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The visible and invisible face of human rights: the right to education and decent work for girls and young women in Latin America.

While the fight against human rights violations has seen great progress since 1948, year when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, much remains to be done to guarantee every man and woman, every boy and girl, the full enjoyment of their rights.

On December 10th, we will be celebrating the International Day of Human Rights. It should not be a necessity to have a special day to remind us of human rights. Rights must be at the center of people's lives (and public debate) 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

While the fight against human rights violations has seen great progress since 1948, year when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, much remains to be done to guarantee every man and woman, every boy and girl, the full enjoyment of their rights.

Every day, the media, through photos, reports and testimonies, tell us stories of human rights violations around the world, leaving us speechless and with feelings of helplessness. However, what they show us is only a small part of the violation of rights that affects thousands of people every day. It is the most visible face: photos of child victims of war in Syria, photos of refugees on the beaches of Turkey: all are serious violations of human rights.

Unfortunately, however, there is another invisible face related to human rights that does not appear on the front pages of newspapers: the constant violation of the rights of thousands of girls, adolescents and young women in their own homes or in the workplace. Limited access to education, girls and adolescents’ victims of trafficking for purposes of sexual or labor exploitation, girls and adolescents forced to work in high risk contexts, without any means of physical or legal protection.

In Latin America alone, an estimated 2 million children are engaged in domestic work, most of which is unpaid. Domestic work, in general, is one of the worst paid and least regulated, one of the less valued socially, and that presents a high level of risk for the physical integrity of people.

According to UNFPA data (2013), one-third of young people aged 15 to 29 in Latin America and the Caribbean do not attend any educational establishment. Among these, indigenous women and young afro descendants in rural areas are the most affected. While making a more disaggregated analysis by sex and age, it is emphasized that 23% of adolescent women aged 15 to 17 do not attend school. Out of this total, 54% work as domestic and only 33% get paid (2013).

The rights to education and decent work for girls, adolescents and young people are closely related to sexual and reproductive rights. In fact, studies indicate that the violation of the latter adversely affects the enjoyment of the former and in the long term, affects its full development as a professional, empowered and self-employed economic woman. According to UNICEF (2015), one in four women between the ages of 20 and 24 had their first marital union before the age of 18 and 13% of the adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19, around 2010, have been mothers.

Differences in school attendance among girls and adolescent women belonging to indigenous peoples or not are considerable. Cultural and social barriers considerably reduce the possibility for girls and young people from these ethnic groups to fully enjoy their right to education. While there is a gradual increase in the number of girls and adolescents living in urban areas in educational programs, the level of attrition remains high because of early pregnancy, forced marriage and other related causes1, which also affects the working market. That is, the barriers to women's economic autonomy in Latin America begin early.

The unemployment rate for young people aged 15-24 in Latin America is between 2 and 4.3 times higher than the rate for those aged 25 and over. That is, unemployed young people represent more than 40% of the total unemployed in the region. This is exacerbated in the case of young women, whose unemployment rate at the regional level reached 17.7%, compared with 11.4% in the case of young men2.

Gender inequality is also reflected in the working life. Teenage girls aged 15 to 17 almost double the hours of unpaid work of men their own age3. Even with the same educational-professional training (or even higher education), young women are discriminated against in their remuneration, recruitment processes (are you planning to have children?), Access to complementary training courses and the possibility of promotion throughout their professional career. The generalized thinking among the entrepreneurship starts from the temporality of the working life of the young woman (15 - 35 years). Women are also discriminated against in accessing the financial system: in general, they hardly have access to loans, either for personal loans or for a business loan. Statistics show that women are better paying credit than men4; Therefore, this suggests that the violation of their right to equality is related to a generalized discriminatory culture with strong macho connotations. 

These are some of the human rights violations affecting the daily lives of girls and women in Latin America. Today, we want to make a call to make visible the invisible and to fight the tacit acceptance of these situations of discrimination and exploitation. Plan International works for a fair world that promotes the rights of children and the equality of girls and adolescents. One of our priorities is that vulnerable and excluded children, but especially girls, adolescents and young women, have the education and training they need to succeed and lead a decent life.

May this day serve as a reminder that human rights are a matter of every day: 365 days a year, 24 hours a day!



[2] Idem

[3] Niñas y adolescentes en América Latina y el Caribe. Deudas de Igualdad, Cepal, 2016.



Silvia Mazzarelli, Regional Head of Child Rights Policy and Programming

Paul Kester, Regional Youth Economic Empowerment Specialist