Does being black in Uruguay mean you will experience difficulties? If your skin color is different from that of the majority of the population, will you be subject to discrimination? Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions seems to be yes. Uruguayans of African descent still have the lowest levels of education, employment, anal housing, and the situation is worse among women. The Department of Afro-Descendent Women, part of Uruguay's Ministry of Social Development, and Mundo Afro, a social organization, are two groups working against racism and discrimination and in favor of equal opportunities and respect for the human rights of Afro-descendent people.
Until recently, studies done on the socio-economic situation and processes of exclusion in Uruguay have left race almost completely out of the picture. But this is beginning to change. The September 2011 census began to collect more information on race in order to paint a better picture of what is happening in the country and to support policies that are in step with that reality. The change is a particularly important achievement for the Afro-descendent population, which is the most numerous racial minority in Uruguay. According to the 2008 National Household Survey, 10.6% of the Uruguayan population is black. They have lower levels of schooling: 47.4% have a primary school education or less, and only 7.1% get to college (in a country where university education is free). They are also more likely to be poor: 39.6% of Uruguayan blacks live in poor households (a rate 20% higher than for the rest of the population), and more than 55% of Afro-descendent children live in poverty.
The demographic profile of Uruguayan citizens of African descent is different from the rest of the population in other ways as well. They have a higher percentage of young people, the highest fertility rate, and the lowest life expectancy at birth. Afro-descendent women begin having children earlier and have more children on average than non-Afro-descendent women. According to the Gender Information System of the National Institute of Women, in 2010, 37% of Afro-descendent women lived in households whose income was below the poverty line, and 3% were experiencing extreme poverty. For non-Afro-descendent women the percentages living in poverty and extreme poverty were around 16.6% and 1% respectively.
In a context of low unemployment and high economic activity rates, Uruguayan women are still at a disadvantage to men, and this situation is more pronounced for Afro-descendent women. They experience more discrimination, which makes it harder for them to get a job, receive training, and earn their own income, especially if they are young. Among Afro-descendent women who are working, 41.4% are working in unskilled jobs. One out of every five Afro-descendent women works in domestic service (21.5%).
Hard Cycle to Break
The current socio-demographic situation and the inequalities that Afro-descendent people face today in Uruguay have their roots in a history of racism. Discrimination has persisted over the years, mutating in various ways. Today's higher rates of unemployment combine with higher birth rates to feed a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break.
That's why the work of the Department of Afro-Descendent Women at the Ministry of Social Development is so important. In addition to creating policies to combat racism and discrimination, the Department is working hard to get people involved in this issue. The Department was created in 2005 because of the need to formulate policies for women of African descent. "Afro-descendent women experience gender discrimination and ethnic/racial discrimination," says Dr. Alicia Esquivel, the Department's Director. "If we don't address both of these aspects, the women will probably continue to find themselves in situations of exclusion and marginality."
Afro-descendent women between the ages of 14 and 24 have the highest rate of unemployment in the country; one out of three active women in this age group is not able to find a job. …