Women in the Americas: Paths to Political Power

women in the americas, political power, report

We are pleased to present this report on women in power in the hemisphere. Women in Latin America and the Caribbean are making tremendous strides towards achieving political leadership. In 2000, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Inter-American Development Bank partnered to host a dialogue of women political leaders. The report from that meeting concluded that in Latin America and the Caribbean, “the highest circles of power still remain largely male dominated.”

Today, that is certainly not the case. Since 2006, Michelle Bachelet, Portia Simpson Miller, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner have been elected heads of state of Chile, Jamaica, and Argentina, respectively. Over two dozen women in the Americas have run for president since 1990, and two more—Blanca Olevar in Paraguay and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil—are poised to compete in their countries’ next presidential elections. Hillary Clinton is the leading candidate for president of the United States. Across the hemisphere, the percentage of women legislators in the region has jumped 35 percent between 2000 and 2006. Women lead political parties, serve in the executive cabinets, and compete against each other in national and local elections.

In light of these achievements and determined to keep the heat on for more and better policies in support of gender equity in politics, the Inter-American Development Bank, Inter-American Dialogue, and League of Women Voters of the United States convened a group of women political leaders for a conference, “Women in the Americas: Paths to Political Power.” We sought to explore what lay behind women’s recent accomplishments and discuss strategies to uphold those gains and promote further progress.

Greater numbers of women hold elected political office than before, reaching positions that were previously only occupied by men. Yet it is important to remember that significant challenges remain. The improvements cited above are not consistent among countries and are easily reversible. No nation has achieved gender parity in government. In most Latin American and Caribbean countries, women still hold far fewer than one-quarter of electoral positions, both in national legislatures and locally elected positions, such as governor and mayor. In addition, participants in our meeting made clear that many Afro-descendant, indigenous, and poor women continue to be excluded from full democratic participation.

With these obstacles in mind, we provide the following analyses and recommendations for government officials, international institutions, and public policy professionals. We urge leaders to take the steps necessary to promote women’s political participation. In preparation for the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, we support ongoing efforts to strengthen democracy in the hemisphere through advancing women’s participation at all levels of government. We highlight particularly the need to include Afro-descendant, indigenous, and poor women, who remain systematically excluded from our hemisphere’s democracies.

This report card would not have been possible without the additional support of the Organization of American States Summits of the Americas Secretariat and the Inter-American Foundation. We are also grateful to Vivian Roza and Ana Maria Brasileiro of the Inter-American Development Bank, whose insights and guidance were indispensable in carrying out this project. Special thanks are in order to Dialogue interns Alex Kalita, Luis Esquivel, and Brian Palmer-Rubin for their painstaking collection of data on women in political office, and to Joanna Corzo, for her careful logistical support at the Inter-American Development Bank. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the Dialogue’s Thayer Hardwick for the overall management of conference preparations and implementation, and for her intellectual contributions as author of the rapporteur’s report.

Gabriela Vega
Inter-American Development Bank

Joan Caivano
Inter-American Dialogue

Zaida Arguedas
League of Women Voters of the United States


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