WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mrs. Loretta Butler-Turner, Bahamas Member of Parliament for Long Island, was among the participants in a roundtable discussion organized by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in the OAS Hall of the Americas, 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., on Monday, February 23, 2015.
Titled “Political Violence Against Women: A Hemispheric Challenge,” the roundtable discussion was part of the activities commemorating Women’s Day of the Americas, held on February 18, and International Women’s Day, on March 8.
The event was inaugurated by the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza; the Minister of Women of Costa Rica and Chair of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Alejandra Mora; the OAS Secretary for Multidimensional Security (SMS), Adam Blackwell; and the Alternate Representative of the Permanent Mission of Canada to the OAS, Brett Alexander Maitland. At the conclusion of the event, the Executive Secretary of the CIM, Carmen Moreno, described the meeting as “a way to rethink and deepen the quality of democracies.”
The CIM official recalled that, in the present and in the future, the debate should begin with the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women the Convention of Belém do Pará, the key document in the region in terms of gender equality. Ambassador Moreno added that “we must start from the conviction that we have heard throughout the day important approaches to the rights of women, the rights of each and every one of us, and how this is linked to discrimination, democracy, inclusion and participation,” which in her opinion is a contribution to the subject of the event.”
The first panel of the day, entitled “Political Violence Against Women: From Impunity to Law, from Law to Implementation,” was moderated by the technical secretary of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI) Luz Patricia Mejía. The discussion focused on reviewing the regional reality regarding different legislative initiatives to ensure the participation of women in politics, including the prevention and punishment of actions that restrict such participation.
In this context, the president of the Chamber of Deputies of Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño, recalled that the South American country became in 2012 the first to have a specific law against political violence against women. This law, she said, along with other public policies, such as the law on the electoral regime, created conditions of parity at all levels of government.
On the experience of her country, Deputy Montaño said “it is not possible to generate these legislative initiatives without political will,” and said she herself is a result of this will, which has also ensured the political participation of representatives of indigenous peoples. Finally, she said it is not possible “to advance toward this type of legislation when there are no women committed to the rights agenda in decision making positions.”
In the view of Mexican Senator Lucero Saldaña, member of the Commission for Gender Equality of her country, the issue of political violence against women includes actions and omissions and also a security aspect. “Women seek peace, we want to be in the process of reconciliation, we want to be in public affairs, we do not exclude ourselves by nature or because we are biologically domestic,” she said.
In her presentation, she recalled that the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25, commemorates the murder of the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic who were murdered in 1960 for their opposition to the regime of Rafael Trujillo. “If this results in an international day, I think one of the challenges we have is to make awareness campaigns in the media so that this year we raise awareness that this is a real issue and to work for its prevention, with the commitment of institutions and governments,” she said.
Susana Villarán, former Mayor of Lima, Peru, and President of the National Network of Women Authorities (RENAMA), recounted her personal experience as the first woman to hold the municipal seat of the Peruvian capital, saying that from the first moment she began to be harassed politically
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. As an example, she mentioned that her predecessor, during his eight years as Mayor of Lima, was called eight times to Congress, accountable to different committees. She, however, was cited 88 times in four years to comply with the same duty.
She said that she did not tell her story to portray herself as a victim: “this is telling the truth. When women enter into the male preserve of the exercise of political power, whether by election or designation, in that moment comes a process of ‘disciplining’ of us women, we arrive to a party to which we were not invited.” For this reason, the former Mayor felt that having a law to punish political violence against women is important, but not sufficient to guarantee the rights of participation.
Mexican Senator Angelica de la Peña, Secretary of the Commission for Gender Equality, highlighted the progress that has been made in her country with the constitutional provision requiring political parties to nominate at least fifty percent female candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and state legislatures.
“The law is not everything, but it is an essential step for us to be recognized as full subjects of all our rights, on equal terms with men. We are disputing not only the political power, but the power to be fully included in decision making,” she said. “We are building a human equivalence that does not exist, therefore we should not be amazed by all the obstacles we are facing,” she added.
For her part, Morena Herrera, an expert on women’s rights in El Salvador, said that a law to eliminate political violence against women should include cultural and structural fields, which deals with the people and instances that apply the law. For this reason, she considered it essential to strengthen alliances between women in public office and women’s movements and feminists.
