Women & Politics in the Americas
Since the turn of the 21st century, the three largest countries in South America have been governed by a female president: Michelle Bachelet governed Chile from 2006 to 2010; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected to the presidency of Argentina in 2007 and then re-elected for a second term in 2011; and Dilma Rousseff was elected president of Brazil in 2010. The same phenomenon is occurring in Central America, with the election of Laura Chinchilla to the presidency of Costa Rica in 2010. The fact that these women have reached the highest and most visible political office in their respective countries may lead the average observer to conclude that women have reached full political representation and have leveled gender imbalances in political institutions. Is this actually the case? This year-long Policy Research Project (PRP) seeks to answer this broad question by analyzing the extent of women’s engagement in political activities throughout the Americas. For comparative purposes, the analysis breaks up the continent into three specific regions: North America, focusing on the United States, Canada, and Mexico; Central America, with special emphasis on Costa Rica; and South America, concentrating on the experiences of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The primary focus of this research will be on the participation and involvement of women in the Executive branch of government (although the analysis would be incomplete without assessing the presence and representation of women in other branches of government, particularly the Legislative branch). Beyond the presence and role of women in top elected and appointed positions within the national Executive branch, the analysis conducted in this course will be extended to the subnational level by looking at how women fare at the state and local levels. Given the difficulty that women face in breaking the glass ceiling of the highest Executive office at the national level, why is it that it is comparably difficult at the state and local levels? Specifically, within the Executive branch, there are two broad questions we will analyze. First, to what extent has the presence of a female president led to more representation of women in high political office? And second, what are the main policy areas that these female presidents have pursued? Specifically, the research project will analyze whether there have been any policies put in place that are designed to benefit women in particular ways (e.g., in the areas of health, labor, education) and how they fit within the government’s policy scheme as a whole. In a nutshell, do women govern differently? The research conducted in this PRP will follow a mixed methods approach, relying on archival data, content analysis, and key informant interviews.