The importance of equal participation of women in politics, and especially in decision-making positions, is not simply ensured with an equal number of women and men; it’s about cultivating an environment that values women’s perspectives, recognizes women as change-makers and leverages differences to improve democratic governance.
Although many advances in women’s representation have been made in Latin America in the last decade, progress in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has moved at a slower pace. This disparity prompted the questions: what happened in the Caribbean countries? Where are the women?
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In order to analyze this situation, a regional study was undertaken by UNDP in 2013-2014 called «Where are the women? A Study of Women, Politics, Parliaments and Equality in the CARICOM Countries«, to explore the presence of women in decision-making positions in the countries of the Caribbean Community, as well as the link between their presence in politics and institutions (descriptive representation) and the national advances on gender equality (substantive representation).
At the global level, it has been noted that women parliamentarians do indeed have an impact on the legislative process, particularly on legislation related to women’s issues. Experts in gender and public policy argue that greater inclusion of women in political parties and government would place specific interests of women on the political agenda. Introducing women into legislative systems can be a challenge, taking into account the institutionalized barriers they may hamper. It could be overcome by using specific mechanisms; the so-called gender quotas, which requires political parties to nominate a minimum percentage of female candidates, as well as the gender mainstreaming mechanism in political institutions. Both have proven effective results in other regions. Thanks to the quota systems, for instance, women’s representations in Latin American Parliaments have been increased drastically.
However, the mere presence of women in decision-making positions does not ensure a higher political influence. In order to determine women’s power and influence in politics we need to look beyond numbers of women in institutions and should take into account how women work in these institutions and in society as a whole.
Connected to the society aspect, the study also shows some structural impediments that women have to face in the Caribbean countries. Socio-cultural norms, negative stereotypical gender roles, and lack of empowerment, due to financial dependence or domestic responsibilities, for instance. Obstacles that contribute to create still more barriers to their access to decision-making positions or to their interest on political issues.
In light of these findings, this regional analysis is expected to be an important resource for political parties, civil society, women’s organizations and governments to help identify the necessary steps to increase the presence and representation of women in politics and forming strategic alliances to prompt structural and legal reforms that accelerates the equal political participation of women and promote further development in the Caribbean.
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