“The party system has been legitimized on the basis of blackmail and the silence of women. While the problem is experienced individually, it is a structural problem, and in that sense an act of denunciation does not victimize those who make a complaint, but is an act of individual and collective empowerment,” she concluded.
The second panel of the round table was titled “The role of political parties in addressing political violence against women,” and was moderated by the Deputy Minister of Human Rights of the Interior Ministry of Mexico, Lía Limón.
The Magistrate of the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary of Mexico, Maria del Carmen Alanis, said that to achieve the full exercise of political rights of women there must be synergies between the three branches of government, the executive, legislative and judicial. In this regard, she said the authorities have to function democratically and with the recognition of the political rights of women, because “a judicial system is useless if there is no access to justice,” and “it is useless to discuss the issue of women if the judges are not prepared to judge the facts with a gender perspective.”
Magistrate Alanis urged those present to participate in the internal affairs of political parties, “because that’s the big change that we need.” According to the Mexican magistrate, women must fight to ensure that different social groups are represented in the party structures, and for women, she also said it is important not only ensure they are elected, but also that that they permanently occupy the positions for which they were elected.
Member of Parliament and Former Deputy Political Leader of the Free National Movement Party (FMN) of Bahamas, Loretta Butler-Turner, said in her country “women are vastly underrepresented” and that in political life, when women are not physically attacked to be marginalized, they are often intimidated. “We need more participation of women in the political life of The Bahamas, both nationally and locally,” she said.
Mrs. Butler-Turner said that the roundtable organized by the CIM is an enriching experience, but she wondered how to convey everything learned in the debate to the local communities where gender violence is an issue. In this sense, the Caribbean congresswoman said it is essential that women participate directly in politics so they can understand what is happening and will be able to put an end to political violence against women.
For her part, the former Senator and former Colombian Minister Cecilia López said that “the big brake” for the growth of women are political parties, and said the phenomenon “is more severe at the sub-national level.” The former legislator said the low participation of women in politics is due to the crisis of the parties, and that in the region there are many populist regimes in which, when quotas are established to increase the participation of women, “men put their family or their loved ones.”
Lopez said it is “regrettable” that after the breakthrough that women achieved in the twentieth Century, in the twenty-first century they “are stuck.” The underlying theme regarding the political participation of women, she added, is that “it is a fight for power, economic power and political power.”
The former Deputy and Leader of “Movimiento Winaq” Party of Guatemala, Otilia Lux de Cotí, said women are making their way to seek justice and equity. “When you talk about political violence, it should be clear that use it is illegitimate, counterproductive, undemocratic and a crime,” she said.
Lux de Cotí said the problems affecting Latin America are structural because they are the product of patriarchal models, and said it is imperative to give more visibility to “all the problems and the situation of women’s lives.” She also urged political parties to internally apply the same rules that govern democracy in general. “We want to see in the democratization of the parties the commitment to equality,” she added.
The Member of Ecuadorian Parliament, Paola Pabón, said that in her country women have conquered important spaces in the struggle to assert their rights, and by way of example she said that more than 46 percent seats in Congress are occupied by women. However, when analyzing the regional situation, she said that political parties have become purely electoral machines, and “therefore need to be renewed.”
Deputy Pabón said it is important that women occupy the leadership of political parties, noting that at present “the structures of political parties at the national and local level are still completely masculinized.”
The Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Political Leader of the United Workers Party (UWP) of Saint Lucia, Gale Rigobert, said there is a semantic problem in denouncing political violence against women, because it is very difficult to analyze the issue without seeming concerned about victimization. The opposite effect, she said, is that there is violence imposed by silence that ignores the problems faced by women.
The UWP leader said through political dialogue must be used to motivate political parties to “do the right thing,” and “that is to have more women candidates.” She also called for maintaining the fight for women’s rights, adding “I pray for the day we will not have to organize such round tables,” saying that when that day is reached, there will be equality in the political systems of the region.
In the closing of the event, Susana Chiarotti, from the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (CEVI/MESECVI) said the Convention “has an appropriate framework to advance the identification of the different forms of violence, including all manifestations that occur in political violence.”
She also recognized that “there was never, neither in the era of slavery, nor during the fight for labor rights, a revolutionary movement that had representatives in all countries” where “we find women and men who want equality between the sexes.”
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.