntoLatino. Luis Vélez and his team have been establishing a strong service for the Swiss Latinos for many years, on a very regular basis. No doubt that this platform has had a community building and integrative effect for the Latin American population in Switzerland.

Women’s growing strength in the mental, political, social and economic realms can indeed change their livelihoods, as panelist Dr. Jane Carter (responsible for gender and social equity at Helvetas) put it, foster trust in their own capacities and increase the degree of autonomy and self-esteem.

The other panelists of different disciplinary background (rural development, forestry, social geography, political science and law) presented their particular projects and organizations: Sybille Suter Tejada (DEZA since 24 years, currently as Head of the Latin American and Caribbean Division), a lawyer by training, talked about legal aspects of the topic; Dr. Yvonne Riaño (Universities of Neuchâtel and Bern, a human geographer) presented her transnational research on Swiss Latinas, different types of women in the diaspora; last but not least, the only male member on the panel was Christian Robin (State Secretariat for Economy, SECO), responsible of fostering commerce, thus he focused on women’s empowerment through economic impulses in the value chain, especially in rural areas and the agricultural sector (including fair trade certification).

Before heading towards women empowerment in Latin America, the Swiss situation had to be touched briefly. The WEF gender gap ranking shows that since 2005 (ranking position 34) Switzerland has improved its position, but has quite some work to do still, in terms of economic participation and opportunities, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and well-being, as currently its lags behind countries like Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Rwanda, or the Philippines; in 2005 Switzerland was ranked behind Costa Rica (18), Colombia (30) and Uruguay (32). Brazil and Mexico did poorly with positions 51 and 52. 2015 Nicaragua is best ranked among Latin American countries, on position 12, Bolivia (22), Cuba (29). Ecuador (33), Argentina (35), Costa Rica (38), Columbia (42) etc. Brazil finds itself on position 85 (out of 145 observed countries). [http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/rankings/]

Yvonne Riaño’s research on women migrants from Latin America in Switzerland, half of them married to a Swiss husband, was highly interesting for the public. The majority of Swiss Latinas have a high level of education, vocational and university, and is often un- or underemployed (brain waste).

The panelists touched several indicators which could help improve women’s situation on the Latin American continent: literacy, status, equality, levels of poverty or participation, female and male wage rates, school enrollment, constraints/advantages of working in the informal sector, domestic violence, contraceptive use, change in men’s attitudes about gender roles, as physical or sexual abuse (very high in Bolivia), even murder rates (El Salvador has the world’s highest rate of femicides) continue to be virulent, going hand in hand with images of masculinity (cf. machometro) and with alcohol.
Indicators can be taken from databases and indexes, e.g. the Gender-related Development Index (GDI – life expectancy, education, income) or the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM, female representation in economic and political power, also gender gaps in income), the WEF’s Gender Gap Index (GGI, economic participation, opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, health and wellbeing), and the Gender Status Index (GSI, social, economic, political power). Nevertheless, we have to bear in mind that these are international tools, thus cannot always be smoothly implemented on a national or regional level.

The effect of working on these indicators can be manifold: Access for women to basic transport and energy infrastructure may improve their economic output. Enhancing women’s health and nutrition reducing chronic hunger and malnourishment may increase productivity and wellbeing.

Education brings along e.g. better control over fertility (abortion is illegal in 18 of 21 Latin American countries) and participation in public life. An educated mother watches her children’s school enrolment and attainment (also need of save walking and transport) and their health and nutrition outcomes lowering child mortality.

Regarding all these issues, some concrete and original projects are much in demand, e.g. one in Brazil which offers short term apprenticeships on construction, so that women can earn their leaving and fix up their own houses; or the Nestlé’s salesladies in the Brazilian favelas (with all its advantages and disadvantages). 54% of Latin American women have an informal – in agriculture often unpaid – employment.

According to the slogan “When women work, economies grow.”, micorentrepreneurial business skills, knowledge, access to information and networks and to a bank account (according to the World Bank, only 35% of Latin American women have it) are vital, and childcare, too. The legal gender gap has to be diminished (in Bolivia, women need to ask their husbands for permission to work). Vocational training (Swiss export of dual-education system) have to be extended, access to and quality of technical trainings improved. DEZA supports 25’000 apprentices, 50% women. Collective action in rural and urban cooperatives needs to be pursued.

To foster discussion panelists were asked a couple of warming-up questions: 

1) Besides education and healthcare, what is most needed for women's empowerment?

2) What is your opinion on the term "development"?

3) What are the culture-sensitive issues in different regions of Latin America and between the external stakeholders (e.g. your organizations) and the local women, possible frictions as well as positive effects of culture contact situations?

