Women's Representation in Chile

By Andrea Rebolledo by on July 29, 2019

Chile is the country with the highest GDP per capita and Human Development Index in South America, yet it was one of the last countries to enact a gender quota law in the region. Though higher levels of economic development should be paired with greater gender parity, the reality is that Chile ranks 84th in the world in terms of the percentage of women in Congress, with just 23 percent in the Lower and Upper Houses.

"Moneda"by TheFutureIsUnwritten is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

In 2015, Chile’s National Congress adopted a new electoral law stated that, “of the totality of declarations to deputy or senator declared by the political parties, whether or not they have agreed, neither the male candidates nor the female candidates may exceed sixty percent of the respective total, this percentage shall be obligatory and shall be calculated independently of the nomination form of the candidacies." This change proved to be a positive result for female candidates. Before the election in November 2017, the proportion of women’s representation in the Lower House of Congress was 16 percent, meaning a 7 percentage point increase in just one election.

However, to put the effects of this electoral change into perspective, we compare Chile’s and Bolivia’s percentage of women in the Lower House before any of them had established a gender quota law. In 2006 the proportion of women in the lower chamber of Congress was only around 4 percent for both countries. Nevertheless, Bolivia experienced a much different trajectory in terms of women’s political representation. They changed its electoral law in 2010 to “require that both principal and alternate candidate lists in multi-member constituencies for elections to the Lower House (Cámara de Diputados) must include equal numbers of men and women, in alternation.” When the law was enacted, Bolivia’s percentage of women in Parliament was close to 14 percent. After the application of this change in law in the 2014 election, the percentage increased to 53 percent or, in other words, by 39 percentage points, which thus led to Bolivia having the third-highest percentage of women in Congress in the world.

Besides the timing of Chile’s gender quota law, there are two other criticisms about the way in which this law was implemented. One is that Chile, as opposed to Bolivia, doesn’t include a zipper system to its gender quota law, which means that female and male candidates are not alternated on party lists and therefore voters might not choose a female candidate if she is in the lower part of the ballot. The second criticism is that it’s impossible to disentangle the effect of the change in the Chilean electoral law, which also abolished the binomial system. This system, implemented during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, had resulted in the over-representation of the second majority list. A new proportional representation system, in addition to the gender quota law, would result in more women representation in politics.

The next general elections for Congress will be in 2021, and this will be the next test for Chile’s gender quota law. The movements “Ni una menos” and “Me Too” grew strong in Chile in 2016 and 2017, pushing the country towards a policy agenda that targeted gender based violence. In 2018 women marched to demand sexual harassment laws and protocols and abortion rights. For Women’s International Day in 2019, eight hundred thousand people participated on the feminist strike. With gender being a central platform for many politicians it is most likely that the next elections will bring not only greater gender equality in legal and social terms, but also in political terms.

Andrea Rebolledo is a Chilean economist and M.A. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School. As a research intern with RepresentWomen this summer, Andrea has contributed greatly to our ongoing international series. Stay tuned for more stories and analysis on international women’s representation.

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