Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Getting to the Top: Career Paths of Women in Latin American Cabinets

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Getting to the Top: Career Paths of Women in Latin American Cabinets

Article excerpt

Are presidential cabinets gendered institutions? This important question has been ignored for Latin America to date. In this article, the authors propose four benchmarks for evaluating whether presidential cabinets should be classified as gendered institutions. If they are we should observe (1) that there are differences in career length, continuity, and mobility between men and women; (2) that women receive feminine domain posts and men masculine ones; (3) that masculine ministries offer greater potential for upward mobility; and (4) that women must be better qualified than men to receive appointments. Using data from eighteen Latin American countries from 1980 to 2003, the authors analyze the degree to which cabinets conform to these criteria. They conclude that even though women are starting to gain appointments to high-profile and to masculine domain cabinet posts, the overall evidence supports the conclusion that there are gendered patterns to cabinet appointments.

Keywords: presidential cabinets; women in politics; Latin America; ministerial posts; gendered institutions

When assembling his or her cabinet, a president is an employer, but unlike an executive hiring an employee, a president cannot simply look at an individual's credentials and experience. A president must balance partisan and political pressures with the need for administrative skill and the need for representation, especially of women and minority groups (Borrelli 2002). Scholars argue that "similar types of electoral pressures are faced by U.S. presidents and Western European prime ministers; for both sets of leaders, there are at least some electoral advantages to inclusiveness" (Davis 1997, 73). In Latin America, presidents are now criticized for not including women in their cabinets (Htun and Jones 2001; B aidez 2002, 181). As a consequence at least one woman is now commonly featured in photos of the president and cabinet. Yet we know relatively little about what this means for women's careers in presidential cabinets. The extent to which women receive important, visible, and diverse posts determines whether presidential cabinets are representative institutions or are biased in a gendered way.

"The term 'gendered institutions' means that gender is present in the processes, practices, images and ideologies, and distribution of power in the various sectors of social life" (Acker 1992, 567). Institutional procedures can advantage the interests of a dominant group and exclude a new or different group from becoming full participants in the institution's activities. If cabinets are gendered institutions, then they may operate in a way that systematically denies women an equal opportunity to participate. This creates the very real possibility that beyond the occasional exception women are only token participants. Tokenism limits the opportunities women have to make policy and also limits the extent to which democratic institutions truly claim to represent all citizens.

The evidence we present in this article indicates that there are gendered patterns to cabinet appointments, though there is limited evidence this has changed in recent years. We begin our examination with a review of the literature about cabinet careers and gendered institutions. From this literature we extract four benchmarks for evaluating whether cabinets should be classified as gendered institutions. We then investigate each of these benchmarks, beginning with a comparison of cabinet careers of men and women in Latin America's presidential systems, based on time in the cabinet, whether ministers leave and return to the cabinet, and if they tend to hold more than one portfoho over time. In the third section, we explore whether women are overrepresented in portfolios in policy areas traditionally viewed as in a 'Teminine domain" and whether men are overrepresented in portfolios in a "masculine domain." Fourth, in a more detailed study of ministers who have held multiple cabinet posts, we examine whether credentials differ by sex. …

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