4) What is the role of international media? On which topics do they focus? Foreign journalists have all started their articles with the stereotype of the female presidents vs. gender inequality in Latin American countries.
What is the role of local media? Their main issues regarding women? Sensationalist mass media vs. information tools, radio also in rural areas (occasionally telenovelas promote birth control), and new social media.

5) Labor participation: Which are the best sectors to include women of the low-income segments of society? Success stories? Role models are much in demand. What about gender quota in the region?

6) What are the workforce and workspace conditions of women in the presented projects? Rural/urban environments, private and public sector? Here we distinguish internal (family/community) vs. external factors (gender/class/ethnicity).

7) Comments on gender gap: wages, employment opportunities, education and training, entrepreneurship and microcredit? Discrimination/exclusion and violence? 
Special attention to minorities of indigenous and Afro-American women?

8) Migration and diaspora? Forced migration due to conflicts or mega-projects in the energy and agricultural sectors.

9) Observations on women’s political participation? Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have quotas in political parties.

10) Labor market policy, increasing women’s economic incorporation: Is a Gender Equity Firm Certification an appropriate tool to foster good gender practices in the corporate field? 

Many of these topics were touched during the discussion between panelists and public. One quintessence of the lively presentations and debates: Women are the major driver of positive social change.




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 Sybille Suter, Head of Division Latin America and Caribbean, SDC

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  Formación técnica profesional, Bolivia
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Formación técnica profesional, Bolivia  Formación técnica profesional, Bolivia 
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Formación técnica profesional, Bolivia  El «machómetro» 
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Mujer y ciudadanía, Bolivia  Mujer y ciudadanía, Bolivia  




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Dr  Jane Carter, Coordinator, Gender and Social Equity, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation

What do we mean by empowerment?
The word “empowerment” is much used and its meaning has been much dissected. Here it is only possible to make a few brief observations, but to begin, it is worth considering whether the most appropriate translation into Spanish is the widely used empoderamiento or whether in fact we should be speaking about apoderamiento or fortalecimiento. The first implies the transfer of power from one to another; the second two words imply more of an internal process of building power.
One of the ways often used in development circles to break down the meaning of empowerment is that first proposed by Jo Rowlands (1997). It’s perhaps a particularly appropriate one to use as she conducted her field work in Honduras, working for Oxfam. According to her, there are four types of power:

power over – the possibility to influence, coerce, and decide

• power to – trough which it is possible to organise and change existing hierarchies

• power with – the power of collective action and

• power within – which comes from individual consciousness and confidence.

Before examining each of these types of power in the Latin American context, it is important to note that women are not all the same; therefore ways by which they can become empowered vary. This is particularly true in a continent with a human diversity as vast as that of Latin America, from the indigenous groups of the Andes to the Amazon; Afro-Caribbean groups; people of European origin; and those who are of mixed extraction.


Power over
This aspect of power is not one that is widely promoted in development programmes, although it may be appropriate in some cases – for example, supporting women managers and politicians to be more effective. Thus in Peru, Helvetas works with indigenous women leaders in the Amazonian forests, supporting them to lead in negotiations over forest conservation in the context of external threats of timber extraction and agricultural expansion. Unfortunately, “power over” is often viewed in terms of a “zero sum game”, under which if one person gains power, another person loses it – which is not a very constructive perspective.


Power to
The power to change one’s individual circumstances – through gaining better knowledge, skills, access to markets and income-generating opportunities – is the focus of many development interventions. Helvetas is no exception in this regard. We have many programmes with such an orientation, working with both men and women, or solely with women. One example, from Peru, is of working with rose-growers, most of whom are women, in improving both their production techniques and their positioning in the market for a better price for their flowers.


Power with

Women (and men) are stronger when they bring their voices together; this is of course the power of acting with others to bring about change. An example of the work of Helvetas in this respect can be drawn again from Peru, where we are engaged in supporting rural municipalities to better understand the implications of climate change, and how best to adapt to it. Here we have taken particular care to ensure that women’s perspectives are taken into account, and that together, they have a strong voice [4].


Power within

Self-esteem and self-confidence are crucial aspects of empowerment – although often difficult to measure. One example of this in the work of Helvetas is the training of women in public speaking in municipalities in Guatemala – building their confidence, as well as their legal awareness, so that they can campaign for women’s rights.

“The elephant in the room”: SGBV

It is a known fact that Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is extremely high in Latin America – ranging from coercion to murder. There is now even a word “femicide”, to describe the killing of a woman by a man, and more than half of the 25 countries with a very high femicide rate are in Latin America. As an organisation working in development, we have to take pro-active steps to ensure that our interventions with women do not have a negative backlash; this entails careful work in advance with men to ensure acceptance. We also maintain good linkages with specialist organisations working on the topic, and endeavour to work in synergy with them where possible.


