The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) today presented its document "Women's Contribution to Equality in Latin America and the Caribbean" to the 10th Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, now underway in Quito, Ecuador. The first section of this document examines gender parity as an objective from which to strengthen democracy.
The ECLAC document notes that political participation is recognized universally as an instrument for women's empowerment and gender equity. The rights women have secured as citizens and their political representation in the current context provide grounds for considering parity to be a feasible democratic goal. In this respect, gender equality must be achieved in three spheres: the labour market, decision-making and family life.
Recent years have produced a qualitative change in women's presence in political decision-making. The year 2006, for example, saw an increase in the number of women in ministerial posts, as presidential candidates and in positions of national leadership. In many countries, women have been elected to high-ranking office, including the top post, as is the case of Chile and Jamaica. This trend has a positive impact on public perceptions regarding the feminization of power.
However, despite the fact that women constitute half the population, they are under-represented in most Parliaments and branches of national power, and continue to exercise a minority voice in political decision-making.
According to ECLAC, quota laws offer a successful strategy for increasing women's presence in legislatures and have allowed for the creation of a critical mass providing a platform for advancing towards parity. In some countries, these laws have resulted in governments with equal numbers of male and female office-holders, and more women in the Executive Branch.
All countries which have established quota laws have seen positive outcomes. This is evident in Argentina (where 35% of legislators are female) and Costa Rica (38.6%) - placing both countries among the global top 10 for women in parliament -- and the Bahamas (30%).
The document notes that the significant presence of women at the Cabinet level, associated with the political will of government leaders and political parties, is slightly more encouraging in the Caribbean than in Latin America, but that instability characterizes this trend in both regions.
Women's representation has also increased in countries without quota systems, but at a slower and less stable pace.
One of the benefits of the parity agenda is that it demonstrates the possibility of women representing society at large, and has encouraged the demand for democracy from diverse sectors, including indigenous and Afrodescendent women.
In virtual forums and subregional preparatory meetings prior to the Regional Conference, ministers and authorities agreed upon the need to promote the active participation of these historically-excluded communities. Participants in these meetings also identified political parties as the most reticent to women's entry into public office.
Other obstacles to greater political activity by women are the responsibilities they face in terms of domestic chores and the absence of policies for more equitable sharing of household obligations.
The 10th Regional Conference on Women is convened by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with support from the National Women's Council (Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres, CONAMU) of Ecuador. It runs until 9 August at the Swissôtel Quito, with the heads of Women's Ministries and national gender policy authorities attending from most Latin American and Caribbean countries.