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April 13, 2016
With Michelle Bachelet taking office for a second time as the President of Chile, Isabel Allende placed the blue, white and red striped sash round her neck. Allende is the first woman in Chile’s history to become the leader of the senate. It is also worth mentioning the fact that 1 in 4 lawmakers in Latin America are female causing the slow dissolution of the previously held view of a machismo in the region. Latin America is now only second to Europe for the number of female lawmakers and is leading the way in attracting more women into politics and therefore there has been a gradual impetus placed on women’s social and educational issues.
One of the main reasons for the growth in female representatives as both congresswomen and female senators in Latin America is due to the adoption of quotas for women in parliament by 16 of Latin America’s countries. Many of these laws require candidate lists for both local and legislative elections to include a 30% minimum of female representatives. In 2009, Costa Rican electoral law stated that 50% of all candidates running for public office must be women.
The recent elections taking place around the region and quotas has translated into an effect on the makeup of national legislatures. In Colombia’s elections last weekend (9th March 2014), 21 women were elected to the 102-seat Colombian Senate. This was a 4% rise from the figures back in 2010 and complied with the 2011 gender quota law that required 30% of candidates to be women in all publicly elected offices. Honduran elections which took place back in November 2013 saw the number of women elected to Congress increase from 19.5% in 2009 to 25%.
The presidential and parliamentary elections taking place in Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Panama later this year will give female candidates a boost as there are mandatory female quotas in place in those countries. Perhaps the most interesting of these quotas will be Bolivia’s which requires candidate lists for both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate to have equal numbers of men and women. With UN Women, saying that 30% is considered the ‘critical mass’ for female representation in parliament, the governments of Latin America are making all the right sounds, especially as fewer than 1 in 5 worldwide parliamentarians are female.
Standing in the way of female representation and gender salary gaps is the traditional view of the role of women as mothers and wives who should juggle both family and professional life. This long-standing traditional view of their roles in the family has led to caring for the children and elderly to fall on the shoulders of women and therefore preventing their chances of entering both politics and the workplace.
The other major barrier is ensuring that the gender quotas are indeed put into practice. For example, although Dilma Rousseff is the Brazilian President, who will be running for re-election later this year, a 1997 law requires at least 30% of candidates for the Chamber of Duties and lower house to be women. Currently women only make up 9% of the Chamber of Deputies and 16% of the Senate in Brazil.
However, the quotas aren’t without their critics from both sexes, arguing that the quota system causes women to be elected based on their sex rather than merit and reserving seats for women is undemocratic and by definition discriminatory. The argument about quotas is one that splits opinion and whether or not they are in fact the best way to combat gender inequality in politics. What can be seen is that women in Latin American politics tend to bring a different perspective to the political decision-making process.
It can be stated that in general when there are more women in parliament, there are more laws on education, social and environment issues which tend to get passed. There also tends to be a rise in the number of laws passed on gender issues such as the protection of women against violence, the guarantee of their reproductive rights and other issues which are likely to come to light and be approved.
This is a significant development in Latin America which has high levels of domestic and sexual violence against women and impunity for crimes against women especially for femicide (murder of a women by a man because of her gender) in Central America. Now that the women in Latin America’s legislative bodies is on the rise there is a brighter future for the region in tackling these issues and making them a priority on the political agenda. What is for certain is that the tides are turning in Latin America and the region is only likely to prosper and develop as a result. Thanks for visiting the Latin Link blog! Contact us today for your free translation quote!