Women in Power – The Case of Latin America

By Carmen Aguilera Garcia, a freelance journalist from Honduras, living in Germany, studying at UNED in Madrid/Spain.

Women Power in international politics and economy is a relatively new subject. Discussions are held only since several years about this subject. As of January 2017, the global participation rate of women in national-level parliaments is 23.3%. A number of countries are exploring measures that may increase women’s participation in government at all levels, from the local to the national. It is, too, necessary for gender parity in our legislation, at least an interim quota for women (as e.g. in boards of big companies). This notion of women’s empowerment is rooted in the human capabilities approach in female representatives, not only to advance women’s rights, but also to advance in national legislatures.

These are the latest figures of women in national parliaments (only single or lower chambers) of the Americas – as per 1.1.2017, and out of 193 countries:

     2 (global rank) Bolivia – 53, % (99 out of 130 seats)

  1. Cuba – 48,9% (299/612)
  2. Nicaragua – 45,7& (42/02)
  3. Mexico – 42,6% (213/500)
  4. Ecuador – 41,6% (57/137)
  5. Argentina – 38,9% (100/257)

[then comes as 23. Germany, for comparison, with 37%, and 233/630; six other EU Member States come before]

  1. Costa Rica – 35,1% (29/57)
  2. Grenada – 33,3% (5/15)
  3. El Salvador – 32,1% (37/94)
  4. Guyana – 31,9% (22/68)
  5. Trinidad & Tobago – 31,0% (13/42)
  6. Peru – 27,6% (36/130)
  7. Dominican Republic – 26,8% (51/190)

[then comes as 62. Canada, with 26,3%, and 33/128)

  1. Honduras – 25,8% (32/128)
  2. Suriname – 25,5 (12/51)
  3. Dominica – 25,0% (8/32)
  4. Venezuela – 22,2% (39/167)
  5. Uruguay – 20,2% (20/99)

[… and as no. 104. come the USA: with 19,1% and 83/436 in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate with 21%, and 21/100]

  1. Colombia – 18,7% (30/166)
  2. Panama – 18,3% (13/71)
  3. Jamaica – 17,5% (11/63)

… (then some small Caribbean island states)

  1. Chile – 15,8% (19/120)
  2. Paraguay – 13,8% (11/80)
  3. Guatemala – 12,7% (20/158)
  4. Brazil – 10,7% (55/513)

… and at the very end: 183. Belize – 3,2% (1/32)

  1. Haiti – 2,6% (3/117)

This is an extract from the tables of the Interparliamentary Union; http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/arc/classif010117.htm. From the same source one can learn that, in the regional distribution, the Americas have quite a hig score of 28,3% women in parliamentary assemblies (but the top are the Nordic countries, with 41,7%), still a bit ahead of Europe-OSCE countries, with 26,4%. However, the EU alone is a bit better.

And in the regional parliamentary assemblies there are 21,6% in the Central American Parliament (led by Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras with 7, 6 and 5 M.P’s); in the European Parliament however the comparable figure is 35,2%, with 259 out of 736 seats held by women.

Women’s work not always recognized

One example of Central American countries is Honduras – my home country. With a quarter of woman Members of Parliament, we have at the moment neither equality of payment nor an exciting share of women in parliamentary power. But Honduran women ask each day more to require their part of living in the political space. With a share of more than 50% of the entire population, they want to have more than 26% of the participation quote in the parliament. In Latin American politics, you can see that women’s work is not always recognized.

In Honduras, the law on equal opportunities for women had set a quota of 40%, which cannot be reached. According to Suyapa Martinez of the NGO Education Centre for Women this is a radicalizing problem in political participation. It’s just that feminism is not equal everywhere. On 25 January 1955, the Decree of recognition of rights for women in the general election in Honduras to vote was issued during the administration of Julio Lozano.

A year later in 1956 for the first time a woman was elected as a member of the Congress of Guatemala. In the year 1999 by the 960 candidates only 133 women with 11.3% were elected in Guatemala, in Costa Rica 19.3% and El Salvador 16.7%. Today the percentage in the parliaments of Costa Rica is 35% and of El Salvador 32% – a certain progress indeed, but not enough.

Peru, has a single chamber of 130 congress members, of which 36 are women. This represents 27.7%, which places Peru on post 54 in the global list of women’s participation in politics.

The IPU (UIP )documents on women’s participation in parliaments of 193 countries indicate that, globally, about 23.4 percent of lawmakers are women. In other words, less than a quarter. Election law experts say in this context that mechanisms in the electoral law are not the simple solution.

Women presidents in Latin America

In the executive, the governments, it is interesting; there were some women even in Latin America. For instance a woman who was the first spouse of an Argentine President. At that time, in the 1950s/1960s women had not really political rights. Women like Alicia Moreau de Justo, Julieta Lanteri, Dellepiane Elvira Rawson, had unsuccessfully claimed the recognition of political rights for women. In general, the dominant male culture considered a lack of femininity which a woman comment policy. María Estela Martínez de Perón, was the first woman to reach the Presidency of the nation of Argentina, and assumed the position of President after the death of her spouse, President Juan Domingo Perón. So did Kristina Kirchner of Argentina. Alone these two women would have never been presidents.

Laura Chinchilla is the first President in the history of Costa Rica, Michelle Bachelet Jeria was President of the Republic of Chile from 2006 to 2010, Mireya Elisa Moscoso Rodríguez, in 1999 won the presidential elections in Panama. Janet Jagan Rosemberg became first woman President in the history of Guyana. Rosalía Arteaga Serrano was the first woman in the history of Ecuador in the positions of President and Vice President. Violeta Barrios Chamorra was President of Nicaragua and Lidia Gueiler Tejada was interim President of Bolivia. And not to forget Dilma Roussef who was the first female president of Brazil, and who was forced to resign amid a lot of machismo arguments. (see detailed CVs of these women, in Spanish, under http://www.adnpolitico.com/2012/2012/02/06/las-presidentas-de-america-latina)

Finally, Rigoberta Menchú Tum should not be forgotten. She has become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011 and has dedicated her life to publicizing the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous feminists during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country.

Economic Power

Women are even less present in positions of economic power. They represent 9 per cent of members of the boards of central banks, 15 per cent of members of the governing bodies of trade-unions and 10 per cent of members of the governing bodies of employers’ organisations. Women in the boards of companies registered on the stock exchange are less than 15 per cent. Ukraine, however, stands out again as the only Eastern Partnership country with two women Presidents and two women Vice-Presidents in two of its organisations representing workers.

In a legislation, executive political institutions, political parties, public administration we need not violence and harassment against women remains insufficient. Women in power roles in leadership is very important for Action for Equality Development and Peace.

Our object is a better the change developments and measures in women’s and men’s participation in power structures, in the single, lower houses of the national, federal Parliaments; promote a balanced participation in political elections (policy). As well as in the local assemblies. There is also a need to change women’s representation in Central Banks, economic ministries, employers’ confederations, labor unions (see as an example for other regions of the world: Women in power and decision-making n Eastern Partnership countries, on page 64 of European Unon Foreign Affairs Journal 2/2016: http://www.libertas-institut.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/EUFAJ-2-2016.pdf).

Carmen Aguilera García


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