By Cynthia Richie on February 09, 2018
After President Michelle Bachelet of Chile leaves office in March, Latin America will have no female presidents.
There was a time in 2014 when the region had four: Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Ms. Bachelet. Now, Latin America is left with few prospects for female presidents in the near future.
More than most regions, Latin America has used affirmative-action laws to close the gender gap in political leadership. But to hold these gains, and to help ensure that women continue to rise to top political positions, Latin America needs to understand the limits of legal remedies for pulling women up.
Quota laws for female legislative candidates have created opportunities for women to advance in politics, but they have not fully transformed traditional attitudes about who should lead a country.
Women entered national congresses in significant numbers thanks to gender quotas. Argentina passed the world’s first quota law for female candidates for Congress in 1991, requiring political parties to nominate women for at least 30 percent of the open positions. It was recently updated so that half of parties’ congressional slates must be women. Today, all but two Latin American countries have a quota or parity law for legislative candidates.
Women hold more than 35 percent of legislative seats in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua. Bolivia has a majority-female legislature. In the United States, by comparison, women make up just 19 percent of the House of Representatives and 22 percent of the Senate.
Many of these quota laws do more than increase the number of female candidates. Many require political parties to place women in favorable ballot positions and to allocate portions of their budget to training female leaders.
Positions on issues relating to women’s rights—from abortion to workplace justice to equality before the law—did not, as of the early 1970s, break down clearly along party lines. That began to change by the decade’s end, with feminist and antifeminist movement activists alike working to hasten the process. The untenable position in which Mary Crisp found herself in June 1980 resulted from the parties’ polarization in the preceding years.
Crisp’s story, drawn from archival material as well as contemporaneous journalistic accounts, takes on new resonance in our current political moment. Donald Trump ascended to the White House after an election that boasted the biggest gender gap on record, even as he simultaneously enjoyed enthusiastic support from a robust minority of women voters. (He won a majority of white women’s votes.) More striking, the opposition to Trump’s presidency—on the streets, on the ballot, and in the halls of Congress—has been dominated and defined by women. Women’s marches across the country bookended Trump’s first year in office, thousands of female candidates have jumped into electoral races at the local, state and federal level, and the #MeToo movement continues to rock politics and political culture just as it does other major institutions in American life.
The dynamics that enabled a man like Trump to capture the Republican Party have also shaped the nature of the resistance to his rule. And those dynamics can be traced back to the partisan sorting of feminism and antifeminism in the 1970s that caught Mary Crisp, along with so many others, in the crosswinds.
The changing politics of women’s rights within the Democratic Party in 1980 highlighted the same dynamic. Feminist activists were an ascendant force within that party, one whose organizational clout had been on full display during a 1978 midterm convention mandated by party reformers. At the 1980 Democratic convention, most members and leaders within the feminist Coalition for Women’s Rights supported Ted Kennedy’s nomination challenge against President Jimmy Carter, and their policy agenda survived the collapse of Kennedy’s candidacy. Thanks to an effective whipping operation, the coalition secured not only the reaffirmation of existing planks supporting ERA ratification and opposing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, but also managed to win convention floor votes on two planks opposed by Carter. The first explicitly opposed restrictions on federal funding for abortions. The second stated that the “Democratic Party shall withhold financial support and technical campaign assistance from candidates who do not support the ERA.” The latter item was, of course, just the kind of “purity test” that Crisp decried, on the very issue that had compelled her to exit her own party.
What strategies are needed to reach gender parity in international and regional organizations like the United Nations and the OSCE? Some fifty delegates of OSCE participating States and OSCE staff members gathered to exchange views on this question at Café Demel in Vienna on 30 January 2018. The event was organized by the Gender Section of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General in co-operation with Norway’s Permanent Delegation to the OSCE.
“International organizations like the UN and the OSCE can and should learn from each other,” said Ambassador Katja Pehrman, Senior Adviser at UN Women. “United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has shown leadership by making gender parity a priority,” she declared. In 2017 the UN established a taskforce to develop measures to work towards this goal. The package of measures includes accountability – a key to change according to Ambassador Pehrman – and requires regular reporting on what has been done for reaching gender parity. Another important focus is creating an enabling working environment that allows all women and men to successfully combine work and family life and reach their full potential.
