Barriers to Progress for Gender Equality

Steffica Warwick:

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A lack of education about safe sex and consent serves to exacerbate the problems of rape and sexual assault.


One barrier to progress lies in the education of both males and females in Latin America. In spite of the oversexualisation of females in the media, and the prevalence of sexual assault, sex education in most countries in the region fails to give adequate teachings about practicing safe and respectful sex.

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries which have come closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education. However, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Peru tend to place emphasis on abstinence and birth control methods, paying particular attention to spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity. But many Latin Americans start having sex at a young age.

A 2010 survey revealed that one in four Latin Americans are sexually active before the age of sixteen.

And the consequences can be dire. A lack of education about safe sex and consent serves to exacerbate the problems of rape and sexual assault. It can lead to unwanted pregnancies; Latin America is the second highest region in the world for teenage pregnancies (next to sub-Saharan Africa), with 38% of girls becoming pregnant before the age of 20. In the first half of 2012, 1448 young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 gave birth in Guatemala. And in Bolivia, the teen pregnancy rate increased by 25% between 2008 and 2011.

A lack of education can also leave young people exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. United Nations data shows that approximately 68,000 adolescents are infected with HIV/AIDS. Contrary to traditional thinking among teachers in Latin America, that talking about sexual relations will encourage children to engage in them, the data shows that young people will engage in sexual relations anyway. Emphasis, then, should be placed on safety and consent, and to tackle the existence of rape culture.


School can also serve to perpetuate myths about gender roles. Lewis and Styco’s writing highlights how boys are taught in school to grow up to be tough and self-sufficient. They are taught not to show emotion, to complain, and are not expected to receive affection apart from via other females, such as their mother. The same can be said for girls, who are conditioned from an early age to expect to enter the domestic sphere, and not to match their male peers in terms of ambition.

Misinformation about gender and biology are also widespread in the region. According to one study, young people surveyed believed that violence has a biological connection with masculinity, and is to be expected. Participants of the survey also said that males were biologically incapable of controlling their passions, including sexual desire, anger and jealousy. For Latin Americans, the belief is that all males are intrinsically disposed to be this way.

On the outside world, some onlookers of Latin American culture have also described natives to the region of intrinsically being this way.

The most prominent pioneer of spreading the myth that Latin Americans are biologically disposed to sexual aggression is U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently referred to Mexicans as criminals and rapists throughout his campaign.

Thus it can be seen that educational reforms need to be implemented both inside and outside of Latin America, to dispel any myths about Latino biology and change the expectations of behaviour of males growing up.


Another significant barrier to progress is levels of poverty. One in five Latin Americans lives in chronic poverty. But poverty is not equally distributed in the region; at around 10% of the population, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, have the lowest rates of chronic poverty. In Santa Catarina, southern Brazil, chronic poverty stands at around 5%. This is lower than the national average of 20% and close to that of Uruguay, the best performing country in Latin America.

But in Ceara, a northern region of Brazil, around 40% of the population is chronically poor, comparable to Honduras, which has one of the highest incidences in the region. In fact, broadly speaking, the northern areas of Latin America have much higher levels of poverty than in the south, with the NTCA having the highest level of poverty throughout rural and urban areas.

It is impossible to omit poverty from the discussion of violence and male to female relations, particularly in a region such as Latin America with its strict code of conduct around gender performance. Indeed, there is a lot of academic literature which demonstrates the correlation between poverty and violence, particularly against women.

One article by Bron B Ingoldsby on the Latin American family and machismo describes how men with lower incomes ―suffer from job insecurity and compensate for their feelings by exaggerating their masculinity and subordinating women. As masculinity is a performance and not an inherent trait, it must be constantly proved and upheld. The Latino macho man is the head of the house. He is the provider and dominant figure. When he cannot be, he may turn to other forms of dominance such as domestic violence to assert his masculinity and preserve his pride.

Poverty is a huge contributor to the existence and longevity of gangs. As unemployment is a shameful position, any kind of money-earning position is preferable to having no job. In an interview with one gang member by the World Peace Foundation, one man said;

You‘ve got to be able to support the family, your kid an‘ all that. You need to have a job in a business or something like that so the community doesn‘t see you like a tramp, an undesirable who does nothin’, that‘s shit. It would be cool to have a good job.

But the idleness and frustration of not having a ‘good job’ can lead to interpersonal conflict and domestic violence. Other studies have shown that as well as high unemployment, alcohol abuse, stress levels, and the unwillingness of a wife to have sex with her husband are also related to increased domestic violence rates.

For women, high unemployment leads to greater economic dependency on men, which in turn led to an increase in domestic violence. For communities, the more assets they can acquire, the less vulnerable they are.

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled ‘Silent Voices: Violence against the female body as a consequence of machismo’  by Steffica Warwick, which is Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation ‘Safety First for Girls’.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.


Steffica works for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the British Embassy in Laos. Previously, she worked at the Open Data Institute in London. She volunteers as Editor for Safety First for Girls, and is passionate about education and gender equality. You can tweet her @StefficaWarwick
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