The Negotiation Table Needs Women and Their Perspectives

We all wish that the Mexico talks put Venezuela back on the path of sustainable and equitable progress. In order to be successful, the political negotiation demands more female representatives and their perspectives

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Venezuelan women are empowered. We have many examples of venezolanas leading the response to the humanitarian crisis locally and are vital advocates for democracy, human rights and the Rule of Law for the nation.

However, the harsh reality is that Venezuelan political women, of all political tendencies and ideologies, continue to have a limited representation in spaces of power.

And I’m not making this up. The data confirms it.

Whereas women are 50% of the Venezuelan population…

  • In 20 years of negotiations between the Chávez and Maduro regimes and the opposition, the opposition was represented by 25 people, all men.
  • If we include the earlier efforts of the Boston Group (2002), there was only one woman from the opposition in 20 years. In contrast, chavismo’s delegation included at least one woman in all its delegations.
  • For the 2019 Barbados and Oslo negotiation processes, there were no women present.
  • If we look at the process of designing public policies for “the morning after” also known as Plan País, in other words, proposals for the period immediately after the democratic transition, only three of the 20 deputies who worked on it were women.
  • The current negotiation process facilitated by Norway is the exception. Perhaps an expected outcome considering Norway serves as a mediator, and their commitment to advocating for women’s empowerment in their foreign policy is evident. The Venezuelan opposition delegation of nine members include a single female negotiator, and another woman as secretary (a role that fits into stereotypical female roles, by the way), and the regime’s delegation includes three out of nine. A total of five out of the 18 people negotiating peace and democracy for Venezuela.

When it comes to political representation in elected office, I reviewed data from 2000, when affirmative action measures started being implemented in Venezuela, and until 2015 (the last time we had an internationally recognized election). During this period, a total of 95 women were elected, versus 568 men. That is, women’s political representation has historically been around 14%, far from what they represent in the population and the electoral roll (50%), and far from the critical mass of 30% that the first quota law sought, or the 50% parity that the regulations subsequently approved by the CNE sought. Even in the case of the last elections recognized as democratic by the international community in 2015, which used the Special Regulation to Guarantee the Rights of Political Participation on an Equal Basis in the Election of Deputies of the National Assembly 2015, the election resulted in the majority of women being elected to alternate positions. And it was only around 16.6%.

This is wrong.

As I’ve argued in an earlier piece for Caracas Chronicles: 

(a) we need more women in Venezuelan politics and a gender perspective in all decisions; (b) we need to strengthen Venezuela’s legislative framework to facilitate the previous point, and (c) we must have women at the table where decisions are made.

In the short term, we must ensure that the presence of the five women in the negotiation process in Mexico doesn’t stay as mere “tokenism” and that their views are mainstreamed in the discussions. Thinking ahead of the terms of a democratic, free and fair election, and with international observation, we must ensure that they agree on an affirmative action measure for that particular election that can ensure 50% representation of women in the lists offered to the electorate. There are many lessons from other countries in the region that we could learn from. And many of us have proposals for that measure (more on the next post!).

Once that election happens, we also need to ensure that the transition government has a parity cabinet: 50%-50% men and women as ministers, vice-ministers, and in executive positions within ministries. Before that happens, we have to start working on that list of potential candidates so that when the moment comes, women are not excluded once again.

Achieving this requires at least two strategies. On one hand, it requires action by Venezuelan men, and especially those in the political game, in the sense that a certain level of men’s “disempowerment” is a precondition for women’s empowerment, as explained by Argentinian psychologist and masculinity expert Luis Bonino. Not that men shouldn’t be represented, but that including more women in decision-making spaces requires men working with us, and opening the spaces that they have historically occupied. 

On the other hand, it also requires the strengthening of “strategic coalitions” composed of female politicians, and our male allies, civil society organizations, academia, the international community and women’s and feminist movements in Venezuela. We’ve had practice on this. In our nation’s history, it was these strategic coalitions led by the Venezuelan women’s movement that managed to push for the reform of the Civil Code in the ‘80s, the Labor Law in the ‘90s, and the incorporation of Article 144 in the Law of Suffrage and Political Participation (LOSPP), which was the first attempt to have a gender quota in Venezuela in 1998. These strategic coalitions have worked because women united for a common cause for women’s equality and representation beyond their party loyalties, inside and outside traditional political channels, and across ideological differences.

I call for activating these types of coalitions to push for women’s views in the negotiation taking place in Mexico (beyond their mere presence), the incorporation of a gender perspective in all agreements that will come out of that process, and for ensuring the adoption of a gender parity law for the elections of the transition to democracy. 

* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.