[1] Rowlands, Jo (1997) Questioning Empowerment: Working with women in Honduras http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/questioning-empowerment-working-with-women-in-honduras-121185 

[2] http://blog.helvetas.org/speaking-out-indigenous-women-leaders-in-peru/ 

[3] https://assets.helvetas.org/downloads/helvetas_annual_report_2014_e.pdf page 12

[4] https://peru.helvetas.org/es/proyectos_mandatos/programa_de_adaptacion_al_cambio_climatico/ This project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development, SDC. 

[5] http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/4/femicide-in-latin-america 

[6] http://blog.helvetas.org/he-hits-me-because-he-loves-me/a 




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 Christian Robin, Programme Manager, Trade Promotion Division, SECO

Not a specific gender expert. Primarily an expert in trade and economic development in Latin America, since 20 years closely linked to the region as student, researcher, consultant, programme manager, field office coordinator. I have had the possibility to live in several LAC countries over the past 10-15 years, from Argentina and Chile in the Southern Cone to Bolivia and more recently Peru (as coordinator of the SECO programme), in the Andean.

Although I have never seen these countries through the particular glass of a gender expert, Latin America seems to be an especially compelling case for the crucial role of women in development. If we compare where the region stands today compared to the situation 20 years ago, one is certainly way more optimistic about the region in terms of growth perspectives, governance and social inclusion. There are many ways to explain why there is much more hope in the region (commodity prices, macroeconomic stability, etc.), but the role of women is a strong explaining variable.

• In the last decade there has been a mass incorporation of women into the formal workforce in Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than 100 million women now working. It has been one of the most dramatic social changes in the region.

• Women have become key player in social policies in helping to improve drastically the quality of public spending. Starting in Brazil and Mexico in the 90ies, nowadays almost all LAC countries use women to channel cash transfer to the poor. Being aware of their high sense of responsibility making sure that taxes are used more effectively, spending in health, education and nutrition of their children.

• Improved transparency in public institutions: Key decision making is more and more in the hands of women (also traditional male areas such as ministries of finance, trade, central bank, stock exchange, etc.)

It is very clear: Even though women have of become crucial for the development and growth in LAC, much more efforts are needed to make sure that economic growth is not only due to women but also favoring women. Each country and sector have their particularities and their specific challenges to tackle the existing inequalities in terms of access to education, information and assets. But the largest potential and need to improve the situation of women lies in the rural areas.

Almost two-thirds of the region’s rural population still lives in poverty, and women are overrepresented among the poor. The region’s rural women have less access than men to resources, particularly to productive assets such as land, water, credit and agriculture inputs.

The role of women in rural areas are key. They are a huge but underestimated contributor to rural life through both paid and (even more so) unpaid employment. Overall they work more hours than men. Not only have they an important role in post-harvest and commercial tasks (cash crops), but normally women are in charge of the so called subsistence (food) crops (fruits and vegetables) and collect water and fuel wood. Last but not least, they are responsible for most household activities (preparing meals, cleaning, child’s care, etc.).

For that reasons, we consider mainstreaming gender in agricultural value chain is not only essential for the economic performance but is also essential for poverty reduction, food security, and gender equality in the region.


How to approach to this?

An important catalyzing effect on gender issues can have sustainability standards or labels which have become very popular in many commercial crops such as coffee, cacao, banana, cotton, flowers, sugar cane, etc. Best known is clearly the Fairtrade Label of Max Havelaar. But in recent years, others standards have emerged and gained importance. UTZ Label (Migros) has become more important than FT in Cacao sector.

It is clear, certification is not the panacea to improve lives of women. But in a context where enforcement of laws that protects and promotes women are poor, sustainability standards represent an interesting market driven tool by which concerns of consumers are translated in concrete actions, which are controlled by independent verification bodies.

Normally, the certifications address the following issues:

• Avoid discrimination in hiring, remuneration, promotion or other benefits.

• Promotion of the equal participation of disadvantaged and minority groups within the company or cooperative, particularly with respect to staff and a committee membership.

• Women are entitled to maternity leave and additional rest breaks after childbirth.

• Health and safety, pregnant or breastfeeding women are not allowed to handle or apply agrochemicals.

• Educational programs on hygiene, nutrition and other issues that improve the general health of on-site living workers and their families are stimulated.

• Promotion of women participation in trainings, which contributes to a more equal access to knowledge and skills.

Each sector and country represents a particular situation and challenges. In some cases you will find hired situation (large farms of asparagus, banana), in order parts production for the largest part takes place on small scale farms.

