Colombia was one of the last countries in Latin America to allow women’s suffrage and right to election (1954), and since then women have been striving to infiltrate the country’s political system.
Seeing as women constitute 51% of the Colombian population, it seems only right that there should be an equal number of men and women within the governing bodies of Colombia. However, the reality is that “Colombia is a country which has always been handled by men,” meaning that for women to break into the traditionally patriarchal roles is almost a “force of social revolution,” according to female presidential candidate Aida Avella.
The weight of this responsibility was evidently felt by women in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, as overall political participation of women between 1958 and 1974 stood at just 6.79%.
The role of women in politics appears to be a prevailing problem in Colombia. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), in December 2013, Colombia ranked 118th out of 140 countries for the inclusion of women in political entities, sharing the ranking with both Uruguay and Equatorial Guinea.
Realities such as the fact that Colombia has never had a female president or vice-president while other Latin American countries have — such as Brazil and Chile with incumbent presidents Dilma Rousseff and Michelle Bachelet respectively — mark how Colombian women’s rights in politics still have a long way to go.
Women and the Presidency
Nevertheless, in recent history women have begun to find their political feet, not least with the race to become the first female president of Colombia.
The first woman to run as candidate for presidency in the whole of Latin America was Maria Eugenia Rojas de Moreno Diaz, who ran in the 1974 Colombian presidential election on behalf of the National Popular Alliance (ANAPO) but was unsuccessful in her pursuit.
More dramatically, Regina Betancourt of Liska, better known as Regina Eleven, began her presidential campaign in 1998 but was kidnapped and could not register for election.
Noemi Sanin did have some success in 1998 with her “Movement Yes, Colombia” campaign. When she did not win, Sanin ran again in 2002 for the Oxygen Green Party (Partido Verde Oxigeno), but was captured by the FARC — Colombia’s largest rebel group — and forced to stop lobbying.
For the upcoming 2014 elections, however, there are three female candidates vying for the coveted role of first female President of Colombia: Marta Lucia Ramirez for the Conservative party, Aida Avella for the Patriotic Union and Clara Lopez for the Democratic Party.
During an interview with Colombia Reports, Aida Avella explained how the main problem for women in politics is that they are “usually linked to working at home, in hospitals and in other distinctly feminine careers such as schoolteachers; not to public sector jobs such as politics.”
Avella went on to state how the crux of the issue is that women must first prove that they can be both good wives and mothers before they can prove themselves to be good politicians.
“It is the first requirement for any woman entering politics: you have to be very good housewife, a great wife, a great professional and very good at politics,” Avella said.
“Such things which would never be asked of of men. More will always be demanded of women.”
A report by the Presidential Office for Women’s Equality affirms that “there is no doubt that women, having achieved positions of importance and influence, have contributed in a fundamental way to the political, social, human and economic progress of our country.”
Yet the report also reminds readers that “the role of women in history as public leaders and in roles that could influence the country were, for a long time, invisible, or relegated to second place” — a fact that must be changed.
Women in the political sphere
Colombian women have long been struggling to represent themselves in the male-dominated world of national politics.
Efforts have been made, however, as the constitution of 1991 and subsequent legislation in 2000 saw the creation of laws focused on improving gender equality within the Colombian government.
Article 107 of Colombia’s highest set of laws, for example, states the need for gender equality regarding the election of party leaders, while articles 13 and 43 mark the need for more equality within the government itself.
Furthermore, statutory law 581 (2000), the Quotas Law, mandates that 30% of high-ranking jobs within the structure of public administration should be occupied by women, and statutory law 1475 (2011) establishes a minimum of 30% female participation in political party lists.
Despite regulations, statistics from recent elections reveal that women are still grossly underrepresented within the political sphere. Men represented 90.6% of the governors elected in the 2012 elections, while between 2010 and 2014, only 15.8% of elected senators were female.
Fight for peace
Still, women have not faltered in their pursuit of female representation in ongoing political issues, including within the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.
November 2013 saw a 10,000 people strong movement in Bogota entitled “Peace and Democracy with Women” take to the streets to draw government attention. The group called for the “profound economic, cultural, social and political changes needed to tackle social inequality,” as well as for its supporters to fight against the “opponents of peace, whose path to war sustains their own economic and political agendas.”
In the year 2014, furthermore, the state of Antioquia created the campaign “Peace, a woman’s word,” in which governing bodies such as Medellin’s Town Hall created events and rallies to give women both a voice and the power to instigate change regarding the ongoing peace process.
In the midst of such strong political mobilization, women in Colombia are demonstrating their collective power — one which will hopefully signify a growth in their representation in politics at large, as well as help them gain more power and influence on an individual level.
- Hace 50 años la mujer votó por primera vez en Colombia (Caracol Radio)
- Estadísticas (Presidential Office for Women’s Equality)
- World Classification for Women in Politics (IPU)
- Las mujeres que disputan la presidencia (El Espectador)
- Colombia: un millón de mujeres marchan hoy por la paz y la democracia (Aporrea)