#GoverningForInclusion: A Women’s inclusion agenda for Better Democracies in the Region

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, PhD
Director, Department of Social Inclusion
Organization of American States
Twitter: @BeticaMunozPogo

A review of the progress made in terms of inclusion at the regional level suggests that although there is ample consensus on the right to suffrage as a basic political right, as mechanism to redistribute political power and as mediator of socio-economic inequalities, there are still important challenges to the second facet of people’s political rights: the right to be elected. This is specially so for women, who frequently do not compete on a level-playing field. In this regard, the asymmetries that are manifested in the socio-economic realm are replicated in the realm of electoral competition, significantly limiting the possibility of redistribution of political power via elected office. Three key reflections are worth mentioning:

  • On candidate selection processes: Candidate selection for presidential and general elections (for congressional and subnational elections, among others) is one of the most important decisions that a political party makes, as a collegial body. The rules for candidate selection, and the leadership in charge of this, have the potential to promote more equity and political inclusion. This is so because political parties are said to be ‘the gatekeepers’ of political power. Twelve of the 18 countries in Latin America use some institutionalized mechanism for candidate selection. However, political practice shows an important gap between the group of political activities and militants in a party and the group that ends up being nominated for electoral lists. An example that illustrates this disparity directly affects female party militants. According to International IDEA data, whereas women constitute 50% of political party militancy, they barely represent 20% of political party leadership, and a similar percentage in the electoral lists. This is generally so for Latin American political parties unless there are positive discrimination measures in place such as quota or party laws.
  • On the general consensus about the need to create opportunities for women’s inclusion: The existence of quota laws in Latin America reveals another ample consensus, namely, the need to create opportunities for the political inclusion of women and compensate for the obstacles that emerge as a result of other types of inequalities, including socio-economic inequalities. Between 1991 and 2013, fifteen Latin American countries adopted or used quotas[1]. For 2018, the debate in some countries transitioned towards parity. Six countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua) have adopted political parity measures for national elected posts[2]. The risks associated with political inequalities occur both in terms of the electoral offer to the electorate and in electoral competition, as well as in the exercise of power. Women and other groups in situations of vulnerability generally experiment differentiated conditions of access to this power.
  • On the financing of electoral campaigns: The political financing system, and particularly of electoral campaigns, has a direct effect on the capacity of candidates to compete on equal terms. This is generally so given the fact that the asymmetries in the access to campaign resources determine the level of equity in the exercise of the right to be elected. In cases where access is unequal, candidates do not compete on equal conditions. Women generally have less access to financial resources for their political careers and their campaigns and have less access to the networks where these resources can be found. Moreover, parties tend to designate more men for winning districts, under the expectation that they have more chances of winning than female candidates[3], and generally give women less resources. Thus, the need to regulate and reform political financing systems to generate more equity in electoral competition.

Today it is unquestionable that there has been important progress in the region regarding women’s participation in politics. But this progress has not necessarily translated in equivalent representation in political party leadership or in elected office such as congress, where women’s representation, regionally, is still around 22-24%.  The focus of the work needs to continue to be guaranteeing women’s inclusion in political decision-making processes. This helps ensure they can enjoy their rights. This improves the quality of the decisions that emanate from our political systems, and their participation also improves the democracies of the region.

*Opinions are personal. They do not represent the views of the OAS.

[1] Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay (2014), and El Salvador (2013).

[2] Archendi, Nélida and Maria Inés Tula. “Cambios Normativos y Equidad de Género: de las Cuotas a la Paridad en América Latina” in América Latina Hoy, 66, 2014, pp. 47-68.

[3] Ohman, Magnus (2018). Gender-Targeted public Funding for Political Parties. A Comparative Analysis. Stockholm: International IDEA.

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