Chile could be on its way to becoming a parity democracy. The draft of the world's first constitution equally drafted by women and men is ready after a long year of work. It is a historic milestone, as never before had a woman participated in drafting a constitution in the country. On 4 September, the Chileans will decide if they approve or reject it.
The new text would replace the constitution written during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. If adopted, it would establish that all representative offices at the national, regional and local levels, as well as the boards of directors of public and semi-public institutions, must ensure that at least 50 per cent of their members are women. It would also mandate measures to "achieve substantive equality and parity", and the right to abortion would become enshrined in law.
This could be a historic moment for Latin America and could set a precedent in a region where women are underrepresented in decision-making.
What is the situation of women in Latin America’s politics?
Women in ministerial positions: disparities between countries are large
Chile's new progressive president, Gabriel Boric, has made a significant step toward gender equality by appointing more women than men to ministerial positions when taking office in March 2022.
But although some countries are leading the change in the region, the latest map of women in politics (2021) by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) shows that cases like Chile are the exception rather than the rule.
In Uruguay, only two of the 14 ministries are represented by women, and in Argentina, only three out of 22. In Brazil, there is barely one woman on a list of 23. And these are just some examples.
The situation is different in other Latin American countries, such as Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which rank high on the list with around 50 per cent of their ministerial positions held by women.
At the global level, the study reveals that while there has been a modest increase in women holding ministerial portfolios - from 21.3 per cent in 2020 to 21.9 per cent in 2021 - progression has slowed. It is estimated the world won't achieve gender parity in ministerial positions before 2077.
Another interesting finding is that there are more women in ministerial portfolios traditionally headed by men. However, it is still more common for them to be assigned to ministries related to social affairs and gender equality.
As of July 2022, Latin America has only one female head of state
Michelle Bachelet, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner… Not so long ago, some of the region's largest economies were led by women. Currently, the recently appointed president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, is the only one.
Globally, the situation appears to be improving. The UN Women and IPU report highlights that, in January 2021, the world had a record number of women state leaders, with nine female heads of state and 13 heads of government.
Women in parliament: quotas vs reality
Many Latin American countries have adopted legislation to guarantee more equal representation of men and women in democratic institutions, establishing quotas and reserving a percentage of seats. But while this system has undoubtedly improved women's representation in politics, it has not been enough to achieve parity.
Bolivia, for instance, has decided to replace the concept of quota with that of "parity and alternation" and now requires electoral lists with 50 per cent of women candidates. In January 2021, it ranked tenth on the UN and IPU map of women in politics, with a parliament composed of 48.2 per cent women.
Other Latin American countries also appeared in the top 10, ranking even higher than countries like Finland and Norway. Cuba came second in the world, with 53.4 per cent, Nicaragua followed in fourth place with 48.4 per cent, and Mexico ranked sixth with 48.2 per cent.
However, as with ministerial positions, the disparities between countries in the region are broad. Guatemala ranked 120th, with 19.4 per cent, and Paraguay finished 143rd, with only 15 per cent of women in its parliament.
At the global level, the average share of women in national parliaments was 25.5 per cent, slightly increasing from the 24.9 per cent reported the previous year.
Will Chile's new constitution survive the conservative right-wing vote?
Although Latin America and the world are taking small steps towards gender equality in politics, the representation of women in state and public bodies does not guarantee a parity-based democracy.
The pursuit of gender equality must not be limited to the equal distribution of positions. More women in high-level decision-making roles are needed, and structural changes in culture and societies need to take place.
This could have an impact on Chile’s vote. What will happen in the country is still uncertain, but the outcome could set a precedent for victory or failure. A poll conducted in the third week of July estimates that 47 per cent of Chileans would vote against the proposal, and 39 per cent would favour "Apruebo".
The rejection of the new constitution would severely blow women's fight for their rights.
Latin America is watching you, Chile.