MEXICO CITY, Mexico (IPS/GIN) – Fewer than 50 Black women hold high-level political or administrative posts in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that is home to at least 75 million Black women.

Activists met to discuss this state of affairs recently in Panama, at an Intergenerational Conference of Afro-descendant Women of Latin America, sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Latin America’s 150 million descendants of the African Diaspora have struggled to make inroads against the marginalization and segregation that they have historically suffered. As a result, they have not gained a significant role in politics or the public administration.


By contrast, Indigenous people in the region, who number around 40 million, have become increasingly organized in countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, where they have begun to gain political representation.

Dorotea Wilson, head of the Network of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino Women, said the conference in Panama was aimed at networking, strengthening ties and defining a shared agenda for Black women, “who have been dispersed.”

The participants plan to present a common position at the 10th Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is scheduled to be held Aug. 6-9 in Quito, Ecuador, by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

“We must urgently come together as Afro-descendant women, because we are separated and have not even gotten our governments to count exactly how many of us there are in the region,” Ms. Wilson said.

At the August regional conference in Quito, one of the central focuses will be the question of female domestic service. Half of the region’s domestic employees work more than 48 hours a week, receive inadequate pay and have no access to social security coverage, ECLAC reports. In fact, there are millions of domestic workers who are not even paid.

A large part of the region’s domestic workers are Black or Indigenous women. Studies show that more than 90 percent of people of African descent in the region are poor, have access only to the worst-paid jobs and have a low level of education.

In Brazil, for example, 71 percent of Black women work in the informal sector of the economy, compared to 65 percent of Black men, 61 percent of White women and 48 percent of White men. Whites in Brazil are 2.5 times richer than Blacks on average.

In Colombia, meanwhile, 80 percent of Blacks live in extreme poverty. And in Cuba, the only socialist country in the region, people of African descent live in the worst housing and have the lowest-paid jobs.

“It is very difficult to be Black in our region, and even more so if you are a woman,” Ms. Wilson said. “I know that because I myself have often had to suffer degrading humiliations.”

Ms. Wilson is from Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region.

“My father worked as a miner for over 48 years. My mother was a homemaker and raised nine children. It was hard for us– six girls and three boys–to make it in this society, but we fought and we did it,” she said.

In 1975, as a nun and missionary, Ms. Wilson joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front and later took part in the leftist group’s armed struggle, which overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

That year, she became the first female mayor of Puerto Cabezas and was later elected to parliament, representing the Caribbean coastal region.

She remains a member of the Sandinista front, which, after losing the 1990 elections, returned to power this year under President Daniel Ortega.