Reforming Macho Politics

Latin America’s democracies range from those that are models for the world – Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay – to those like Guatemala, Haiti, and Venezuela that are so weak that calling them democracies is dubious. The democracies in this region face a myriad of hazards, but one crucial challenge could be solved relatively easily: the gross under-representation of women in their legislative bodies.

Despite some prominent women at the top of Latin American politics, the general absence of women from the region’s political life causes a serious democratic deficit. The low representation of women in legislatures is not only a symbol of flaws in the functioning of Latin American democracies; it also means that women legislators are unable to bring their intrinsically different approaches to policy into play.

Only the Argentine Senate has a composition that is more than 40% female, while the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly and Argentine Chamber of Deputies are the only legislatures above the 30% bar. In nine legislative bodies in the region, women account for 10% or less of the members.

Between 1991 and 2000, twelve Latin American countries adopted legislation requiring minimum percentages of women on the party lists used for the election of national legislators. But, despite this legislation, the percentage of women legislators in many of these countries remains very low.