LATIN AMERICA: Gender and Political Parties: Without Equality, Far from Parity

Monday, November 15, 2010
Inter American Development Bank
Central America
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

The new decade begins with the election of another woman president. Dilma Rousseff, the Labor Party's candidate, won the presidential elections in Brazil with 56 percent of the votes. Similarly, Laura Chinchilla, candidate for the Partido Liberación Nacional, won the presidential race in Costa Rica with 47 percent of the vote. In Chile, meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet ended her term with an approval rating of 83 percent. Their stories are no longer mere anecdotes, but are charting a new course for women in Latin American politics.

Does this mean Latin America is on the threshold of the “decade of parity”?

Latin America is still far from that goal. Regionally, women hold an average of 23 percent of ministerial posts and barely 20 percent of seats in both houses of Congress. In the last round of legislative elections, through May 2009, the share of female candidates fielded by parties/coalitions was only 24 percent.

According to a data compiled by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International), in 2009, women headed only 20.5 percent of congressional committees or commissions. In addition, women represented a mere 11.5 percent of party caucus chiefs in the lower house/unicameral bodies of Congress and 6.6 percent in the region's Senates. The data also shows that progress remains uneven and limited to certain countries and positions. The outlook is even bleaker for indigenous and Afro-descendant women.

*Data from national government Web sites and/or national IDEA consultants
**Data available from Inter-Parliamentary Union database
***Data based on a sample of 84 parties and political movements (2009).
Source: GEPPAL.

Who decides in parties?

The lack of support for women leaders in political parties is related to the parties' internal structures. Although women make up more than 50 percent of the membership of many parties, they are largely absent from top party posts. Only 19 percent of party executive committee members are women, and the proportion of women who serve as party presidents or secretary-generals is even lower, at 15.8 percent.

This is especially serious, because these organizations and their top leaders not only oversee the choice of candidates, government plans and public policies once they are in office, but in many cases they also choose legislative leaders. If parties do not become more democratic and open their doors to women, how will this under-represented half of the population, which has much to contribute to politics, become visible?

Women's participation in internal party structures in Latin America

For several years, the IDB, through its Program for the Support of Women's Leadership and Representation (PROLEAD), and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International) have been promoting women's leadership and gender equality in Latin America.

In 2008 the two organizations launched a study of 94 political parties due to the urgent need for reliable data about women's political participation. The figures cited above have been drawn from this study. The data is available through the online database “Gender and Political Parties in Latin America (GEPPAL),” which is freely accessible to anyone interested in increasing and enhancing women's political participation as a way of strengthening the region's democracies. The database is only available in Spanish.

The GEPPAL database is composed of six axes (Context, Intraparty, Mechanisms, Selection, Elections and Diversity) that provide access to a series of national and party-level indicators about the situation of women's political participation across 94 political parties in 18 Latin American countries,