March 27, 2014
How much progress have we made? An analysis of women's political participation in subnational governments in Latin America and the Caribbean
In recent decades, subnational politics have taken on particular relevance in the process of expanding citizens’ rights. In large part this is due to the fact that the Central State has been transferring administrative and management responsibilities to subnational government entities such as departments, regions, provinces, municipalities, counties, and parishes. As an illustrative example, there is a growing role of subnational governments in the implementation of social policies. Similarly, in some countries there has been an increase in the number of elected subnational positions and modifications in electoral regulations to expand access. As a consequence of these changes, political parties have reevaluated subnational political competition, as it can be a bridge for future national projection. Indeed in many circumstances, when political parties are elected for subnational executive power it can constitute a kind of laboratory experience for future presidential runs. At the same time, various social and political movements associated with new social, cultural and environmental rights have been born linked to local issues and with significant territorial imprint.
From the perspective of gender justice and in light of these transformations, the structure and functioning of subnational government is of paramount interest in particular because reforms which favor subnational governments could promote conditions of greater equality between men and women. It is presumed that government structures closer to the citizens, managed in light of renewed forms of participation and accountability (participatory budgeting, citizen public hearings, social audits) would be more capable of building state structures and policies which facilitate gender equality. In political theory the municipality, in particular, is “a school for democracy” (Vázquez García, 2010). From these ideas, the concept of governments of proximity would suggest that political processes accommodating local actors could renew the democratic networks and alliances between the State and the society at large, opening up opportunities for new civic audiences. These governments of proximity, consistent with participative and horizontal management structures, would be more receptive to the expressions and demands of citizens traditionally blocked by more hierarchical and centralized state structures and criticized in the democratic and development literature of the region.