Uruguay, Latin American Region · Article · 26 April, 2022

Commitment to establishing transformative trajectories and women’s leadership in politics

EUROsociAL+ technical support action for INMUJERES in Uruguay

Almost thirteen years have gone by since Uruguay approved Quota Law 18476, which established (under sanction for non-compliance) the obligation to include people of both sexes in each third of the electoral lists for party conventions, party leadership bodies, parliament and departmental boards. A measure that was extended after the municipal council election. In its first application, in the cycle of national and sub-national elections 2014/2015, more women were present, particularly in the Senate, Departmental Boards and, to a lesser extent, in municipal councils [1]. Before the application of the quota, women accounted for barely 13.1% in the lower house and 6.5% in the upper house of Parliament[2].   In the 2014 elections, 16.2% of women were elected as deputies and 29% as senators, while in 2019, 25.3% were elected to the Chamber of Deputies and 32.3% to the Senate[3].

Progressive increases that place Uruguay still far from ideal scenarios in quantitative terms. Given that this country receives such high praise for its democratic institutions, why are higher levels of equality not achieved in women’s representation? The answers to this question are complicated. The institutional factors have been analysed in depth and warned from the beginning of the application of the measure that is reaching its peak: difficulties interacting with the Uruguayan electoral system depending on the level of election, reducing its impact in terms of results for the election of more women[4]. As well as these, there are partisan strategies regarding the implementation of the quota that have taken advantage of design weaknesses to circumvent it or position women in lower and less competitive places on the lists.[5].

Another factor from which the under-representation of women has been analysed concerns the interaction between supply and demand. The supply understood as the availability of applicants who wish to pursue a political career is hindered by limitations in resources (such as time, money and experience) and by their own motivation[6]. Motivation is, in turn, conditioned by calculations about risks and successes when competing[7] but also by a structure where gender roles impose the greatest burden of family responsibilities on women [8]. And, from the demand side, emphasis has been placed on biases on the part of the selectors, of male hegemony, which leads them to choose based on group characteristics or with scepticism regarding women’s’ chances of success[9].

A diagnosis commissioned by the National Institute of Women (INMUJERES) of Uruguay, carried out in 2021, analysed the mechanisms and limitations that Uruguayan women face in building their political trajectories at the electoral level (but also within their political parties) )[10]. The study is part of a strategic line implemented by INMUJERES to drive the political participation of women by creating a Strengthening Programme for Women Political Leaders.

In the electoral area (and from the supply side) it was found that only in 8.8% of the cases did the initiative to start the path for an application arise; that many respondents perceive that “their political commitment is not linked to holding positions, but to a kind of social militancy”; and that they perceive a greater cost in their lives for taking a leap in their political careers[11]. From the demand side, it was found that although in 60.8% of cases the candidacy arose at the initiative of party leaders (who control the candidacy selection procedures), in these processes the inclusion did not necessarily have to do with the qualities and trajectories of women and that their location in expectant places generated adverse reactions in their co-religionists and a lack of recognition of their electoral competitiveness[12].

In Latin America, the preferred way to increase the representation of women was, first of all, the promotion of legal quota regulations from 1991 and, since 2008, norms that advanced towards parity, now enacted in nine countries of the region. The latter measure has led to more women being elected to deliberative bodies such as parliaments and municipal councils, with some countries achieving parity. Despite the multiple efforts of female politicians, women from civil society and international organisations present in Uruguay and legislative initiatives, so far no progress has been made in the approval of a parity law by Parliament.

Parity measures are very important but they are not the only measures where progress must be made. The case of Uruguay shows the need to invest in supporting the construction of successful careers for women in political-electoral contexts that are still unfavourable in terms of equality. As well as promoting changes in citizen political culture and in the organisational and political culture of the parties towards a parity approach to equality in political rights that allow women to have a descriptive representation in accordance with their weight in the population, which is around 50%. In particular, if these efforts are promoted from the state institutions themselves and with a vocation for permanent public policy.

At the end of 2021, as part of the assistance processes it provides in the area of political autonomy of INMUJERES, EUROsociAL+, from the Gender Equality Policies Area, launched an action to improve the technical design of the programme and its impact evaluation methodology.  The action also includes support to identify other successful experiences of promoting leadership (within and outside the region). It also helped with the design of public conferences that allow the awareness of political players to be raised in key contents for the advancement of gender equality, through the exchange of experiences between women with successful political trajectories in the European and Uruguayan sphere and the participants of the training programme.

In May 2022, 60 militant women from the entire spectrum of Uruguayan political parties with emerging careers interested in advancing in their projection, who have already been selected, will begin the first edition of the strengthening programme (in virtual and physical form). A first step for a future institutionalisation. The programme has five specific modules and a transversal area of training and strengthening from a gender perspective. Methodological tools that will be able to measure the impacts of the programme on the participants are already being designed, not only in terms of knowledge and tools acquired, but also to change perceptions for the construction of transformative leadership.

The first Open Conference will be held as part of its launch in May in a conversational format, when politicians from two regions will share their experiences to build medium and long-term political trajectories and will talk about how to make a difference through leadership exercised in equality.

[1] Pérez, Veronica (2015). Uruguay, an established democracy still far from parity. Diagnosis of the conditions to exercise the right of women to political participation. ATHENA mechanism. UNDP, UN WOMEN and International IDEA.

[2] Information taken from www.ipu.org

[3] Information taken from www.ipu.org.

[4] Ob. cit. (2015).

[5] Ob. cit. 2015).

[6] Lovedunsky, Joni (1993): Introduction: The dynamics of gender and party”. Lovedunski, Joni and Pippa Norris (editors). Gender and Party Politics. London: Sage Publisher. 1-15.

[7] Rule, Wilma (1981): “Why women don´t run: the critical contextual factors in women´s legislative recruitment in The Western Political Quarterly”, Vol. 34, No. 1, Special Issue on Women in Politics, Mar. 76-77

[8] Fox, Richard L. and Jennifer Lawless (2005): “To run or not to run for office: explaining nascent political ambition” in American Journal of Political Science.Vol. 49. No.3. Jul. (642-659)

[9] Sanbonmatzu, Kira (2006). Do parties know that “women win”? Party Leaders’ belief about women’s electoral chances. Politics and Gender, 2. (431-450)

[10] Johnson, Niki and Pérez Betancur, Veronica (2021). Diagnosis for a Programme to Strengthen Political Women. Final report. Inmujeres-MIDES/ICP-FCS-UDELAR Agreement.

[11] Ob. cit. (2021):24.

By, Beatriz Llanos, expert from EUROsociAL+ Gender Area

Pais: Uruguay, Latin American Region
ODS: Gender equality, Reduced inequalities, Peace, justice and strong institutions, Partnerships for the goals
Área de Políticas: Gender equality policies
Tipo: Article