Argentina: Bridging the Gender Gap in Retirement?

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Gender disparities exist. To deny that is like supporting the idea that the earth is flat – you can, but it is simply nonsensical to do so.

According to the World Economic Forum, on average, women earn $10,000 per year less than men, only hold 26% of Parliament seats and 23% of Ministries worldwide. They remain likelier to work informally, often being restricted from executive positions when they do land a formal job.

As for education, UNICEF estimates that girls are likelier to drop out of school than boys, and that they represent 56% of the illiterate youth population in the world. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women globally suffer physical or sexual violence at some stage in their lives, making gender-based violence the most recurrent and systematic human right violation.

All this forms what specialists, practitioners, and activists have identified as the gender gap.

The gender gap constitutes the lower levels of access women hold in politics, economics, human rights, education, leisure, and health, when compared to men. It strictly refers to situations where not being a man constitutes a negative differential that positions women in a more vulnerable and isolated position, regardless of their capabilities, skills, or attributes.

But gender is not the only thing that puts women at risk. When addressing disparities, it is always essential to note how differing layers of characteristics can overlap to create modes of discrimination and privilege. One of those layers is age.

How do gender and age relate to one another? Do any disparities emerge at the intersection of womanhood and the Third Age?

During their economically active years, women usually receive lower salaries than men and work more frequently in informal employment. This not only impacts their immediate lives, as they have fewer resources, fewer labor rights, and are more subjected to the unexpected turns of the labor market. It also affects the way they access retirement benefits later in life.

In every single country worldwide, women have less access to pensions, with those who do receive benefits generally tending to obtain fewer. Therefore, the gender gap in retirement is a real impediment to gender equality, even though it not yet recognized as such in transnational policy discourse.

The gender retirement gap occurs for several reasons. First is the direct connection between salaries and retirement, as the less somebody earns, the lower their pension will be. Second, being employed informally also plays a crucial role, as receiving a pension largely hinges upon having accumulated a certain number of contributions during your active working life.

Women are disproportionately impacted by both factors. On average, they earn smaller salaries than men for the same jobs, are less employed in formal jobs, remain overrepresented in part-time jobs, and provide most of the unpaid family caregiving that often leads to them quitting their jobs (either temporarily or permanently). With these – and so many more – factors in mind, the impetus then falls on those of us who believe that states are major actors in the fight against inequality to ask: What on earth are governments doing?

Alas the answer for most of them is simple: nothing.

However, some news from the southern edge of the world has emerged as a cause for hope, as Argentina recently implemented a new policy to boost retirement coverage among women.

The Argentine government estimated that roughly 300,000 retirement-age women were unable to properly retire, as they had not accumulated the necessary amount of pension contribution. Therefore, it decided to institute something quite simple yet innovative.

Under the new regulation, any mother who is 60 years old or older who has not accumulated the necessary pension contribution will receive a year of contribution for each child, two years of contribution for any adopted minor, and two years of contribution for each disabled child she has raised.

While some voices from the conservative side of the political spectrum claim that this policy epitomizes discrimination, the truth is that over 75% of caring duties are held by women in Argentina. Or, put in the words of feminist writer/activist Silvia Federici, “What you call love is in reality unpaid work.”

This program, therefore, is not only driven by data, but also of extreme importance at several levels. On one hand, it acknowledges not only that the gender gap exists, but that the state has a responsibility to counteract it. On the other hand, it recognizes the value of care duties that disproportionately on women’s shoulders throughout their lives. Furthermore, it will allow for at-risk women to have a more decent and dignified retirement.

Many would claim that these kinds of policies can only be feasible for countries with strong economies, while not be prioritized in countries struggling with finances. However, Argentina is implementing this policy in the middle of a huge economic crisis, with a 50% inflation rate, largest share of the IMF loans worldwide, and an economic recession that has spanned three out of the last four years.

Sometimes good policy is not a matter of economic constraints, but rather political will. Though it may sound crazy, in times of crisis government should ensure their measures put the most vulnerable people at the forefront of impact.

Argentina’s example is only one way of addressing this problem, and there are other policies which governments could adopt to tackle the same problem. It is time to stop turning a blind eye to this issue, as there are no justifications for denying or not addressing it immediately.

After all, putting elderly women first is a people-centered approach to doing politics.