What did we learn from our experiences (in sectors like cacao, coffee) in Latin America?

Example: Last year we did a specific research study on the role and impact of certification on gender in cacao cooperatives in Peru in the provinces of San Martin, Ucayali and Ayacucho. Also we have some insights on gender (and other sustainability issues) from our cooperation with COSA, which stands for Committee on Sustainability Assessment, which is one of the leading initiative in measuring sustainability impacts and monitoring performance in agro value chains.

In a nutshell we can say that are some, although still rather limited impacts from gender perspective in terms of inco

me (though rather indirect), formal registration, training, health and safety. Also we can say that the process of certification normally helps to set the topic on the agenda in producers associations and their farmers. It sets a framework in which a gradual improvement of gender issues can take place.

But: Certification alone, as a form of outside incentive, is not sufficient to make a long term change; training and awareness raising are necessary as a parallel process. Certified producer organizations have to go beyond the logic of mere complying with the standards to accede the market and better prices, to integrate gender topics into their livelihoods. It is very important to take into account underlying social structures and gender roles. What needs to be done?

• Stronger focus and better enforcement of gender aspects within certification processes (just another topic, not well controlled); making sure that women takes over more prominent roles in the cooperatives, including leading positions (currently 3 to 4%).

•  Stronger focus on awareness raising and in-depth training and counseling of both women and men in their respective roles and opportunities to overcome traditional patterns.

•  Leadership programs, empowering women, setting up platforms within local organizations where women can express their needs. Trainings more tailor-made.

Overall: Although the glass is not yet half full and lot more need to be done over the coming years to mainstream gender in agriculture value chain, there are already very good examples of highly empowered women, which take over leadership functions. The potential for replication, based on such good examples, is huge.




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A Transnational Perspective to Empowerment:
Challenges of Latin American Women when Migrating to Switzerland
 Yvonne Riaño 


One of the objectives of the 2015 sustainable development agenda of the United Nations member states is gender equality and women's empowerment. It recognises that gender equality is not only essential for the advancement of human rights, but also a necessary step for economic development. Scholars have recognised that paid employment has great potential for women's empowerment. They alert us that such a potential cannot be realised in segmented labour markets where women are in a position of disadvantage regarding their situation of paid employment, job quality, salary level, and the possibility to advance (Kabeer 2012). Thinking about women's empowerment implies asking the question of what are the barriers that constrain women from realising their potential in the labour market. Today, I will address that specific question for the case of Latin American women who migrate to Switzerland. Why this perspective of analysis? In a globalised world, the numbers of Latin Americans who have moved to European countries has dramatically increased in the past decade. Switzerland is a good example of that trend. What is particularly interesting about the Swiss case, is that the flows of Latin American migrants are highly feminised. My argument is that we need a transnational perspective to discuss the question of the empowerment of Latin American women.


1. Latin American Women on the Move

Let's look now at how the numbers of Latin American migrants to Switzerland have evolved since the beginning of the 1990s. As you can see in Table 1, by the year 1990 there were more Latin American men than women living in Switzerland. This started to dramatically change by the mid-1990s when the numbers of women surpassed men. Women had more than doubled men by the year 2000. By 2012, more than two-thirds of Latin Americans living in Switzerland were women. Perhaps this percentage would be even higher if we could include those Latin American women who lack residence rights in Switzerland, and unfortunately do not appear in the statistics. The statistics also tells us that most Latin American women have a high educational level: more than 50% have either, vocational training, or have completed tertiary studies, which described in the literature as "skilled migrant women". A final further characteristic of Latin American women is that half of them are married to a Swiss citizen. The question that I'd like to raise now is: What is their employment status in Switzerland, and to what extent is the aim gender equality in the labour market fulfilled?

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2. Labour market participation of Latin American women and gender equality

But, before I examine the employment status of Latin American women, I would like to give a brief overview of the employment status of migrant women, in general, in the Swiss labour market. Table 2 compares the employment rate, unemployment rate and gross income of Swiss-born women and men, who have tertiary education. At the bottom left, we see that migrant women are in a situation of disadvantage by comparison to foreign-born men and Swiss-born men, as they have the lower employment rates, the highest levels of unemployment, and the lowest income average. This indicates that gender inequality in the skilled labour market particularly affect migrant women.

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Let's now examine the employment status of Latin American women and men by looking in Table 3 at data from the Swiss Federal Census 2000. The blue bars represent the total number of individuals, the purple bar represent men, and the beige bars represent women. As you can see, when we compare the employment status of Latin American women, and Latin American men, proportionally, the percentage of unemployed women is much higher than that of men. Also, the percentage of women who are not in paid work is much higher than that of men. This is another indication of the gender inequality that exists in the employment status of Latin American women and men.

