Women: the new political force in Latin America

Feminist movements in the region have taken figures such as Marielle Franco in Brazil, Beatriz Sánchez in Chile and Claudia López in Colombia, to leadership positions, inspiring a whole new generation. Español

democracia Abierta
30 July 2020, 3.51pm
Protesters carry out an act after the murder of Councilor Marielle Franco on March 14, 2018
Fabio Vieira/FotoRua/NurPhoto

Increasing the number of women in politics means strengthening democracy.

Women are the minority group with the largest number of members. While ethnic, racial and religious minorities usually represent a low percentage of the population, women represent 50%, and even more in many countries.

What this means is that the female half of society consists of millions of people who fight for their rights since the independence of our countries. These are women of different races, ideologies and origins, fighting for reasons that encompass not only gender, but also many others issues.

By reaching political positions, women bring with them the struggles from the groups to which they belong. They bring some of that DNA that's committed to social issues into the political fabric.

It is no coincidence that movements concerned with innovating in politics emphasize the role of women, as is the case of the recently published study and audiovisual series produced by the Update Institute, which was devoted to analyzing Latin American women in power for 14 months and how they are changing our countries' reality.

The way of doing politics in Latin America is changing. It may not be evident when we look at presidents like Jair Bolsonaro, Iván Duque, Sebastián Piñera, among others. But grassroots politics tell another story. Feminist movements in the region brought figures like Marielle Franco in Brazil, Beatriz Sánchez in Chile and Claudia López in Colombia, to leadership positions, inspiring a whole new generation.

“Women in Latin America form the basis of life, she is in all the communities, she is in the villages, in the ranches, in the quilombos, in the towns, in the cities. This multiple knowledge must reach the political system ”, said Update Institute's Áurea Carolina, councilor with the most votes in the history of Belo Horizonte and current federal deputy of Brazil.

What do these movements mean for Latin America?

Ni Una Menos

As the study by the Update Institute explains, it is impossible to talk about feminist politics in the region without mentioning the Argentine movement organized on social media: Ni Una Menos. The first march was held on June 3, 2015 in 80 cities across Argentina and brought together an impressive 300,000 people. From that day on, the movement became a phenomenon of about 800,000 people.

Gender parity is a reality in local legislatures in Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Ecuador. Mexico and Bolivia show parity in the three branches of government

Ni Una Menos sparked a wave of women's uprisings in Latin America. In Argentina, it led to the call to Marea Verde, a campaign for the right to legal abortion. In 2018, two million women participated in demonstrations with green scarves, which became the symbol of the uprising.

From the streets to the institutions

In that same year, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies approved the bill, drafted by women from civil society and deputies. The project was later vetoed by the Senate, but La Marea managed to put the issue on the table and in conversations within ordinary families across the country.

The following year, in Mexico, #NoMeCuidanMeViolan gathered women on the streets to protest against police violence.

In Brazil, the movement inspired women to organize demonstrations against the then president of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, author of a project that made it difficult for women to access legal abortion.

The protests escalated following the murder of Councilwoman Marielle Franco on March 14, 2018.

Women returned to the streets to respond to Bolsonaro's candidacy for the presidency after the message # EleNão, or Not Him. The organization of the protests and the scope of the protests are the result of women's work. The demand was not specific to the feminist agenda, but # EleNão became the largest women's mobilization in the history of Brazil.

These examples show that, when meeting in the streets to make their demands heard, women's groups realized that an efficient way to move the system is from the inside. As Jô Cavalcanti, a Brazilian state deputy, said, “That is when we entered the system, to dispute the institution, because we have always been in the streets".

They demonstrated that Latin American women have the capacity to impose changes quickly. Much changed in five years.

Change is visible

Gender parity is a reality in local legislatures in Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Ecuador. Mexico and Bolivia show parity in the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial), expected at all levels of government (community, municipal, state and federal).

Women in politics make a difference when they are aware of inequalities in general

In Argentina, women represent 42% of the Senate and 39% of the Chamber of Deputies, and the country was a pioneer in adopting female quotas for Congress.

Last year, Mexico extended parity to all three branches at all levels of government.

In Bolivia, 52% of the parliament is made up of women, the highest rate in Latin America.

In Chile, in the last legislative elections, the number of senators increased from six to 10, from a total of 43 senators, and the total number of deputies went from 19 to 35, from a total of 155 deputies.

In Brazil, the increase in the number of federal deputies was 15%: from 51 to 77 elected, but the majority are still white women. Of these, 43 held the position of federal deputy for the first time.

Women in power during the pandemic

Covid-19, among many other things, has called attention at to how women leaders have managed the health crisis. Since the start of the current new coronavirus pandemic, the relationship between national female leaders and their effectiveness in managing the crisis has received much media attention.

Although these comparisons may seem purely anecdotal, one study - using comparative data across 194 countries - found that responses to Covid-19 are consistently better in women-led countries. To some extent, the result can be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses taken by them.

The research found that both the infection rate and the death rate for Covid-19 have been lower in countries governed by women than in those governed by men. In an effort to isolate the specific effect of having a female leader, they compared countries led by women with those led by men that are similar in terms of population, geography, gender equality, healthcare spending, and number of tourists. Regardless of how the data was cut, women-led countries fared better.

Reality shows that women in politics make a difference when they are aware of inequalities in general. Because they have been and continue to be victims of violations of rights and the moorings imposed by society, they have the desire to get rid of them.

Increasing the representation of women in political spheres is not just a gender issue. It is a matter of institutional change that improves policies for the general population.

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