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Empowering women in Latin America

Latin America’s newfound economic standing on the world stage, coupled with a collective shift to the political left, has boosted gender recently and given rise to opportunities that were previously out of reach for women. Historically speaking, women in Latin America have been sidelined when it comes to matters of a societal and economic significance; that is until the last few decades. And whilst instances of injustice are far from entirely absent, major steps have been taken to empower women and level the playing field somewhat.

The opportunities afforded to women in Latin America today are far and above what they were a short time ago

“The gender gaps in education, access to health services, labour force participation and political engagement have narrowed, closed and sometimes even reversed direction,” according to a World Bank report entitled Women’s Economic Empowerment in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The focus on empowering women in Latin America comes amid rising support for gender equality the world over, which has generated heated discussion amongst industry leaders and heads of state about the ways in which the gap can be closed. In Latin America in particular, efforts to tackle all forms of gender discrimination are gathering precious momentum, given that many of the region’s constituent countries are scrambling to be seen alongside some of the world’s leading powers.

The opportunities afforded to women in Latin America today are far and above what they were only a short time ago, and for as long as the region continues to grow at quite the same pace, the women’s empowerment issue will continue to be attended to governments and private enterprises.

Opportunities for women in Latin America

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), last year there were some 163m economically active men and 113m women in the region, which serves to illustrate the extent of the imbalance.

Gender imbalance


Economically active men


Economically active women


Latin American women expected to be working outside the home by 2020

Furthermore, the organisation estimates that 56 percent of women in the region will be working outside the home by 2020, amounting to a significant gain on the 52 percent equivalent in 2010, but still a frighteningly slim percentage all things considered.

In addition, only 35 percent of women in Latin America had access to a bank account in 2012, according to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database, which again demonstrates that opportunities for women are still sorely lacking in some areas.

One Inter-American Development Bank study shows that although there have been improvements, there still exists a significant gap between men and women’s wages in Latin America. The study, which compared representative households in the region, found that despite having the same age and education, men earned on average 17 percent more than their female counterparts. The report also showed that women occupied as little as 33 percent of the better-paid professional jobs in the region, and here the wage gap is much higher at 58 percent.

It should be said that there have been some significant improvements, most notably in the way of employment opportunities, though there is still a great deal to be done before the gender gap is closed entirely. If businesses in Latin America acknowledge the role women have played in driving socio-economic change, there is no reason why the country’s economic constituents shouldn’t expand upon the already available opportunities open to them.

UN Women’s Empowerment Principles

The UN Women’s Empowerment Principles act as a seven-step guide for businesses in Latin America and beyond on how it is they can best empower women in the workplace, marketplace and wider community.

Women have played a critical part in boosting Latin America’s labour participation rate, reducing poverty levels and spurring economic growth

The principles are as followed:

  • Leadership promotes gender equality
  • Equal opportunity, inclusion and non-discrimination
  • Health, safety and freedom from violence
  • Education and training
  • Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices
  • Community leadership and engagement
  • Transparency, measuring and reporting


“In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, utilising all social and economic assets is crucial for success,” reads the organisation’s website. “Yet, despite progress, women continue to confront discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, even though equality between men and women stands as a universal international precept – a fundamental and inviolable human right.”

When put into practice, the seven principles are not only an effective method of empowering women, but also building a strong economy and a just society. The internationally agreed-upon points are especially pertinent for those in Latin America, where there is a strong desire to improve general quality of life as well as further societal and economic development.

President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff

President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff addresses the audience at a United Nations General Assembly in New York last year. Rousseff is the first female to hold the position

Women have played a critical part in boosting Latin America’s labour participation rate, reducing poverty levels and spurring economic growth, to such an extent that the region now ranks amongst the most influential worldwide.

These circumstances in particular have prompted many Latin American businesses to commit more time and resources to the issue of women’s empowerment in order to bring more women to the fore and expand upon the region’s social and economic development.

