Colombia shatters glass ceiling with gender-equal cabinet

BOGOTA,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Half of Colombia’s cabinet ministers will be women when the new government takes office next month in a first for the country and a boost for global gender equality.

Keeping to his campaign promise, conservative president-elect Ivan Duque, who takes over on August 7, has appointed equal numbers of men and women to his 16-strong cabinet.

“It is important that the Colombian woman assumes leadership positions. Colombia will have for the first time a female minister of the interior,” Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, tweeted earlier this month.

Women will also head other ministries with political clout, including the ministries of justice and energy, while Marta Lucia Ramirez will be Colombia’s first female vice president.

“This is very important in symbolic terms and it represents a cultural change. It will be difficult for future governments to go back on this and not continue with gender parity,” said Beatriz Quintero, who heads the National Women’s Network, which brings together more than a hundred rights groups in Colombia.

“A girl can now see a woman vice president and say, ‘I want to be vice-president or president one day,’” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Globally, women on average accounted for 23.4 percent of all parliamentarians in 2017, with the highest numbers found in Nordic countries and the lowest in Arab and Pacific island states, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the international organisation of parliaments.

The country with the most women in its lower house is Rwanda, where women hold 61.3 percent of seats, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico, the IPU says.

While there is no proof that women in leadership do more to advance women’s rights than men, it can make a difference. Experts say they can boost the profile of often-overlooked issues, such as violence against women and the gender pay gap.

More women in leadership also drives economic growth, the United Nations says, and ensuring women’s equal participation in politics by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s global goals.

In Colombia and across Latin America, important strides have been made to include more women in politics in recent years.

Voluntary or mandatory schemes – be it reserving seats for women candidates to parties setting their own gender quotas – have allowed for more women lawmakers.

Latin America has also seen a generation of female head of states from Brazil to Chile and Costa Rica.

But far less progress has been made at the local level, and especially among women from black and indigenous communities.

In Colombia less than 15 percent of mayors are women, while only one in every five parliamentarians are women.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the region’s rights body, called on member states this week to adopt measures, including affirmative action, to boost the political participation of women from ethnic minorities.

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