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3. Typical types of employment for skilled Latin American women in Switzerland

Now, I would like to briefly present the results of my qualitative studies on the question of what are typical types of employment for skilled Latin American women in Switzerland. My studies include 60 Latin American women who moved to Switzerland as students, spouses or refugees. Most of them live in German-speaking Cantons, and are married to a Swiss man. The results of the interviews show three typical types of work situations: (1) the first, women who do not have paid work; (2) the second, women who have paid work but are in jobs below their skill level; and (c) third, women who have paid work which is commensurate with their skill level. The first two types, which can be characterized as absent employment, or precarious employment, are typical of most interviewed women, particularly those who have children. These case-study results are comparable to those of the 2004 European labour survey that shows that skilled migrant women in Switzerland are particularly disadvantaged in the Swiss labour market. How can we explain their precarious employment situation of Latin American women despite their high educational levels? This is a complex question and I don't have time today to give you a detailed explanation but I will give some first clues.

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4. Challenges for participating in the Swiss labour market

Both Latin American women and men with tertiary studies face many challenges to participate in the Swiss labour market as you can see on the left part of this table. But there are some challenges that particularly affect women, as you can see on the right part of Table 5. A main challenge is the prevailing social norms on gender roles that characterise some sectors of Swiss society. My interviews with skilled migrant women, and also with Swiss women, show that in many sectors of Swiss society, the task of reconciling household work and paid employment is largely considered a woman's responsibility. Even among couples with high levels of education, assumptions that women are responsible for childcare, that men are the main breadwinners, that external childcare has a negative impact on children, and that a woman's primary role is to support the professional career of her male partner remain powerful and widespread. This seems to be a main challenge that affects the labour market participation of women in Switzerland, and migrant women in particular.

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5. Gender equality and women's empowerment: Implications of precarious employment

The results of the interviews give an idea that migration does not always lead to increased gender equality and empowerment, but rather to cases of progressive deskilling, loss of confidence, and loss of autonomy, since some of the women become economically dependant on their partners, or on welfare support. Such consequences have been discussed in the literature, and several authors, including myself, interpret it as a form of brain waste. Latin American countries lose valuable resources with the emigration of skilled women, which is known as brain drain, but societies of reception do not make adequate use of those resources for the country's development. At the same time, the potential for Latin American countries to recuperate those lost resources, through brain gain, remains limited owing to women's precarious situations in the Swiss labour market.


6. Coping strategies of Latin American women

How do skilled Latin American women react to the disadvantages and situations of inequality that they face when trying to access the Swiss labour market? How do they cope with traditional ideas about gender roles in Swiss society and the challenge of labour-market participation? What strategies do women develop to recreate their social and cultural capital, and thus improve their access to the labour market? Table 6 shows the variety of strategies that the interviewed women had developed, in different realms of activity, and with the aim -conscious or unconscious- of attaining social, economic, and personal gains. Women may use one or several strategies simultaneously, or deploy them differently over the years, depending on past experiences.

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7. Conclusions

To conclude, we have seen that gender equality is not only a question of human rights but of economic interest for both Switzerland and Latin America. The question is: what can be done to strengthen the economic role of Latin American women in Swiss society? It seems to me that there are some important challenges to address. A fist challenge for the United Nations member states agenda is to adopt a transnational perspective that recognizes the needs and challenges that migrant women face in the countries of destination. A further important point is, how to develop effective forms of cooperation between Latin American countries, and countries of destination, such as Switzerland, to insure that the aim of gender equality and empowerment is fulfilled for Latin American migrant women?


– FSO Federal Statistical Office (2000): Swiss Federal Population Survey 2000. Neuchatel: Swiss Statistics
– Kabeer, Naila 2012. Women’s economic empowerment and inclusive growth: labour markets and enterprise development. SIG Working paper 2012/1. UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
– Riaño Yvonne (2011): "Drawing New Boundaries of Participation: Experiences and Strategies of Economic Citizenship among Skilled Migrant Women in Switzerland". Environment and Planning A. London, Volume 43: pp. 1530-1546.
– Riaño Yvonne (2014): "Highly Skilled Migrant Women: Dual Career Households, Family Considerations and Gender Roles". In: Harnessing Knowledge on the Migration of Highly Skilled Women, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and OECD Development Centre: pp. 78-85.
– Riaño, Yvonne; Buehler, Elisabeth (2014): Employment Inequalities in Switzerland among Skilled Workers: The Significance of Gender and Origin. Department of Geography, University of Bern. National Research Programme NRP60 Gender Equality.


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 Juan-Fernando Palacio, HSG – PuntoLatino

 Hi everyone,

I really was a great pleasure for me to be part of the audience of this event. We have learnt a lot today through the presentations and discussions we have had in this panel.

