LATIN AMERICA: Women Politicians Call for a More Inclusive Democracy in Latin America

Friday, February 13, 2009
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The project "Strengthening Governance with a Gender Perspective and the Political Participation of Women at the Local Level in Latin America", has contributed to greater debate around the issue of women's political participation at the local level in the political, academic and media fields. This was one of the conclusions at the conference with representatives from 13 Latin American countries in Santo Domingo on 13 February.

Representatives from local and national governments, academics and officials from regional organizations in 13 Latin American countries met on 13 February 2009 during a Conference on “Women, Local Power and Democracy: Reflections and Perspectives”, which was held at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD).

The event, organized by the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), analyzed the achievements and the challenges in increasing women's political participation in local and municipal governments in the light of the results of the project “Strengthening Governance with a Gender Perspective and the Political Participation of Women at the Local Level in Latin America,” implemented by the Institute and financed by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation to Development (AECID).

One of the most important achievements of the project is that it has contributed to greater debate around the issue of women's political participation at the local level in the political, academic and media fields.

“Prior to the project's development, the debate focused only on the national level, a field in which greater advancement has been made in terms of women's participation in decision-making,” explained Yolanda Solana, Project Coordinator.

“The local perspective presents a series of questions and claims concerning the causes for women's low participation in municipal governments. Even though the local level seems to be closer to women, gender-based political violence and the pressure that they must face in order to meet community, family and labour obligations hinder their participation,” concluded Solana.

Recent data indicate that although women represent half of the population and in some cases up to 40% of political representatives at national level (Argentina, Inter-Parliamentary Union), mayoral offices in Latin America that are headed by women do not exceed 8% (UN-INSTRAW).

“Now we possess more information on the causes of the low representation of women in local politics and we have initiated efforts to strengthen the capacity of municipal women and women mayors,” stated Carolina Taborga, Acting Director of UN-INSTRAW.

“We have also given support to the training and strengthening of several networks of women ministers/women politicians in municipalities/women mayors in the region and have encouraged governments to include gender issues in their agendas,” concluded Taborga.

The Project's research studies, which began in 2006, reveal that women face a series of obstacles during the election and administration process related to the persistence of a patriarchal political culture, brief political experience and institutional and democratic weakness.

“Based on these results, we decided to take concrete action in several Latin American countries with the objective of strengthening the capacity of women politicians at the local level and promoting strategic alliances and networking through virtual fora, meetings and, inter-institutional agreements amongst more than 1,500 participants", explained Solana.

In the field of political learning, almost 200 women participated in workshops on information technologies and municipal administration from a gender perspective. The most highlighted experience of this phase of the project is the Pathways to Learning, during which participants visited municipal governments which were outstanding for their gender perspective in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador and Bolivia. During this training, in which almost 40 participants were involved, women exchanged knowledge and analyzed the situation of women in local governments with the objective of proposing concrete actions for the empowerment of municipal women and for the promotion of public policies in the administration of municipalities with a gender perspective.

As a result of the project a significant number of strategic alliances were established that will contribute to strengthen the political incidence of women, such as the Network of Municipal Women of Costa Rica, the agreement between Bolivia and Ecuador to fight political violence against women, the agreement between UN-INSTRAW, the Women's Ministry of the Dominican Republic and PROGRESSIO, as well as a collaboration agreement with the Council of Central American Ministers for Women Affairs (COMMCA), amongst others.

“These alliances are fundamental in order to facilitate the exchange of experiences, lessons learned and good practices among women representatives at the regional, national and local levels, as well as amongst women of different countries,” emphasized Taborga.

UN-INSTRAW highlights the importance of continuing to strengthen State institutions so that they may take into account the needs and priorities of women and the formulation of public policies with a gender perspective. The Institute also calls for the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data at the local political level due to the lack of such data in most Latin American countries.