Randall V. Johnston, Associate
Paul Hastings (New York)

The New Law and New Initiatives

In July of 2017, Panama established a minimum quota for women on the boards of directors (or similar bodies) of the Panamanian government, public companies, financial intermediaries, and other entities regulated by the foregoing.1  The law took effect July 12, 2017 with the ultimate requirement that 30% of women must be appointed to available board positions.  The law is implemented in three graduated phases:  Women shall comprise 10% of people appointed to boards in the first year of the law’s enactment, 20% in the second year, and 30% in the third year.  There is currently no penalty for non-compliance with this law.

In addition to this new law, in January 2018, the Government of Panama hosted the launch of, and was the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to join, the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), a global initiative to reduce the wage gap between women and men, which is about 15% in the region. 2  EPIC is promoted by the International Labor Organization, UN Women and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and was launched globally in September 2017 within the framework of the UN General Assembly.3

The Legal and Governmental Framework

In addition to the new law requiring the appointment of a minimum percentage of women on boards, Panama has passed several laws specifically related to women.

Fundamentally, the Panamanian Constitution expressly prohibits discrimination based on race, birth, social class, handicap, sex, religion, and political ideology.4  The Constitution further provides that a similar wage or salary be paid for similar work under identical conditions, regardless of sex, nationality, age, race, social standing, or political or religious ideologies,5 and establishes that men and women are equal in marriage.6

Panama also has established minimum quotas for women on primary or party ballots in its national elections.  Panama’s electoral law requires that 50% of a party’s candidate nomination list for national office be women, and requires that at least 10% percent of public funds dedicated to civic and political education be exclusively for training women.7  However, only about 18% of Panama’s Parliament is women.8 

With regard to Panama’s executive branch, Mireya Moscoso was Panama’s first—and to date only—female president, serving from 1999 to 2004.  Overall, women hold about 28% of positions in Panama’s executive branch of government.9

In the judicial branch, one woman serves on the highest court (out of nine members).10  A 2014 report indicates that women held 11% of seats in the judicial branch.11  The Association of Women Corporate Directors of Panama (“WCD Panama”) shares this same statistic on their website, along with the fact that Colombia and Panama, with 11% of women on their judicial bodies, are the Latin American countries with the least female representation in the judicial branch.12

Women in the Workforce

Approximately 58% of Panama’s female population between the ages of 15 and 64 participate in the labor force (compared with approximately 86% of Panama’s male population of the same age).13  By contrast, approximately 71% of women and 75% of men with advanced degrees participate in Panama’s labor force.14   

In 2016, the World Economic Forum ranked Panama 47th out of 144 countries in a study that analyzed the gender gap.15  The World Economic Forum study also revealed a substantial wage gap between men and women in Panama: Women are estimated to make about 62% of men’s pay.16

Panama has legislation regarding sexual harassment in employment, with criminal penalties.17  While it is permissible for prospective employers to ask about family status,18 dismissal of pregnant workers is prohibited, mothers are guaranteed an equivalent position after maternity leave, and nursing mothers are entitled to nursing breaks at work.19  Panama provides that there shall be 98 days of fully paid maternity leave, which the government helps to sponsor.20  There is no mandated paternity leave.21 

Under Panamanian law, women are permitted to retire and get full benefits at 57.  Men are permitted to retire and get full benefits at 62.22

Women are not permitted to work in certain jobs deemed “hazardous” in the same way as men.23

Women in Positions of Leadership

Precise information on the percent of women in management and leadership of companies in Panama is difficult to discern.  The World Economic Forum estimates that about 25% of firms have women in ownership and approximately 24% have women in top management positions.24  WCD Panama recently conducted a study analyzing companies that are subject to the law requiring a minimum quota of women on boards of directors.  According to the study, as of early 2018 the boards of directors of the 495 companies subject to the law are comprised of 14% women and the boards of directors of the 86 companies subject to the law are comprised of 18% women.25 

In a study about five years ago of 24 corporations that had common shares registered with Panama’s securities regulator, the World Bank found that only 9% of directors were women.26  A 2015 study of nine listed companies in Panama found no women CEOs, only 12% of senior managers at those companies were women, and just 5% of those companies had women on their boards of directors.27 

Broader Women’s Rights

Women have many of the same core civil rights as men in Panama, including access to identification, travel, and employment; the ability to sign contracts, register businesses, and access bank accounts; ownership rights to property; and the weight their testimony is given in court.28 

Women also have similar—or better—educational attainment than men.  About the same percent of girls and boys enroll in primary education (95% and 96% respectively).29  At the secondary and tertiary education level, however, female enrollment outstrips male enrollment, with 81% female and 75% male enrollment in secondary education and 47% female and 31% male enrollment in tertiary education.30  Due to this, the World Economic Forum ranks Panama first out of 144 countries in gender gap analyses of female enrollment in secondary and tertiary education.31  La Prensa, a major Panamanian newspaper, recently estimated that two out of three university students were women.32

A 2014 Gallup poll found that 51% of adults in Panama say women were treated with respect and dignity in Panama, while 45% of adults said women were not.33 However, earlier this year, Gallup data showed that the number of women who believed women were treated with dignity and respect in Panama had declined in the past five years.34 


While Panama still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the workforce and on boards and in management positions, within the past year, the government of Panama has taken key, public steps in recognition of and to address the gender gap between women and men on boards of directors and the gender wage gap between women and men.  It remains to be seen how effective these steps will be.

1 Law 56 of July 11, 2017 (Pan.).

2 EPIC coalition is launched in Panama to close pay gap between women and men in Latin America and the Caribbean, UN Women (Jan. 30, 2018),

3 Id.

4 Constitution of Panama, art.19.

5 Id. at art. 67.

6 Id. at art. 57.

7 Electoral Code of Panama art. 182(B)(2.4)(d) 239.

8 The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, World Econ. Forum (2016),


10 Corte Suprema de Justicia, Organa Judicial de Panama (June 24, 2010),; Información Local, WCD Panamá, (last visited Sept. 14, 2018).

11Competitiveness: Catching the next wave – Panama, Deloitte 17 (Apr. 2014),

12 WCD Panamá, supra note 10.

13 Labor force participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15-64) (modeled ILO estimate), World Bank, (last updated March 2017); Labor force participation rate, male (% of male population ages 15-64) (modeled ILO estimate), World Bank, (last updated March 2017).

14 World Econ. Forum, supra note 8.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Women, Business and the Law 2016, World Bank 191 (2016), There is no legislation regarding sexual harassment in education or in public places. Id.

18 Id.

19 Id.

20 Id.

21 Id.

22 Id.

23 Id.

24 World Econ. Forum, supra note 8.

25 WCD Panamá, supra note 10; Piden equidad de género en cargos directivos, La Prensa (Feb. 24, 2018),

26 Deloitte, supra note 11.

272015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard Executive Summary, ACG Inc. 24 (2015),

28 Word Bank, supra note 17, at 190.

29 World Econ. Forum, supra note 8.

30 Id.

31 Id.

32Empieza a regir ley que establece la participación de mujeres en juntas directivas estatales, La Prensa (July 13, 2017),

33Cynthia English & Johanna Godoy, Respect and Dignity for Women Lacking in Latin America,Gallup (Oct. 14, 2014),

34Johanna Godoy, Latin America: Fighting Machismo and Murder, Gallup (Mar. 8, 2018),