Pehrman explained that for the UN, gender parity, in addition to being a human rights issue that needs to be addressed by any international organization, is also considered essential for improving the organization’s efficiency, impact and credibility. She stressed the role of social media, as the images organizations publish have an impact on whether women or men apply for a position. “People need to see women working and living their lives where they are, including in the field,” she said.--
This week marked the 100th anniversary of suffrage for some women in the UK - there was quite an array of celebrating this anniversary from a hunger strike to a social media blitz. This piece from the Telegraph reviews how far women's rights have advanced in the last century:
This year marks the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Great Britain and Ireland. But while the feminist movement has made monumental strides since, the campaign for equality still continues today.
The watershed moment for the British women's suffrage movement, came 100 years ago when the Representation of the People Act was given Royal Assent from George V on 6 February 1918, giving approximately 8.4 million women the vote.
Introducing the bill against the backdrop of a united country fighting the First World War, the Home Secretary George Cave said: “War by all classes of our countrymen has brought us nearer together, has opened men’s eyes, and removed misunderstandings on all sides.
It meant women over the age of 30, who met specific property qualifications, could vote for the first time - however it would take another decade for women over 21 to be given the same voting rights as men.
The 1918 act, championed by suffrage pioneer Millicent Fawcett and suffragette leaders the Pankhursts, is considered a pivotal moment for women’s rights and helped lay the foundations for progress towards greater political, social and economic equality.
But, a century later women, still face gender equality barriers and prejudice, as highlighted by the gender pay gap, Time's Up movement and countless examples of everyday sexism. The Fawcett Society says there is still much progress to be made.
“We have come a long way since some women first got the vote, but there is so much more that needs to be done,” chief executive Sam Smethers told The Telegraph.
“As the #metoo movement and the Presidents Club scandal shows, the law around sexual harassment must be strengthened to cover harassment from customers, clients and co-workers, and we must widen access to justice.
“As the BBC pay scandal shows, the law must change so that more women can exercise their right to equal pay and we must place greater emphasis on the organisation’s responsibility to prevent discrimination. And as we are still stuck at only a third women MPs, all political parties must set out clear action plans to get more women in.”
According to a 2017 report by the World Economic Forum, it could still take another 100 years before the global equality gap between men and women disappears entirely.
Nora Jusufi wrote a great piece in Open Democracy on gender equality by the numbers:
Women’s representation, and related headcounts and ratios, are common topics in politics, where women have long been underrepresented in institutions, including parliaments. Numerous countries have introduced quotas for women representatives in response to this.
In an ideal world, with equal opportunity for and treatment of all human beings in the world, regardless of their identities, or which pronoun they prefer to use, we might not need quotas to ensure representation in politics. But, that is simply not the case today.
Suggestions that quotas promote underqualified women are common but this is a flawed argument that supports a male-dominated status quo. Both male and female MPs, from political parties of all stripes, have disappointed their constituents.
There are meanwhile cases of bold women who rose to prominence in politics working to bring justice to their people, who spoke out and did not back down, who stood against their own parties to protect their principles, despite the potential political consequences.
Almost two decades have passed since the conflict in Kosovo, where I live, ended in 1999. Sexual violence during the conflict, and the treatment of survivors, is still sporadically discussed, and it remains a controversial topic.
Lack of basic knowledge and human compassion, and the prevalence of ‘family honor’ shaming, have contributed to the situation. Though our former president Atifete Jahjaga brought the issue of war rape victims to the fore and tried to make it a government priority when she was in office.
Of course, there may be underqualified women representing people in parliaments, including in Kosovo, but this is a very judgmental and trivial reasoning against quotas.
It is crucial that women are represented in public and political debates, but having a seat at the table is also not enough. Women’s ideas must be heard, and taken seriously, and they must be given credit for them.
Sara Jerving wrote an interesting piece on Devex about changes to electoral law to promote gender inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, some 14 percent of the parliament in DRC is comprised of women. These figures are below the parliamentary average for sub-Saharan Africa, which is 24 percent.
