Sunday, October 21, 2007

Women and politics in Latin America

McClatchy has a story about the increased political status of women in Latin American politics (which even showed up in my Charlotte Observer this morning). I was pleased to see such a story get wide coverage, since the popular impression in the U.S. of Latin America is generally so negative.

This raises interesting questions about causal relationships. In the article, a former human rights official from the Bolivian government argues that women have been making gains as a result of the governments that are focusing on the underprivileged in general, led by presidents from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I mentioned the other day, the Venezuelan constitutional reforms include gender equality. The argument makes intuitive sense if a political movement is pushing for equality—I don’t know if anyone has tested for a correlation between ideology (though even defining it can be challenging) and gender equality outcomes in Latin America.

Yet if we look at another angle, namely legislative gender quotas, the countries with quotas are all over the place ideologically. Actually, there’s an interesting UCSD working paper on Latin American quotas by Jennifer Piscopo.* Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, and Honduras don’t have much in common on the surface, so what commonalities can we find that help explain the outcome? Venezuela had a quota, but it was revoked in 2000, and the same was true in Colombia in 2001. Both are polar opposites ideologically, but did the same—why? Regardless, Venezuela and Nicaragua both had more female congressional representation than the U.S even without quotas, which may point (at least to some degree) to ideology. At the same time, Chile, which is less oriented toward economic equality than any other Latin American country, recently had the divorce law, elected a woman president, while the forerunner for the next election is also a woman (nonetheless, many activists are definitely unhappy with the pace of progress on women’s issues in Chile).

Much food for thought. I’ll definitely discuss this in class tomorrow.

* In fact, she is pessimistic about the impact quotas have on women’s rights generally, though I would think it might be too soon to understand fully the ways in which they transform politics and society.


Rogelio Aranda 1:41 AM  


Jack Chang's story is part of a 2-day series about Latin American women that he's written for McClatchy. The leadership story was part 1. I don't know if any other parts will make print. There's at least 2 more components, one on women as heads of household, and another about domestic violence. Hoping to have the stories up in Spanish at

Greg Weeks 6:31 AM  

I don't see the other parts yet--I hope they publish it.

Rogelio Aranda 10:15 AM  

I've just posted the Spanish version of the domestic violence story on

The English version is here:

And here's the story on heads of household (Spanish version to be posted Tuesday on

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