Power photos should no longer be solely of men. The reasons are many. The media could take note of it. Those images that they publish only of male politicians when they talk about politics – ignoring women again and again – will probably end. They are not fair or representative of what we are experiencing in Latin America. Power is no longer exclusively male. And it shouldn’t even be thought of that way. Even though many prefer to ignore it, in recent decades, most countries in the region have promoted institutional reforms to make it easier for women to compete more equally with men.
The data is compelling. According to the Observatory of Political Reforms in Latin America, 45 changes have been made to the rules that govern the way in which parties register their candidacies in 17 countries since 1991. That is, in gender electoral mechanisms. These changes have led to a powerful transformation in the descriptive representation of Congresses, where women reach a regional average of 34.9 percentage points (Cepal 2022), the highest number in constitutional history. Motivated by these transformations, in our new book on “The construction of parity democracies in Latin America” (Iijunam, INE and IIDH 2022) that participates in politics.
The results are very diverse, but there are keys that allow us to understand the reasons why some legislators exceed 50% of women (Mexico); others will have little more than 40% (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Grenada and Peru) while some will not reach 20% (Guatemala, Colombia, Paraguay or Brazil). Three key determinations help to understand these differences. First, the existence of strong rules. The more equal the gender electoral regime, the greater the representation. Second, the activism of the feminist and women’s movements, demanding the adoption of strong rules and their effective implementation. Third, the presence of active allies. Rules alone cannot bring about the necessary changes, and actors need pro-gender equality critics to level the playing field.
Despite these advances, problems result. We have identified five obstacles that weaken the implementation of the rules (quotas and/or gender parity). First, the normative problem: the design of the gender electoral regime is deficient. For example, it applies only to pre-candidacies, allows parties to replace women with men, or does not provide for review or sanction mechanisms. Second, the implementation problem: the regime may be strong, but its implementation weakens its effects. For example, you can require parity but have the electoral system filter out the effect of the rules, such as when using small districts, plurality, preferential voting, or open lists, which often penalize the election of women.
Third, the parties: their patriarchal and scant internal democracy make the rules ineffective. The parties are gendered and thus make it difficult for women to have access to candidacies and leadership positions. Fourth, the organizational weakness of civil society: when women’s organizations do not exist, they are not capable of pressing and/or mobilizing in favor of quotas or gender parity and/or have other priority agendas. Fifth, the attitudinal: being a woman challenges the established order, due to stereotypes and prejudices that minimize and question their abilities and make them see themselves as inferior compared to a supposed natural knowledge of men.
Latin America is experiencing a democratic revolution, which seeks to change historical forms of exclusion. Although this transformation is occurring with greater intensity and better results in some countries than in others, the foundations are being laid so that it is no longer possible to think (and live) in a democracy without women. Hence, the photos of power must reflect this change.
*Researcher. General Coordinator of the Observatory of Political Reforms in Latin America.
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