Women civil society leaders from 11 of the 26 provinces in DRC galvanized last year to form the Congolese Women’s Forum on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, with a primary aim at increasing female political participation in DRC. Bihamba is one of the women leading these efforts.
The coalition is pushing to have U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 seen as reality on the ground in DRC. The resolution, which was adopted in 2000, is aimed at increasing the participation of women and incorporating gender perspectives in all U.N. peace and security efforts, which includes political participation.
The NewStatesman had a terrific piece entitled "7 Reasons Why Proportional Representation is a Feminist Issue" that reiterates the compelling data that confirms that proportional voting systems elect more women to office than plurality/majority systems used in the the UK, Canada, the United States, and a handful of other nations:
It is 100 years since women won the right to vote. Now, there are a record number of women MPs in the House of Commons. Our Prime Minister is a woman. But 2017’s general election marked only the first time the number of men elected did not exceed the number of women elected ever. It’s clear something needs to change.
Our electoral system is built on the out-of-date first past the post system, which in 2015 saw almost three-quarters of votes cast wasted. Proportional representation would make every vote count, and ensure the representation of parties in Parliament would match the number of votes they get.
But what many people don’t know is that proportional representation is a feminist issue, too. Here’s seven reasons why.
1. Get more women elected
Under a proportional representation system we would have more women MPs, global research has shown. Harvard found that in “plurality/majority systems” like Westminster, women made up one in ten parliamentarians on average, compared to one in five in proportional representation systems.
2. Get men out of comfy seats
In a first past the post system, parties tend to run an incumbent male MP again, research by LSE has found. This means the system is locked into looking like the previous Parliament.
3. Action on austerity
Austerity disproportionately hurts women, with black and ethnic minority women hit the hardest. Using the government’s own statistics, the Resolution Foundation calculated Britain is now facing its worst decade for wages since the Napoleonic wars. Under the current voting system, pro-austerity MPs in safe seats have no incentive to do anything to improve the life chances of some of the most excluded people in society.
4. Nothing about us without us
Having more women in Parliament isn’t just a good thing – it is the only way to make sure women’s interests are looked out for in government and our laws. Look at my colleague Caroline Lucas, fighting for compulsory PSHE lessons in schools, or Harriet Harman’s fight for paid maternity leave for MPs.
5. Climate action now
Women are more affected by climate change. Women make up the majority of the world’s poor, and are more dependent on natural resources for their day to day lives. Women make up somewhere between 50 and 80 per cent of the world’s food producers, and are often responsible for securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating – resources which are the first harmed in the event of climate disasters. Women also face social, economic, and political barriers that limit them coping with climate change impacts and moving or finding a new job.
There was an interesting story in The New York Times about the impact of the new gender quota system in Sri Lanka:
“It doesn’t matter what the parties think, what the parties feel about women contesting, the people have come to believe that more women must take to politics,” Ms. Sandaruwani said. “People feel that if there are more women in politics, corruption will be reduced.”
Ms. Sandaruwani, 37, has campaigned door to door, visiting each of the neighborhood’s 950 households three times to help develop her agenda. Her main slogan: “Women leading against corruption.”
Karen Mulhauser and Celinda Lake are hosting an event for Eleanor Holmes Norton - see their note below:
Dear friends and colleagues,
I hope you can join Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and friends at a fundraising event on February 22. We will gather at the Capitol Hill home of Celinda Lake.
Eleanor Holmes Norton does not have a vote in Congress, but has been a strong, progressive voice for District residents fighting for Statehood and services. She has been a champion and has been breaking barriers and bringing home unique economic benefits to her constituents.
Please do not hesitate to call if you have questions and please share this with others. If you are able to give or raise at the co-host level, we will add your name to the invitation.
And finally, the incredible Patti Russo asked that I share an announcement for the Women's Campaign School at Yale University program that is coming to Washington, DC - hope you can attend:
- February 26
- 5:00 - 7:00pm
- 2075 Rayburn House Office Building
- RSVP HERE at Info@wcsyale.org
- Questions? Please call 203.734.7385
And you are cordially invited to an evening event in Washington, DC on March 6th related to a new bold strategy to win gender parity - more details to follow soon - please hold the date and join us if you can!