Gender parity in politics: A democratic deficit

Despite the progress made in the consolidation of democracy in the Americas, women still face obstacles in the full realization of their citizenship rights. While they may vote and participate in politics, they face serious limitations to holding public office and their under-representation is the common denominator of most political arenas.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) called on States party to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life.

Argentina was the first country to implement a quota law in 1991, making it compulsory for electoral lists to include 30% women. Today, 37.4% of the elected representatives in the Congress of Argentina are women. Fourteen countries in the Americas have implemented quota laws for parliamentary positions: Argentina (30%), Bolivia (50%), Brazil (30% lower house only), Colombia (30%), Costa Rica (40%), Dominican Republic (33% lower house only), Ecuador (50%), Guyana (one third of the candidates), Honduras (30%), Mexico (40%), Panama (30%), Paraguay (20%), Peru (30%), and Uruguay (33%).

Although these mechanisms have contributed greatly to increasing women’s participation in electoral lists, quotas do not guarantee equal representation of men and women in political bodies. It has been observed in some countries that quotas may even limit the participation of women to a minimum threshold, reducing the possibility of reaching parity. According to data provided by the Center for Informative Reports of Guatemala (CERIGUA), a country with a majority of indigenous population, in the 2010 elections 21 women (13.3%) were elected, only three of whom are indigenous (1.9% of all members of Parliament). According to data from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR, 2011), only 0.03% of the parliamentarians in the region are Afro-descendant women.

Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Nicaragua are the only countries in the region that have adopted parity in the last five years. The analysis of the experiences of these countries draws attention to specific elements that characterized the parity processes, such as the role played by institutions in guaranteeing women’s political rights, the demands and the contributions made by women’s organizations towards parity, as well as the support of women from different policy areas to the consolidation of this process. Engaging institutions, academia and civil society in the follow up, monitoring, and evaluation of compliance with parity laws will contribute to women’s greater access to public office. This should be accompanied by further efforts to eradicate harassment and political violence that many women face while running for office.

If institutions and political parties do not promote greater respect for gender equality and parity democracy by allowing the exclusion of women to govern their political actions, we will face weaker democracy.

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