How to level the playing field for women in Venezuelan politics
The level of women’s participation in Venezuelan politics is discouraging. Although the recent political conflict, electoral mistrust, protracted economic, humanitarian and migration crises limit women’s participation in politics, they do not tell the whole story about the exclusion of women from Venezuelan politics.
In reality, internal political structures and leadership positions remain male-dominated, especially within Venezuela’s most important political parties and institutions. Of the fifteen standing committees of the National Assembly in 2015, the only de jure Venezuelan legislature led by the interim government chaired by Juan Guaidó – only two are led by women. Women are excluded from decision-making in key policy areas like energy and the economy.
A pervasive culture of machismo, lack of resources, exclusion from existing networks and non-political duties contribute to the under-representation of women in political leadership positions. The exclusion of women harms Venezuelan women, men and parties themselves. Parties benefit from the inclusion of women, whether through more representative electoral positions, access to new groups of voters or stronger relationships with their constituents, 83% of whom do not trust political parties, as revealed by a recent national survey.
Having worked closely with party members across Venezuela and the region, not all of our problems or solutions are unique to Venezuela. Many of our neighbors facing similar challenges have made substantial progress in empowering women. Drawing on their examples, there are six actions that could significantly improve women’s participation in Venezuelan politics.
One: 50% parity
First, our legislature should adopt a 50% parity mechanism with vertical ranking rules for the distribution of female and male candidates, to ensure equal representation in our legislature and provide for penalties for non-compliance. Previous quotas imposed by the National Electoral Council (CNE) failed in part because they lacked an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance.
Mexico solved this problem by requiring each party to submit a list of candidates before elections, then refusing to register parties if they did not meet the quota. This process has worked wonders, Mexico’s lower house now claims full parity, women rule a quarter of Mexico’s 32 states, and they even outnumber men in local legislatures. The new Chilean government is made up of 14 women and 10 men.
Two: Multiparty Sorority
Second, Venezuelan women must work across party lines, inside and outside parliament, to push for standards that expand women’s representation. To implement a parity law, and even better, to secure more meaningful leadership positions for women, women must harness their collective power.
Mexico’s gender quota, for example, was only passed after women legislators from all political backgrounds joined forces to craft the law. When Mexican parties sought to undermine the effectiveness of the law by placing women candidates in constituencies where they were unlikely to be elected, as has often been the case in Venezuela, women’s coalitions sued them in justice and won.
Another promising example comes from Peru’s Women’s Forum, a coalition of women-led groups that successfully lobbied for a legislated quota with an enforcement mechanism. A similar group in Venezuela, working on the fringes of the National Assembly, could seek to influence legislation for a national quota, as well as an effective enforcement mechanism.
We have experience with this. Tibisay Lucena summoned Evangelina Garcia Prince and myself to draft the CNE parity rule in 2005, and Lucena invited more opposition women to support the rule five years later, which they did.
Three: Reach out to civil society
Third, women in politics must do more to forge alliances with civil society organizations and their male counterparts. In Venezuela, women’s political participation is largely at the local level. We need to leverage these links with civil society, as well as relationships with male party leaders and peer organizations, to build broader public support around gender parity and the meaningful participation of women across the political system. .
In Mexico, female politicians have worked with civil society and their male counterparts to adopt measures favoring the election of women to power. This coalition also included the male leader of the National Action Party (PAN), one of Mexico’s largest political parties, who rallied his party to support the 2007 law with the legislative quota enforcement mechanism. Result: in 2019, there were few or no dissenters to a constitutional reform declaring “parity in everything”. Similarly, key to the success of the Women’s Forum in Peru was working with key activists to gain President Fujimori’s support for a gender quota.
By working simultaneously at the top and at the bottom to meet the quotas set out in the law, Venezuelans can also change the rules within our parties. Some organizations like Women for Democracy in Venezuela (MDV) are already doing this. These initiatives desperately need support to grow and thrive.
At the NGO CAUCE, we invited the women of the parties to question the statutes, without much progress. In Voluntad Popular they have at least a voice and a vote as a sector, but the general rule in the parties is that gender issues are blocked, like many other ongoing reforms, for lack of real democratic debate in the within political organizations. The excuse: we must first recover democracy.
Four: gender analysis
Fourth, Venezuelan parties, and the National Assembly itself, should appoint commissions to provide gender analysis of policies proposed for adoption. El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), for example, has a specific advisory committee that reviews proposed platforms to determine how well they reflect women’s political priorities. A precedent already exists in Venezuela, in the negotiation process in Mexico, where a delegate from each party was selected to provide a gender perspective. This process should trickle down to the National Assembly and within the political parties themselves.
Five: a real plan
Fifth, Venezuela should adopt and implement a national action plan on women, peace and security. A hundred other countries, including Chile, ArgentinaBrazil, MexicoGuatemala and El Salvador have already adopted this type of plan, which helps governments make commitments to women’s empowerment and draw attention to the tools needed to increase meaningful representation.
Six: Real support within the parties
Finally, female political leaders need more resources to compete more effectively in the political arena. This includes access to funding, capacity building opportunities, training and mentoring. In Mexico, 2% of public funding for political parties must go to the training, promotion and development of women’s political leadership. Similar funding in Venezuela could help develop women’s wings within political parties, and also increase the participation and capacity of new members.
The above measures will not necessarily lead to the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in the political landscape. But together, they will help empower women and level the playing field. And in doing so, they will be an important step towards the democratic and inclusive future that Venezuelans aspire to.