Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ecuadorian Elections An Opportunity For Women

Citizens of the Republic of Ecuador will go to the polls this Sunday for national elections. Lola Valladares, UNIFEM’s Coordinator for the Program on Governance and Violence Against Women for the Andean region, believes that Ecuadorian women will make historic advances towards parity in parliamentary representation.

“In 1998, the Ecuadorian constitution was amended to include the right to equity in political participation for women. But reforms to election law in 2000 introduced the Quota Law, meaning that political parties have the obligation to organize their lists of candidates to include a quota of women. In the first election, candidate lists were 30% women. But in a short time, we have reached 50%.”

Valladares believes this is, in part, the result of a unique requirement in the Ecuadorian Quota Law; whereas some nations have implemented laws requiring women comprise a certain percentage of candidates, Ecuador went a step further. The Quota Law in Ecuador requires not only that women be represented on election ballots, but stipulates that each party’s candidate list not simply reserve a number of slots at the bottom of the totem pole for women, but that male and female candidates must alternate, from top to bottom. This ensures that women are dispersed in leadership positions throughout the party hierarchy, and not relegated to the bottom of the ticket.

Equal representation is government is not only an issue in Ecuador; the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals use the percentage of women comprising national parliaments as an indicator of a nation’s gender equity, and the rankings worldwide are not impressive. According to the United Nations’ own statistics, compiled through its program, MDGMonitor, women hold 18% of parliamentary seats worldwide. What is unique about Ecuador is that in the Andean region, which also consists of Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Colombia, Ecuador has made the most progress in the shortest time.

“The National Council of Women [Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres] has worked very hard to advance the women’s agenda through the Constituent Assembly. It has been very difficult for women to find a platform in government because of the power of older, conservative parties, and because of the influence of the Catholic Church. The idea of women having parity in government is seen by some people to be only a type of political correctness. Ultimately, women’s progress comes from the women’s movement before it comes from the state.” However, Valladares also believes that a change in attitude is taking place.

“ [President Correa] is supportive of women achieving parity in political leadership. He was sensitive to the importance of the Quota Law, and was effective in pushing his own party to meet the quota, and he talks in his speeches about the importance of women’s political participation.”

Women in Ecuador face the same barriers to parity in political power as women throughout the world: Valladares thinks stereotypes about the leadership abilities of women, doubts about the capacity of women to be strong leaders, distaste for affirmative action programs, and social inequality continue to effect women in politics in very different ways than men. But, she says, “Women’s groups throughout the Andean region are working on legal projects to require political parties to improve gender equity throughout the leadership and within the platform of each party.”

Another strength of the women’s movement in Ecuador is that there is a coalition of women’s groups, including indigenous and mestiza women’s groups, which engage all Ecuadorian women in the struggle for parity. “Nina Pacari is an example of a woman who is both a leader within the indigenous movement in Ecuador, and also a leader in the national government, as a representative in the National Constituent Assembly, as the Vice-President of the National Assembly, and as the Foreign Minister of Ecuador.”

As women throughout the world look towards 2015, the year by which member states of the United Nations will be asked to demonstrate greater gender equity within their national parliaments, we would all do well to look at the progress made by Ecuadorian women in eleven short years.

“The old, historically powerful political parties in Ecuador have seen their influence decrease,” says Valladares. “President Correa doesn’t come from one of these old, conservative parties. In this moment, to say you belong to the old parties isn’t well seen by people in Ecuador.” Though gender integration has occurred within many political parties, including President Correa’s, Valladares believes change is slower to be seen in social power structures. “This democratization must occur in political parties and also in society.”

This Sunday provides the women of Ecuador with an opportunity to take another big leap.