María José Lubertino Beltrán
Strategies Used by Women for Gaining More Political Power in Argentina

The way in which the world is going to change and how the international equilibrium will be shaped will depend to a large extent on what happens in Eastern Europe. But it will also depend on other regions of this planet where just as far-reaching changes have taken place. This is the case in Latin America: it is enormous in terms of population, territory, natural resources and raw materials. It is characterized by sharp contradictions - misery, illiteracy, drug-trafficking, pollution - but, at the same time, the continent has been experiencing economic and political developments in recent years that have restructured the profile of the continent. Especially at the political level, deep changes have taken place. At the beginning of the 80s, eight out of ten countries on the continent - among them Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay - and almost 90% of the population, were living under military regimes.

Today, military dictatorships no longer exist in any of these countries and each one is on its way towards democratic transition. There can be no doubt about the fragility of these democracies that are exposed to many risks, with explosive demographic, economic and social contradictions and that are generally led by ruling classes that were educated and grew up under the old regimes.

One thing, however, is certain: gradually, an awareness is growing, not only in all strata of Latin-American society, but also in political circles in Washington, that it is only possible in a democracy to deal with the contradictions not only left unresolved, but even aggravated by dictatorships. In the context of this new political direction, an analogous, far-reaching process of economic and financial restructuring has been initiated with the objective of containing inflation, of reducing the external debt, of stimulating foreign investments in Latin America and of starting a "process of modernization".

The ruling governments are trying to achieve these objectives by applying the severe and detested guiding rules of neo-liberalism. In Argentina, the dramatic reduction in the annual rate of inflation - from November until today to a monthly 1.6% - was achieved by extremely severe measures: a 50% reduction in social expenditure (education, health, social security); a 16-year consolidation of government securities (a real "confiscation" of middle-class savings); freezing of wages and drastic reduction of all types of aid; unlimited opening for foreign capital without the appropriate framework of regulations and privatization of the principal service enterprises, which nevertheless keep their monopoly position. Similar processes have taken, or are taking place, in Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. In this context, the objective of this study is to comment on the ideas and experiences of feminist women from the beginning of the democratic transition up to the adoption of the "quota regulation" as an approved mechanism to open the way for women to enter into public office. These experiences have developed together with the strategic conviction that a larger presence of women is of basic importance to the process of democratization expanding the limits of the system and representing an opportunity for a new discussion of economic modernization with a more human face.

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Women Demand Positions of Influence: The Case of the Political Party "Unión Civica Radical"

Since 1983, a process of raising consciousness with respect to the nature, organization and joint struggle of radical woman has taken place. The aim is to participate in the decision-making sectors of society. This phenomenon runs parallel to the growing "women's movement" in Argentina since the beginning of the democratic opening.

In the Unión Civica Radical (UCR), this evolution can be divided into three phases. The first one, from 1983 to 1987, with its initial attempts to create a special place for women, is characterized by the mobilization of women, especially in pre-election periods. At that stage, no alternative ideas concerning women's issues had been worked out and the demands were confined to the "private" sector (family, health, leisure, education, culture etc.).

The second, much shorter phase was from 1988 until the middle of 1989. It was determined by the collective perception of discrimination, a growing consciousness of being a woman, the contact with other women's organizations, conceptual differences between the "old" and the "new" discussion and the construction of an organization with its inherent power conflicts.

The third phase, which was even shorter, comprised the period from 1989 until today. In this phase, the acceleration in the rate of change became evident. Nearly all women with representative offices or with some influence of their own were incorporated in this process, regardless of internal policies. The "male" way of policy making, which we ourselves are pursuing - was questioned. We tried to reach the different groups of women, beyond their political or strategic differences in approaching the issue, we agreed upon strategies, tactics and actions and brought the discussion out onto the street.

What we would like to point out as a historical milestone in that process is, on the one hand, the "collectivization" of consciousness-raising and, thus, of actions, whereas before there were only processes of raising consciousness of individuals and scattered actions.

On the other hand, the permeability and exchange of views with other women's groups, whether with the "feminist movement" or with the "women's movement" and the identification of common interests with other women in politics with respect to specific women's issues is of vital importance. The progress achieved seems to be irreversible. However, the further development of this progress will depend on the maturity and coherence of women's action.

Within the framework of the third phase, in the strategic area the discussion began on the "quota system" and whether it would be accepted by the majority of women, and, in the ideological area, on the "demythologized" adoption of feminism by most women. Finally on 6 Nov. 1991 the Chamber of Deputies adopted a law concerning the quota system, following tremendous pressure from women's groups in particular Red Latinoamericana de Feministas Politicas. In any case, even though we are well aware that it is only one of the first steps, we have to keep a watchful eye on the actual application of the law.

This year on June 28th, the first national elections in which the quota regulation was applicable were held and the electoral lists of all parties complied with the new regulation. However, as these elections were senatorial elections for the Federal Capital, the offices concerned were honorary, because they were for delegates. Early next year, elections will be held to vote for offices with real political power and we shall see what happens then. In any event, the majority of women will have to decide whether the lists are to be contested if the quota regulation is not complied with.

