Book chapter

Gender, Race, and Political Representation in Latin America (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendant populations remain underrepresented in the national legislatures of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin America. The descriptive (or numeric) representation of marginalized groups in national legislatures matters because legislatures make policy, check the president's authority, and communicate who has full membership in the body politic. The inclusion of women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants in legislatures sends information about the overall depth and quality of the democratic regime. Most legislatures have become more representative of women, primarily due to affirmative action measures designed to raise descriptive representation. As of October 15, 2019, every Latin American country except Guatemala and Venezuela had a statutory quota law for women candidates, resulting in women holding nearly 30% of seats in the region's legislatures. However, such gains have not come without costs, including rising violence against women candidates and elected officials. Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela also use affirmative action to incorporate indigenous peoples into the national legislature, using reserved seats. However, reserved seats typically elect lower proportions of indigenous peoples relative to their population percentage. Afro-descendants face more barriers, as they must largely win legislative elections without the benefit of affirmative action. Afro-descendants remain excluded from formal politics even in Brazil, where the majority of the population self-identifies as black or brown. Indigenous and Afro-descendant women face barriers that emerge from both their gender and their race/ethnicity.