We owe a lot to all the efforts made by the organization committee, that made this event possible. We owe a lot to To Luis Vélez, to Alexandre, to Luis-Fe and to all the rest of the team. Beside our speakers, they all deserve our gratitude too.

I am especially moved by the great interest that the public is showing for the panels. We can say that the panel of PuntoLatino, in its second edition, is becoming an institution on their own right in Bern and in Switzerland for all of us who are concerned about the present and future of Latin America. I can’t wait to see the program of PuntoLatino’s panel next year!

Now let me come back to today’s topic of dialogue.

I am particularly sensitive to the issue of gender equality because of an episode in the story of my family. I beg your pardon for briefly referring to this story here, but I think it’s very relevant today.

I come from a small town in a rather impoverished rural area of Colombia. My mother’s father was a small trader in the town, and the head of a traditional family of ten children, a cat and a dog.

40 years ago, my mother was 18 years old. She was single and she had just finished her secondary school. There is a new mayor in the town and he finds budget to create a library, the first library of the municipality, quite a big event for the small town. The mayor—his name was don Domingo Gil—goes to my grandfather’s house, to see my grandfather, and he tells him: “we’ll have a library, for the library we need a librarian, and your daughter is perfect for the job! So please allow her to work with us.”

My grandfathers replies something like: “Are you crazy? Don’t you see that she’s a woman? Women aren’t meant to ‘live in the street’. Women’s place is the kitchen. They are meant to stay at home! Why don’t you choose someone else different than my daughter?”

The mayor refuses. “I want your daughter in the library and that’s all.” My grandfather did not challenge the mayor’s authority anymore, so my mother became the first librarian of the town, and the first woman in her family to have a job outside the household.

So, in my early childhood, I grew up among the books of the town’s library, I grew up reading those books, and I grew up in a family that praises very highly the value of education.

And I believe that my family owes this partly to the stubbornness of a local politician that was brave enough to challenge existing social norms, and ultimately brave enough to challenge my grandfather.

What a difference with today’s generation! My father might not be a beacon of gender equality but, like many fathers of his generation, he tells to my sister: “you must not depend on a man. You must be able to work for yourself. You must be able to stand on your own feet.” That is just the opposite advice that my grandfather would give.

That brings me to the first bullet point of my summary. In only one generation there has been a huge, undeniable progress in Latin America in terms of gender equality. And we have to celebrate that progress.

Our speakers reminded us of that progress today: women entering the labor market; women going to the university in big numbers; women taking the highest positions in the political sphere; women developing professional skills; women deliberating and making part of the political sphere; women participating in public policy design and implementation; women becoming stronger in terms of self-esteem and self-recognition.

However, my second bullet point is that there is still a long way to go. There is still much to be done. And the speakers gave us interesting ideas about what can be done.

And I would like that we bear in mind two levels of action on what we can do.

The first one is the institutional level. A lot can be done at the institutional level through International Organizations. Examples are the inclusion of gender in the United Nations development agenda, and the connection between gender issues and human rights. A lot can be done through international cooperation, for instance, including a gender dimension in development projects.

Governments can do a lot through education, and through affirmative action when is really needed. Corporations can contribute too, and we saw examples of voluntary certifications and voluntary policies of employment with a gender dimension.

One issue in which all levels can contribute is the one of visibility of gender issues. Moreover, monitoring progress is important for the society, not only through numbers but also through the qualitative analysis and comparison of gender practices.

The second level is the individual level. We should be constantly checking ourselves. At times we do not realize, but we, men and women, still have attitudes that are not too distant from the one of my grandfather. And because of this attitudes we might be undermining the rights of the women around us, or women could be undermining their own rights by themselves.

So, there is an institutional level of action, but there is always a personal level of action: what we ourselves can do.

Hopefully, if we keep doing a good job in both levels, we will see the region—and Switzerland—moving even faster in the right direction in the near future, and Latin America occupying high positions in the field of gender equality in the United Nations’s new Sustainable Development Goals.

Thank you.



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 Rocío Robinson, Dr.des. HSG - PuntoLatino

I want to thank all of you for being here with us today! Thank you to the panelists and thank you to Prof. Dr. Yvette Sánchez. Today we have focused our attention on a very important topic for Latin America: that of gender equality and women’s empowerment. We have also heard how Switzerland has played a major role in mobilizing and recognizing the fundamental part that women play in sustainable development, the reduction of poverty, and the prosperity of a society in general.

We have learned that gender equality is a necessary step for economic development and the advancement of human rights. It is clear to us today that improvements in these areas will not be possible without the empowerment of women. Gender equality is very much tied to human rights, women’s rights, and economic development. UNICEF, for example, has defined gender equality as “women and men enjoying the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections”.

