The level of women’s participation in Venezuelan politics is discouraging. Although the recent political conflict, electoral distrust, the prolonged economic, humanitarian and migration crises limit women’s participation in politics, they don’t tell the whole story on women’s exclusion from Venezuelan politics.
In reality, internal political structures and leadership roles remain dominated by men, especially within Venezuela’s most relevant political parties and institutions. Of the fifteen permanent commissions in the 2015 National Assembly—the only de jure legislature in Venezuela led by the caretaker government presided by Juan Guaidó—only two are led by women. Women are excluded from decision-making in high-profile policy areas like energy and the economy.
A pervading culture of machismo, lack of resources, exclusion from existing networks, and non-political duties contribute to women’s under-representation in political leadership positions. Excluding women hurts women, men, and Venezuelan parties themselves. Parties benefit from including women, whether through more representative electoral positions, access to new voter groups, or stronger relationships with their constituents, 83% of which don’t trust political parties, as a recent national poll found.
Having worked closely with party members across Venezuela and the region, neither all of our problems nor solutions are unique to Venezuela. Many of our neighbors experiencing similar challenges have made substantial progress in empowering women. Building on their examples, there are six actions that could significantly enhance women’s participation in Venezuelan politics.
One: 50% Parity
First, our legislature should adopt a 50% parity mechanism with vertical rank-order rules for the distribution of female and male candidates, to ensure equal representation in our legislature, and ascertain penalization for non-compliance. Past quotas mandated by the National Electoral Council (CNE) have been unsuccessful partly because they lacked an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance.
Mexico addressed this problem by demanding that each party submit a candidate list prior to elections, and subsequently refusing to register parties if they failed to comply with the quota. That process has worked wonders, Mexico’s lower house today boasts full parity, women lead a quarter of Mexico’s 32 states, and they even outnumber men in local legislatures. Chile’s new cabinet is made of 14 women and 10 men.
Two: Multipartisan Sorority
Second, Venezuelan women need to work across party lines—both inside and outside parliament—to push for norms expanding women’s representation. To implement a parity law, and better yet, to secure more meaningful leadership positions for women, women need to harness their collective power.
Mexico’s gender quota, for example, was only adopted after female legislators across the political spectrum joined forces to develop the law. When Mexican parties sought to undercut the law’s efficacy by placing women candidates in districts where they were unlikely to be elected, as has often been the case in Venezuela, women’s coalitions sued them—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 margins of the National Assembly, could seek to influence legislation for a national quota, as well as an effective enforcement mechanism.
We have experience on this. Tibisay Lucena summoned Evangelina Garcia Prince and myself to write the CNE parity rule in 2005, and Lucena invited more women from the opposition to support the rule five years later, which they did.
Three: Reach Out to Civil Society
Third, women in politics must do more to build alliances with civil society organizations and their male counterparts. In Venezuela, the political participation of women happens largely at a grassroots level. We must leverage these links with civil society, as well as relationships with male party leaders and peer organizations, to create broader public support around parity and the meaningful participation of women throughout the political system.
In Mexico, female politicians worked with civil society and male counterparts to enact measures increasing electing women into office. 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 enforcement mechanism for the legislative quota. The result: in 2019, there were few to no dissenters to a constitutional reform declaring “parity in everything.” Similarly, the key to success for the Women’s Forum in Peru was working with key activists to gain the support of President Fujimori for a gender quota.
By working simultaneously at the top and grassroots levels to achieve legislated quotas, Venezuelans can change the rules within our parties, too. 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’ve been inviting women in the parties to question the statutes, with little progress. At Voluntad Popular, they at least have a voice and a vote as a sector, but the general rule in the parties is that gender issues are blocked, like many other pending reforms, by lack of true democratic debate within the political organizations. The excuse: we need to recover democracy first.
Four: Gender Analysis
Fourth, Venezuelan parties, and the National Assembly itself, should appoint committees dedicated to providing a gender analysis of policies put forward for adoption. El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), for example, has a specific advisory committee that reviews proposed platforms for how they reflect women’s political priorities. A precedent already exists in Venezuela, in the negotiation process in Mexico, where a delegate from each party has been selected to provide a gender focus. This process must 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. Around 100 other countries, including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, have already adopted this type of plan, which helps governments establish 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 greater resources to compete more effectively on the political stage. This includes access to financing, capacity-building opportunities, training and mentorship. In Mexico, 2% of public funding for political parties must go to training, promoting, and developing 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 female members.
The measures above won’t necessarily lead to the full, equal and meaningful participation of women across the political landscape. But together, they’ll help empower women and level the playing field. And in so doing, they’ll be an important step towards the inclusive, democratic future that Venezuelans aspire to.
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