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What Can Be Done To Improve Women's Participation in Political Contests?

Competition at the local, regional, and national levels in political contests is highly unequal. Women's political careers tend to be more difficult than those of men. Civil society has begun to play a key role in breaking down these gaps.

The Woman Post | Diana Sedano Valdes

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Politics has historically been a male-dominated field. Women's political careers tend to be more difficult than those of men. Competition at the local, regional, and national levels in political contests is highly unequal. Thus, reaching a political position is not the only challenge. They also have a hard path to develop their functions and their recognition by the population. In Latin America, the circulation of reliable political information is limited. Individuals tend to identify the heads of State and government and the leaders at the regional level and in the main cities. However, there is a lack of knowledge and interest in the legislative branch.

Congressional elections in Latin American presidential regimes are the least voted. The situation becomes more complex with bicameral bodies and when presidential elections do not occur concurrently. Therefore, there is a lack of knowledge about who makes up the legislative body and, even more, about the women who participate. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the current average is 31.3% of women in national parliaments. Although the global average is 26%, the data in the region are not very encouraging. Only Cuba and Bolivia have more than 50% congresswomen, and Mexico is close to 50%.

While the region has been a pioneer in the quota system (Argentina included it in its legislation in 1995), there are still 17 countries that do not have a quota system and several that do, do not comply with it, which prevents progress in gender parity. The latter is the case of Paraguay; even if it established a 20% quota in 1996, it currently has only a 16.8% representation of women in Congress. Furthermore, donations made to male candidates are higher than those to women. In Brazil and Peru, it is three times higher. Women do not have the same connections as men to potential sources of campaign finance.

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In response to this situation, civil society has begun to play a key role in breaking down these gaps. Think tanks, academia, and civil society organizations have made efforts to reduce women's inequalities in politics. In Colombia, for example, the media outlet La Silla Vacia, the Universidad de Los Andes, and the International Republican Institute have developed the section Nuestro Turno (Our Turn) where they seek to inform about women legislators. It arises in a context of only 56 women in Congress, representing 20% of the Congress, and means that 13 out of 32 departments do not have women legislators. Thus, this space aims to show who the women legislators are in their political and personal lives.

This initiative will allow more people to have access to information about those who serve in Congress. Nevertheless, it is also a reminder that when you are a woman, not only professional issues are at stake, but also those of your private life (male candidates and politicians are unlikely to be asked about their family and personal lives). Congresswomen who participate in this space talk about the barriers and difficulties to exercise. They agree that they are usually treated as an accessory. They are judged to have been promoted by a male politician in their party in exchange for favors (including sexual favors) and not because of their qualifications. They find themselves in a position of continually seeking validation and proving that they can be as efficient as men. They are also required to have a strong personality to be heard but are judged for being aggressive and irritable. Additionally, they must rely on a support system to have a family, as it is hard to find a balance between having a family and a career. Finally, they recall that being a woman in politics is not easy, but it is even worse as an Afro woman.

According to the latest World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021, we will have to wait at least a decade to reach gender parity conditions. Gap-breaking initiatives, not only in politics but also in all areas, are essential. Although the principal efforts should come from the capacity of the State, given the lack of will and the difficulties in implementing effective public policies, civil society has the role of contributing to achieving greater equality.