There is a large body of research that details how gender inequality undermines health and development. Therefore, to overcome gender inequality, women’s empowerment involves strategic interventions at all levels of policy-making.

Women’s inclusion drives development. Yet, despite progress being made, women continue to confront discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion. Ensuring the inclusion of women’s skills, capabilities, and experience requires deliberate actions and calculated policies. Achieving gender equality requires the participation of all actors, the participation of all of us.

My field of study is Corporate Social Responsibility and there, gender equality has also started to be a prominent topic for Business; not only about the role of women in corporate governance, but also regarding the important function that women play in the global supply chain. Women control nearly 70% of global consumer spending. Undoubtedly, there is power in those figures. While it is also true that corporations are starting to recognize the value that women contribute to corporate governance, we still have a long way to go for the glass ceiling to be torn down, and to truly tap into the benefits that gender equality can offer the public and private sectors.

We are starting to see some improvement in the empowerment of women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors. We know that empowering women results in stronger economies, establishing more stable and just societies, and above all, it means improving the quality of life not just for women, but also for men, for families and for communities.

Today, we have been very fortunate to have amongst us experts on topics related to all of these issues. I will probably do no justice to the high level of quality and richness of their presentations, but I will try to briefly remind the audience of what was said today:

Dr. Jane Carter from Helvetas, detailed and explained the meaning of empowerment and the important differences between power over, power to, power with, and power within. I am very grateful that she acknowledged the “elephant in the room”, which is sexual and gender-based violence, that sadly plagues our Latin American continent.

Sybille Suter Tejada from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation started off by presenting an international framework where DEZA operates in; namely, the Sustainable Development Goals and the topic of gender in the 2030 Agenda. For example, the Sustainable Development Goal number 5 is to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls everywhere. This goal includes, among other targets, combatting gender and sexual violence, and eliminating trafficking and other types of exploitation.

Ms. Suter Tejada then presented a specific case study in Bolivia, in which DEZA aimed to improve the quality of technical training and to decrease poverty. Expected results in 2017 estimate that there will be approximately 25,000 trained persons—50% of which are women. Lastly, Ms. Suter Tejada spoke about the importance of providing training to women in industries outside of the beauty and health fields, for women to focus instead in industries where they can have higher earning power.

Dr. Christian Robin of the State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) explained to us how Latin America is a crucial case for analyzing and seeing the role of women in development. For example, there are many women who are heads of households and therefore beneficiaries of cash transfer programs that are helping families finally break the cycle of poverty. He stated that, fundamentally, economic growth should be more favorable to women. Dr. Christian Robin then proceeded to explain how the role of women in agriculture is also a key driver of economic growth: women are often in control of the harvest to feed the family, and they make up a large percentage of the rural population.

SECO’s value chain approach is very much tied to women and development. Mr. Robin spoke specifically about how certifications such as Fairtrade and UZT can provide equal participation for women through cooperatives, for example. It is clear, then, that gender and sustainability issues go hand in hand.

Dr. Yvonne Riaño from the Universities of Neuchâtel and Bern presented Latin American women on the move, and the challenges of gender equality and empowerment when migrating to Switzerland. She asked, “What are the constraints that women face”? In the case of Switzerland, women who migrate to the country make up a large percentage, vis-à-vis the numbers for men. Dr. Riaño also spoke about gender equality in the labor market and the typical categories of employment for Latin American women in Switzerland. She also discussed the challenges for women to participate in the Swiss marketplace. For example: reconciling household responsibilities with paid labor, and dealing with the prevailing social norms on gender roles. She concluded by presenting the implications of inequality in the labor market and how it affects not only human rights issues, but economic matters as well.

Today we have heard how Switzerland has an impact on Latin America, and how Latin America also has an impact on Switzerland. We have been given much food for thought in the Q&A segment, which centered also on the identity and role of men in gender equality. On this note, I will hand over the platform to my colleague Juan Fernando Palacio, who is a PhD student at the University of St.Gallen and a member of PuntoLatino...

In conclusion, we would like to end on a positive note. We must not forget that women in Latin America currently enjoy greater opportunities than ever before. The favorable circumstances afforded to women in Latin America today are far and above what they were a short time ago. Nevertheless, we must ride on this precious momentum to overcome hurdles and to achieve more real, concrete progress. It is clear that we should devote more time and resources to the issue of women’s empowerment and to improve the region’s social and economic development. Our podium today is just the beginning to making positive change happen towards achieving these goals. Thank you very much for being here this evening.


