The Challenges These Women Face in Latin America Will Totally Shock You

Latin American women — like mujeres across the globe — face structural and everyday discrimination and violence. As their Northern hermanas, we should recognize their struggle, not because they are victims in need of our saving, but rather because their stories need to be heard and their fight supported.

1. Abortion Ban

Five of the seven countries that have a complete ban on abortions are located in Latin America.

Women in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Chile can’t obtain a legal abortion, regardless of rape, incest or potential health risks. Abortion is so taboo in these countries that some pregnant women, experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding, are terrified to even visit a hospital, as some nurses and doctors assume the hemorrhaging is a result of an attempted abortion, which is grounds for an arrest. Only six of the countries in the region allow abortion without restriction. 

2. Unsafe Abortions

Unsafe abortions are widespread.

In 2008, 95 percent of the 4.4 million abortions in Latin America were unsafe, while 46 percent were high-risk in the Caribbean. Almost 1 million women are hospitalized each year due to complications from unsafe abortions in Latin America and the Caribbean, demonstrating the danger of abortion bans.

3. Indigneous Women

Indigenous women have a high rate of maternal mortality.

While Latin America has experienced many advances in maternal healthcare, indigenous women remain particularly vulnerable to pregnancy complications and death. In Peru, where 23 percent of women are indigenous, the maternal mortality rate in 2009 was 103 per 100 thousand births. However, figures from 2011 show that in Puno, where the population is mostly indigenous Aymara and Quechua, maternal mortality rose by 45 percent

4. Teen Pregnancy

Latin America has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world. 

With 72 births per one thousand girls between 15 and 19 years old, Latin America has the third largest teen pregnancy rate in the world. In Guatemala, where the teen pregnancy rate in the region peaks, 61 thousand girls and women — between 10 and 19 years old — became pregnant in 2013, with experts attributing gestation to poverty, lack of education and sexual abuse — primarily by relatives. 

5. Trans Women

Trans women are much more vulnerable to HIV.

At 35 percent, trans women in Latin American countries contract HIV at significantly higher rates than cis women (a person who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman), who become infected less than one percent.


6. Street Harassment

Street harassment is a really big problem.

Street harassment like groping and verbal attacks on Mexico City buses became such a huge problem in 2008 that the city rolled out new women-only bus lines. While similar actions haven’t been taken throughout the rest of Latin America, recent news show that street harassment is a problem in most countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Chile

7. Murder Rates

Latin America has some of the most troubling murder rates of women in the world.

More than half of the 25 countries with the highest femicide, gender-motivated killing of women, rates are in Latin America. According to a 2011 study, El Salvador, where, in 2011, 647 women were killed, leads, with Guatemala at third and Honduras close behind at sixth.

8. Wage Inequality

Wage inequality is a problem for women in Latin America.

On average, women in Latin America earn 17 percent less than men, similar to the gender pay gap between non-Latina white women and men in the US. While the wage gap is shrinking, progress remains slow. Even with more education than men, women hold just 33 percent of better-paid professional jobs like law and engineering, where the gender wage gap actually increases to 58 percent.

9. Dangerous Working Conditions

Dangerous working conditions hurt women.

Millions of women in Latin America work in hazardous fields, where there's a lack of protection from labor laws. For instance, women compose more than 75 percent of the workers in Export Processing Zones in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. In an effort to attract foreign investors, labor and environmental standards at these jobs are often relaxed or totally removed. Further, women are the overwhelming majority in domestic work, which commonly lacks basic employment rights and privileges. 

10. Imprisonment

Women imprisonment is drastically rising.

The number of women incarcerated in Latin American prisons has almost doubled between 2006 and 2011, growing from 40 thousand to more than 74 thousand inmates. A surge in harsh domestic drug laws is driving the increase, having little effect on the drug trade but hurting families.