On a party level, the National Assembly which met this year, was a constituent assembly and elected the new office-holders characterizing the changed political landscape of the country. The new president is supporting our claim and, in a vote by acclamation, the general assembly approved a declaration on this issue. However, an amendment of the Charter is not scheduled before the end of the year. Nevertheless, the women of San Juan achieved the reform of their status at provincial level by establishing an obligatory quota of 33% of women for all electoral and party offices. In the Federal Capital and in other districts of the country, similar reform projects are underway.

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The "Quota Regulation" and its Reasons

We want to point out the following achievements which played a decisive role in the beginning of the project and in accelerating its progress towards the realization of our aims concerning the political participation of women:

a) "feminization" of women in politics

b) contact to comparative experiences

c) association of women in politics coming from different parties

d) massive mobilization of the women's movement

e) understanding of the problem, political vision of the future or information campaigns of men in politics.

The historical moment when the required conditions for this debate were created was the return to democracy in 1983. Not only because of the return to normal functioning of institutions and therefore, the absolutely essential functioning of the political parties, but because of the atmosphere of community which was starting to gain a hold in everyday life in these years and because of the role of women during the fight against dictatorship and the return to democracy, which led to an actual participation of women in political parties, hitherto unknown on such a scale.

Moreover, democracy provided the necessary basis for contact and relationships between women in politics on a national and international level, for establishing contacts between women of other social organizations and different cultural sectors and for a collective mobilization to achieve their common objectives.

Regardless of this progress and irrespective of individual cases, there was a qualitative change in political women as a group: their "feminization", which allowed them to achieve a sense of consciousness of being women over and above their different ideological and political beliefs. This joint sense of consciousness laid the foundation for realization of the extent of discrimination against them and led to an intensive analysis of the reasons for it and possibilities for their elimination. This was the motivation for them to show their numbers and their real importance. They became aware that they had no voice in places where critical decisions are taken. So they changed their manner of speaking, the subject matter under discussion and started using new practical methods.

This process of "feminization" of women in politics did not start automatically with the democratic opening, but as a result of later contacts with Argentinian feminists and political women from Europe and from other Latin American countries. As a result of the initial representation crisis of the political parties, this process accelerated and we began to reflect on the issue of power, to which feminist theory can contribute interesting analytical elements.

The "feminization" of women in politics must not be idealized. This process does not yet include all women in the political arena. Moreover, it is neither a homogeneous phenomenon nor is it complete (if it can ever be completed). In spite of this, a sufficient number of women are involved and with sufficient weight to render them an entity. However, it has to be continually strengthened to increase the number of women with feminist consciousness, which boosts our potential for change and for perfecting our new political practices in coherence with our ideas.

In this framework, the approval of the quota regulation has to be considered as a necessary instrument for the acceleration of cultural change, but in itself, although it has opened the way to other, more fundamental discussions, it is not enough to act as a banner under which all political women can unite and as a "spearhead" for penetrating the patriarchal system due to one important weak point: the important thing, which of course is very obvious, but not easy to achieve, is to recognize and respect differences and to live with them for mutual benefit, to redefine the areas of "public" and "private" and to return the ethical dimension to politics; finally, to extend the boundaries of democracy.

As a counterpart to change in the work of women in politics, when their ideas became apparent and their demands concrete and made public, the male reactions were neither simultaneous nor homogeneous. The crucial point is to question the distribution of the areas of power; there were no gracious concessions; especially, if it is not possible to show that adaptation also has implications for the recovery of ground lost or historically exclusively assigned to women, which they do not view as an advantage, as these areas continue to be culturally excluded from the hierarchy.

Nowadays, the places for political decisions have withdrawn tending to move out of sight of representative procedures and escaping from the participation of the people. An attempt has been started to reduce political issues, impoverishing and restricting the role of politics to a confrontation of only a few interests. The essential characteristic of the political cycle in the United States of America, in Europe and also in Latin America is neoconservatism. Together with its negative impact on the achievements of the working class and the hopes of progress in the Third World, this process has increased social inequalities. It has banished women to marginal areas which are growing greater and greater and has strengthened the machismo or its comeback in those countries where it seemed to have been defeated.

Our different gender has been utilized to emphasize sexual division into social roles. It is no accident that in the United States of America as well as in Europe, essential laws such as the regulation concerning the voluntary interruption of pregnancy or sexual abuse are attacked and deprived of their significance.

This neoconservative politics, however, is nowadays exposed to deep contradictions determined among other things by the fact that the changes in the feminine identity at work and in the area of procreation require concrete alternatives. Neoconservative politics can and must be restricted and defeated. We have to oppose it from the start. This demands a process of transformation. We believe that our presence as women in this fight is essential for an equitable growth process with a new quality, because it is characterized by our identity. To this end, too, we emphasize the necessity and urgency of converting the individual and social strength of women into a political strength, thus confirming the alliance of women and their visible presence in society and in politics.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek

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