Panama’s fight for a delayed right: women’s economic independence

La laguna, Panamá
(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content


• Panamanian women, like women around the world, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Panama was one of the first countries to partner with the Equal Pay International Coalition.

• Now the government continues to introduce further measures to build women’s participation in the workforce.

The struggle for the overall equality and economic empowerment of women has persisted for many generations and became more acute as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted more women in the workplace than men. This was no different in Panama, with 46.5% of employed women working in sectors most impacted by the crisis, compared to 29.6% of employed men. As economies strategize to rebuild in a post-pandemic scenario, gender-oriented policies that put the needs of women and girls at the forefront must be a central part of recovery efforts if we are to eradicate this problem once and for all from all our countries. What we urge is less talk and more action towards a more equitable future.

The issue of achieving equal pay is a complex one. There are many women who, even having the skills to reach leadership positions, lack the specialized education or training that would fast-track their trajectories because they did not have the necessary resources, incentives or support. More broadly, there are deep structural issues that play into women’s role in the workforce, some of which are connected to the perception and even self-perception of women at work, and others related to more tangible issues, such as childcare. Women who are impacted by these issues and others are denied a future and pay commensurate with their abilities.

As part of our country’s efforts to address this issue, Panama’s National Institute for Vocational Training and Training for Human Development (INADEH), with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), has developed a roadmap to promote women’s participation in non-traditional careers and courses. It includes short-term measures such as pilot courses in technical areas and campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes around technical occupations. Long-term measures of the roadmap include increasing the number of female technical and vocational education training (TVET) instructors, as well as piloting childcare facilities in selected training centres.

As one of the first countries to partner with the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), Panama stands on the road of social transformation. We recently had the honour of joining its Steering Committee as part of our country’s renewed efforts and commitment to closing the gender pay gap. As a woman with almost two decades of experience in law, business and government, I’ve experienced firsthand how women must fight twice as hard to get half the recognition. And the greatest recognition in our mercantilist society is wages.

Gender gap index in the area of economic participation and opportunity in Panama in 2020, by category
Gender gap index in the area of economic participation and opportunity in Panama in 2020, by category. 1 represents gender parity, 0 inequality Image: Statista.org

Panama also follows a Gender Parity Initiative (IPG), an ambitious platform to promote women’s participation and leadership in the labour force and closing the economic gender gaps. Through IPG, Panama’s public and private sectors have worked together to promote a number of initiatives to encourage hundreds of young women to study and follow careers with higher future demand. These initiatives include the More Women in Technology Programme, a digital awareness campaign to enhance women’s participation in engineering and technical careers, and the I’m a Woman, I’m Capable Campaign, aimed at encouraging 12- to 18-year-old girls to choose STEM careers. IPG also includes initiatives such as scholarships, internships and job placement programmes.

Panama has signed the ILO Convention No. 100 on equal remuneration for equal value and we stand with EPIC in calling for its universal ratification by 2030. As part of our country’s own commitment, we are preparing to pass a law that establishes 23 May, the day on which Convention 100 came into force, as Equal Remuneration Day, and are working on changes to Executive Decree No. 53 of 25 June 2002, which governs Law 4 of 29 January 1999, which institutes equal opportunities for women as regards equal pay.

As we create opportunities for women’s education and fruitful participation in the workforce, another pillar of achieving equal pay is equal representation in leadership positions. In line with this thinking, our government established a quota for women to make up 30% of state boards of directors. We recognize this is just a start and are committed to ensuring we surpass this metric in the future.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.



In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Women have to be an integral part of the solution for the recovery of economies in a post-pandemic era, and the types of programmes we create must be gender-sensitive and actionable enough to make a difference in our participation in the labour force. It is past time for leaders across the globe to commit to use the tools at our disposal and craft tangible policies to increase women’s participation in the workforce, reduce the gender pay gap, promote women in leadership positions and boost female entrepreneurship. We must demand equal pay for equal work – not a combative slogan, but one calling for justice.

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