Women make up only 25% of the candidates in this year`s elections. Sadly, most stand little chance of being elected, and are way down on the ballot paper.
The law says 30% of senate and congress hopefuls must be women, but many complain this is largely irrelevant if these candidates are mere also-rans.
The news is not all doom and gloom, however. Former President Alvaro Uribe`s right-wing Centro Democratico party, has women in 4 of its top 5 senate spots, while the Conservatives have Marta Lucia Ramirez and Polo Democrats Clara Lopez, as their presidential candidates.
Equally, there are high profile candidates in the Alianza Verde like Claudia Lopez (senate), and Angelica Lozano and Angela Robledo (house of representatives).
Despite this, Colombia`s politics remain a largely male preserve.
Now don`t get me wrong, I`m no politically correct ideologue, nor do I subscribe to the “if only women ruled the world…” club. There`s nothing intrinsically better about women rather than men in power.
However, I do think that balance in politics is healthy. Just as there is a problem that Colombia`s political class is overwhelmingly Bogotano and overwhelmingly white and rich, there is also a problem that it is distinctly machista.
Democracy is dependent on pluralism of ideas and ideologies. If it is to be truly representative, democracy must also have space for different genders, different classes, and different races.
What can be done?
Under-representation is an historic problem for Colombianas. Colombia was one of the last countries in the Americas to give women the vote (1957 the first time they could go to the polls), and although for example the law now establishes a quota for ministerial positions, the rate of progress is slow. Just 16 of the 102 senators and 22 of the 166 house representatives are women; 3 governors and just 10% of mayors are female.
Yet although Colombia is often called a machista society, Colombian women are strong – frankly they are often the ones who “wear the trousers”. Make no mistake, this is no Taleban nation; Colombia rightly celebrates womanhood.
It`s not a case then of radically changing society. Yes, attitudes in some are outdated and discriminatory, but the country as a whole is more modern in this respect than it is given credit for.
Perhaps instead of revolutionary change, we`re talking about subtle but real action. The steps to the top are there, we just need to ease the way for women to climb them.
For starters, how about the next president establishes a powerful Minister for Women, a cabinet position with real power? This need not be a quota, but something and someone of substance. Yes there is a position already in place loosely to promote equality, but let`s beef this up, focus it and put a high profile, hard hitter in the role.
How about we also hold the next president to account over the number of women he has in his cabinet. Santos has struggled to fill these positions. If he wins next time, he must do better.
The political parties themselves must take action too. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) almost half of the parties have no women on the board, and none have quotas for internal elections. A quarter also fail to have an “office” for women`s issues, and a third have no working plan to promote engagement with women.
51% of Colombians are women, but just 12% of the nation`s political posts are filled by women. They are a majority but without political representation.
This must change.
Photo, El Colombiano