Empowering women

Belcorp is a multi-brand corporation specialising in beauty products and services based in numerous countries in and around Latin America. The company’s aim is to bring women closer to their ideal of beauty and fulfilment: a mission that is underpinned by a belief that women are a major driver of positive social change.

Belcorp by numbers


Beauty consultants



The corporation at present reaches millions of women via its network of approximately 1m beauty consultants over 15 countries, and empowers Latin American women in multiple ways. Belcorp’s support for its female sales force centres around four principles:

  • Economic support, by providing a source of income coupled with flexible working hours, allowing them to combine their family and professional life
  • Appropriate training
  • Social protection, providing micro life insurance and hospitalisation assistance
  • Access to microcredit


The latter two, encompassing microcredit, savings, life insurance and various other forms of credit, are expected to affect as many as 3m individuals by 2020, and provide each with a greater sense of social inclusion.

Owing to the company’s direct sales business model, Belcorp acts as a source of income to 1m women in the region, which has had and continues to have a positive effect on their families and the communities in which they live and work.

Underpinned by the UN’s women’s empowerment principles, Belcorp hopes to bring women in Latin America closer to their ambitions and embolden their prospects in a region that promises to open up more opportunities to women in the future.

Industry expert

The Belcorp Foundation


Invested in women’s education


Scholarships provided for young Latin American girls from vulnerable areas


Low-income women trained in personal development, violence prevention and economic development

In addition to promoting a far more hospitable environment for women in Latin America, Belcorp has also pledged a series of investments to the cause of empowering women in the region. Although the investments together amount to some serious financial clout, the key here is not the money spent, but the fact that one of Latin America’s most successful corporations is contributing to the issue of gender equality.

The most notable of these projects is the Belcorp Foundation, which has invested approximately $12m in various women’s education programmes. More specifically, Belcorp has facilitated over 1,600 scholarships for young Latin American girls from some of the region’s more vulnerable areas, and trained over 18,400 low-income adult women in three key areas: personal development, violence prevention and economic development.

Furthermore, the Familia Protegida life insurance and hospital cash programme has benefitted upwards of 270,000 families in five countries across the region since its launch in 2011 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. To date, a total of $1,400,000 has been paid out in insurance premiums to over 8,400 low-income families and, by 2020, the company expects the programme to be in operation throughout the 15 countries in which Belcorp plays a part.

Belcorp’s success is built on the belief that long-term success is born of long-lasting relationships and a commitment on the part of corporates to find challenges and opportunities for advancement, and it is this philosophy that guides the company’s work towards empowering women in Latin America.

Case study

Belcorp sells


Facial treatment products per year



Aside from the company’s commitment to matters of social responsibility, Belcorp’s business has also performed extremely well in terms of profitability and expansion since its establishment in 1968. Since that time it has exhibited a continual drive toward sustainable and often double-digit growth. In 2011 the company posted $1,460m in sales, marking a 24 percent gain on the year previous, and equating to the third largest direct sales company in Latin America and the tenth largest worldwide.

With an impressive staff size of over 10,000, Belcorp is widely considered one of the best places to work in Latin America. The firm continually aspires to be regarded as the number one beauty company in Latin America and an even larger contributor to the region’s economic and social development.

Through its direct sales business model and multi-brand strategy, Belcorp sells approximately 17m facial treatment products and 14m lipsticks every year. The company’s success here is owed to its capacity to launch 180 products per year in collaboration with its 300 plus commercial partners, who together contribute cosmetics and non-cosmetics input.

With an impressive staff size of over 10,000, Belcorp is widely considered one of the best places to work in Latin America

The company’s financial performance is undeniably impressive, however, Belcorp’s defining characteristic is its steadfast commitment to matters of social responsibility. “At Belcorp we believe in women’s capacity to transform their lives and in their potential as change agents in society,” and it is this belief above all else that puts Belcorp at the forefront of change in terms of women’s empowerment in Latin America.