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El Embajador del Perú en Suiza, Luis Chuquihuara Chil, participó activamente en el II Pódium

OPINION –  Luis Chuquihuara Chil, Embajador del Perú en Suiza

Felicito a PuntoLatino por la excelente iniciativa de convocar a un tema de gran interés y con un panel de prestigiosas personalidades. Tengo para mí que en las últimas décadas se ha venido acentuando el progresivo empoderamiento de la mujer en nuestra región latinoamericana en general y en mi país en particular. Hay que tener presente que en todo análisis de género confluyen siempre variables interactuantes mayores como son educación, cultura y situación socio-económica. En ese sentido, en los últimos lustros se percibe en América Latina una evolución favorable con mayor estabilidad democrática, crecimiento económico y reducción de la brecha social. En ese contexto, la mujer peruana y latinoamericana viene asumiendo progresivamente el lugar que le corresponde en nuestras sociedades. La situación disminuida que ostentaba hasta mediados del Siglo XX va quedando atrás. Por supuesto, en esta importante materia de equidad de género aún, como diría César Vallejo, "hay hermanos muchísimo que hacer". Por ello, nuestro reconocimiento a las organizaciones suizas públicas y privadas que desarrollan proyectos sociales en favor del continuo empoderamiento de la mujer en nuestra región.



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El Embajador del Perú en Suiza, Luis Chuquihuara Chil, participó activamente en el II Pódium

OPINION –  Bernardo de Sicart Escoda, Embajador de España en Suiza

Tuve el gusto de asistir a este II Pódium de PuntoLatino sobre «Empoderamiento de la mujer en América Latina». Al respecto, debo manifestarles que considero que el concepto, la organización y el desarrollo del acto fueron impecables. Animo a PuntoLatino a continuar con esa valiosa labor. 



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Alma López (SG), Luis Vélez Serrano (PuntoLatino) y María Andrea Torres Moreno (Embajada de Colombia)

OPINION –  M.-Andrea Torres Moreno, Agregada cultural de la Embajada de Colombia en Suiza

El II Podium Latinoamericano patrocinado por la PuntoLatino y la Universidad de Berna, cuyo tema central fue el «Empoderamiento de la mujer en América Latina», fue una magnífica oportunidad para escuchar diferentes puntos de vista en torno a un tema que ha generado gran interés en el marco de los estudios latinoamericanos: el actual rol de la mujer en el subcontinente.

Tener la posibilidad de escuchar a representantes de sectores tan diversos como las Organizaciones No Gubernamentales, la Academia, y la institucionalidad suiza, permitió a los asistentes tener un panorama general no sólo sobre la situación de las mujeres en sus países de origen, sino también sobre la situación de la mujer latinoamericana en Suiza, lo que contribuyó a tener una aproximación integral al tema en cuestión.

Felicito esta iniciativa de PuntoLatino de realizar eventos encaminados a discutir temas de interés para todos aquellos que en Suiza se interesan por la realidad latinoamericana, pues éstos contribuyen significativamente a que ésta sea conocida en todas sus dimensiones , más allá de los prejuicios y los clichés.


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El Embajador de España, Bernardo de Sicart Escoda; la Embajadora del Paraguay, Liliana Lebron de Wenger; el Embajador del Perú, Luis Chuquihuara; el Ministro Consejero de la Embajada de Chile, Julio Méndez; la agregada cultural de la Embajada de Colombia, María Andrea Torres Moreno y la agregada cultural de la Embajada de Argentina, participaron activamente en el conversatorio del II Pódium.



Fotografías: ©PuntoLatino, Rodrigo Ruiz Céspedes y Luis Vélez Serrano


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El Embajador de España, Bernardo de Sicart Escoda acompañado por los redactores de PuntoLatino: Alexandre Ramos, Luis Felipe Montes, Marianela Canedo, Shannely Lowndes, Alan Zedi y Ninoska Reyes. No aparecen en la imagen: Rodrigo Ruiz Céspedes, Maren Harrer, Juan Fernando Palacio, Claudia Gafner-Rojas, Rocio Robinson, Xenia Keller, Gabriela Hidalgo.


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Entre el público aparece Marco Kräuchi de SECO, también Maren Harrer, Gabriela Hidalgo, Rocío Robinson, Claudia Gafner de PuntoLatino.


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Participando en la discusión con el público, la Dra. Valentina Locatelli, curadora de arte del Kunstmuseum Bern


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El coordinador de PuntoLatino, Luis Vélez Serrano presentando a los redactores que cerraron el Pódium: Rocío Robinson y Juan Fernando Palacio


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Alexandre Ramos inaugura el II Pódium en nombre de PuntoLatino y UniBeLat


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El panel completo en discusión con el público


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