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"Implementation of Summit Agreements on Women’s Rights"


Presentation by Joan Caivano, Inter-American Dialogue

Before the OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management

September 19, 2000



First, I would like to thank Amb. Boehm for the opportunity to address this Special Committee on behalf of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Women’s Leadership Conference of the Americas (WLCA)––the hemispheric network of women leaders we co-sponsor with the International Center for Research on Women. I want to open my remarks on a positive note. International agreements like the Summit of the Americas have helped create a favorable climate for policy advances on women’s rights. In order to give the Committee a sense of what can be accomplished and to offer models to emulate, I will first briefly applaud those areas where governments have made great progress.


  1. Violence against Women.
  2. A great deal has been accomplished to combat domestic violence, such as the creation of women’s police stations, battered women’s shelters, the recognition of marital rape, the introduction of new laws and legal devices like restraining orders, and the creation of programs by governments and NGOs to increase women’s awareness of their rights and their legal options.

    These gains can be attributed to the diffusion of international norms on women’s human rights, such as the 1994 Inter-American Convention on Violence against Women, and the efforts of women’s movements to educate the public and leaders on the problems of violence.


  3. Women’s participation in national decision making.

In some countries, the number of women in positions of power increased dramatically in the 1990s. In Chile, for example, President Ricardo Lagos appointed five women to his cabinet of 16 ministers (bringing women’s presence to 31 percent). In Costa Rica, five of 17 ministers (or 30 percent) are women. In Colombia, El Salvador, and Panama, women make up one-quarter of cabinet members.

Women’s representation in national parliaments has also expanded in recent elections throughout the region. In Argentina, women’s presence in the Chamber of Deputies, at 27 percent (compared to 6% in 1991), is the highest in the Latin American region. In Peru, women’s representation jumped from 11 to 22 percent. In Ecuador’s Congress, women’s presence increased from four to 17 percent, and in Costa Rica, from 14 to 19 percent. Women topped political party lists in national elections in several countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, and Costa Rica.

Finally, between 1991 and 2000, twelve Latin American countries adopted quota laws establishing a minimum level of 20 to 40 percent for women’s participation as candidates in national elections. Countries with quotas include: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

Several factors explain these gains in women’s leadership: 1) international agreements such as the Summit of the Americas and the Beijing Conference; 2) demonstration effects produced by the successful use of quotas, for example in Argentina; 3) the desire of political leaders to gain women’s votes; and 4) the efforts of women’s movements.


So, what are the remaining challenges that confront governments?

  1. Party structures and the male culture of power still block women from wielding actual political power, even though larger numbers of women nominally hold public office.
  2. Conservative attitudes and the influence of the Catholic Church prevent some countries from introducing effective sex education in schools and distributing contraceptives to combat teen pregnancy and high rates of illegal abortions.
  3. A large gap remains between the spirit of gender equitable laws and policies and their actual implementation. For example, political parties in some countries fail to comply with national quota laws. Women’s police stations are under-funded and understaffed. Judges are reluctant to use tools granted under new domestic violence legislation to protect women victims. Projects intended for poor women such as daycare services and literacy drives have uneven coverage and are often used to reward ruling party supporters.


1. Many recent policy measures are rapid responses to commitments made by governments at the international level. But this quick action lacks serious commitment of the institutional and procedural changes necessary to carry out the new initiatives. Quotas, for example, will only work if accompanied by electoral reform.

2. In the spirit of "connectivity", I would submit that progress on women’s rights is linked to advances in democratic governance and social equity. Poor governance––from institutional failure, to inadequate law enforcement, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of accountability––undermines the implementation of new laws and policies designed to improve women’s lives. Secondly, Latin America’s dramatic social inequalities perpetuate the gaps in capabilities and opportunities among women. Until these problems of governance and equity are resolved, today’s gains in women’s status will benefit primarily the already privileged, and fresh policy measures will exist in name only.

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