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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 12: Lessons from Women’s Political Participation

6 Sep 2004

  • Author(s): Cecilia Blondet

Available in Spanish and titled “Lecciones de la participación política de las mujeres”.

Under the Fujimori undemocratic regime, many women served in senior positions. They contributed to legislation on domestic violence; promulgation of the electoral quotas law designed to ensure women’s participation in politics; development of reproductive health programmes; and promotion of credit, training and employment for low-income women. Hence, despite the prevailing authoritarianism, Peruvian women seemed to have secured their status as full citizens at last.

Illiteracy, however, primarily a problem for women and the indigenous population, continues to affect more than 25 per cent of rural women today. The manipulation of statistics by a government intent on total control concealed the lack of development and persistent poverty of a major segment of women in the country.

In this context, the author argues that Peru can be viewed as a laboratory for addressing a series of questions and debates on the growing participation of women in decision-making processes. Is the emergence of women in public life effective in promoting the rights of women and in making gender issues part of the national political agenda? Is the mere presence of women desirable, even when they are primarily responding to the interests of an authoritarian regime? Do women constitute a discrete social group that can be represented as such? To what extent can “women’s interests” supersede ethnic, political, economic and social differences?

The author finds that the interests of the president overlapped with those of major segments of Peruvian women. In addition to the women leaders, women from the poorest sectors were also willing to support the president as long as they were given assurances on issues such as food aid, clothing and schools, and as long as more general concerns about authority, order and the stability of the country were addressed—issues highlighted in governmental propaganda by the slogan “Peru—country with a future” as vital to their children’s future.

Cecilia Blondet is a historian and former Director of the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Peru.

Order PPDGHR 12 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).