BOLIVIA: More Women in Parliament, With Their Own Agenda
An unprecedented 28 percent of seats in Bolivia's new parliament will soon be occupied by women. Female lawmakers have already launched a battle for women to serve in half the posts in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
One indication of women's increased influence was the election Tuesday of Ana María Romero to preside the Senate, the first woman in this country's parliamentary history to do so. Re-elected President Evo Morales said it was a step towards gender parity in the powers of government.
The bicameral Plurinational Assembly is the new legislative branch under the constitution that came into force 11 months ago, and replaces the Congress that met for 184 years. The constitution, re-written by a constituent assembly 33 percent of whose members were women, has re-founded the Bolivian state.
Romero, a member of the governing leftwing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), was elected by 35 out of the 36 senators, 10 of whom belong to opposition parties, which shows the consensus of support for this veteran journalist who was formerly Peru's first Ombudsperson (1998-2003), another fact mentioned by Morales.
Lidia Gueiler is the only other woman to have attained leadership in Congress. In 1979 she presided over the lower house, and from 1979 to 1980 she was Bolivia's interim president.
Parliament will have its opening session Friday, when 50-year-old indigenous trade union leader Morales, who has governed since January 2006, will be sworn in for a second term as president.
Even before their official installation, the 46 new women lawmakers have been under pressure from grassroots women activists to adopt an agenda in favour of gender parity, including the goal of women holding half the positions in the branches of government, and a series of bills to improve women's lot.
Bolivian women have formed more than 200 organisations that belong to the non-governmental Coordinadora de la Mujer, and are proposing a package of draft laws drawn up by trade unions, campesino (small farmer) and feminist organisations, which the 33 women lawmakers belonging to MAS have already promised to support in parliament.
The other 13 women in parliament were elected by three opposition parties. There are 166 parliamentary seats, of which 115 were won by MAS. The senate has 36 members and the lower house 130, of whom half (65) are elected by direct personal vote, and the remainder from party lists of candidates.
The total number of women in the new parliament will be twice that in the last legislature of the old Congress, which had only 22 women members, equivalent to 14 percent of its 157 seats. Bolivia has a population of 10.4 million, half of whom identify themselves as indigenous people, and 33.5 percent live in rural areas.