Elections in Bolivia and Chile signal changes in Latin America: the emergence of women in prominent leadership positions and the leftward shift in political orientation.
More significant than this realignment is the rise of women in a traditionally conservative and somewhat machismo political environment. Michelle Bachelet’s election in Chile—where just a few years ago divorce was illegal and children with single mothers were not accepted at some schools—is the most progressive development in Latin American politics in recent years. Bachelet has promised to make at least half of her Cabinet women to make it more representative of the Chilean people.
The election of a female president is not new in Latin America.
Nicaragua, Panama and Guyana have all had democratically elected female presidents. But Bachelet is the first to be elected off her own political foundation, without the assistance of a husband who came before her.
Bachelet’s election follows a general tendency in Latin America, which has seen a number of women rise to powerful positions in the government. In Argentina Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, wife of President Nestor Carlos Kirchner, recently beat Hilda ‘Chichi’ Duhalde (wife of former president Eduardo Alberto Duhalde) in the race to become the Buenos Aires senator. Buenos Aires is the most politically influential province and contributes more than 40% to the economy. In addition to this, the newly appointed ministers of defence and the economy—both highly politicised positions in Argentina—are both women.
Argentina could have its first democratically elected female president in the not too distant future. And elections in the Andean region are bound to bring women to the helm. Victories down south should bolster the popularity of Lourdes Flores in the forthcoming April elections in Peru.
Lyal White is a lecturer at the University of Cape Town