Women Try to Raise Political Influence: But Electoral Quotas Divide Panel Members

Article excerpt

Recent international summit meetings - in Cairo, Copenhagen, Vienna, Beijing and Miami - have given priority to improving the status of women.

But women in Latin America and the Caribbean remain caught in a vicious cycle that frustrates their advancement to leadership roles: They are poorly represented in key leadership positions, so they have little influence on the politics and policies that could improve the status of women.

Every Latin American and Caribbean nation signed onto the final declaration of each summit, according to female leaders from the Americas who met in Washington this month at a two-day Women's Leadership Conference of the Americas.

Participants said these countries should now be held to their commitments.

The network of 60 women was organized by two local think tanks, the Inter-American Dialogue and the International Center for Research on Women.

"Immigration, migration, racism and poverty heavily affect women in the Americas. There is a gross inbalance of power in our countries," said Maria Antonietta Berriozabal, founder and chairman of the National Hispana Leadership Institute and U.S. representative to the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States.

"We need to see if this group will boldly and courageously point issues out to our presidents," she said.

The goal of the conference was to enhance the influence of female leaders in different sectors, encourage them to invest time and energy needed to recruit more women into leadership roles and motivate them and give information to help eliminate legal barriers to women's opportunities.

Participants agreed that women need to ascend to the highest level of office but disagreed on how they are to get there.

The major point of contention was the electoral quota system now in place in a few Latin American countries.

In 1991, Argentina passed the hemisphere's first sex-quota law for election of national legislators.

Argentina, Bolivia and, more recently, Brazil, have enacted laws requiring that as many as 30 percent of elected offices be held by women.

Under Argentine law, a minimum 30 percent of all candidates on the closed party lists in all of the country's 24 electoral districts must be women, and they can't just be placed in ornamental positions. …