Trying to obtain up-to-date ( 1980 or later) reliable and comprehensive statistical material about the status of women in Latin America and the Caribbean, even for elementary topics such as literacy, school education, university attendance, occupational segregation, or wage differentiation, is one of the most vexing tasks facing any researcher. Such data are non-existent, are extremely dated, or have escaped the attention even of the International Labor Organization (to which all states in the region report), the United Nations' specialized agencies (such as the Economic Commission for Latin America), or other, non-governmental, organizations such as the World Bank.
A United Nations study of the status of women in nine Latin American countries in 1983 tried to establish the pattern of female labor by branch of economic activity. The best the research team, working on the spot, could come up with was statistics for the period 1970-1973, i.e., 10 years old or more. Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil could do no better than provide figures for 1970. Ecuador could provide no information. 1 The Office of Women in Development of the U.S. Agency for International Development did not fare much better. In a study issued in 1984, the statistics for female enrollment at university were all for 1970. The only exception was Colombia, which had figures for the mid-1970s. Countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, and Chile could not tell how many women were enrolled at their universities in the mid-'70s. When it came to indicating which subjects women were studying, Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela could not say how many women were studying economics at university in 1968, 1964, and 1971 respectively. The larger, richer, and more developed countries, Argentina and Brazil, could provide statistics only for 1972 and 1973, and Mexico for 1969. 2
As in the case of Africa and Asia, which suffer from the same malaise, this did not prevent the various Latin American and Caribbean states from suddenly producing statistics for 1980 and later, when it came to the 1985 U.N. International Conference for Women in Nairobi. Countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, which two years earlier had been struggling to get statistics for the years 1970-1972, suddenly produced statistics for 1980. 3 Some countries did indicate that some of their statistics were from the years 1973-1976; nonetheless, the unfortunate impression gained is that most figures for 1980 were, at best, mere window dressing, "guesstimates," at worse artifically created under political pressure to produce something for the Nairobi conference.
The most recent United Nations-sponsored studies on the status of women in Latin America were the result of a decision taken at the 15th session