Womens Leadership Training Program: Paraguay IFES Final Activity Report

Publication Date: 
28 Jan 2002

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

With reprogrammed funding redirected from a previously approved Panama program from USAID, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) undertook an extensive three-month project coordinating with the League of Women Voters (LWV) on conducting Workshops to be presented to Paraguayan Women Leaders. From September through November 2001, IFES' goal was to implement the IFES/LWV workshops and to help develop the practical leadership skills and to prepare these women leaders for the November 2001 municipal elections on all levels: as voters, campaign workers, constituency organizers, issues advocate and candidates.

BACKGROUND In Paraguay, as in other countries around the region, women's access to positions of political power continues to be limited by cultural traditions and institutional practices in which men dominate the public sphere and to which women are discouraged from participating. The barriers to women generally include a lack of family or societal support for women to take part in public life or politics; few role models for women in public life who can provide mentoring for women rising in the ranks after them; and a lack of motivation and/or training on the part of women to prepare them to take on these roles.

Despite these barriers, cultural and societal attitudes have begun to shift in the past decade. Latin American women's access to participation in political and public life is gradually improving due in large part to the efforts of women who have become active in the political and social sphere. This improved access has resulted in an increase in women's participation in these spheres. During this time, the Paraguayan women's civil rights movement has made significant achievements. Since the transition to democracy in 1989, women have become increasingly active in community and political organizations. Several political parties have instituted mechanisms specifically to increase women's participation. By 1991, many political parties had adopted quota systems that resulted in a slight increase in the number of women elected to public office. Additionally, the topic of women's political participation has become more prominent in public debate and in political campaigns.

However, women remain significantly under-represented in decision-making positions in government and political parties, as well as in grassroots community organizations. For example, women hold only 9.7 percent of high-level positions within civic institutions such as professional associations, labor unions, and agrarian organizations. Within political parties represented in Congress, even though women make up 51 percent of party membership, women hold only 10.7 percent of top decision-making positions. Furthermore, political parties choose their candidates largely through back-room deals among insiders, where few women are represented.

Women's representation within government is similarly deficient. Only 2.5 percent of members of the Chamber of Deputies are women, this represents the lowest rate in the Americas. At the Departmental level, women comprise only 10 percent of members of governing councils. At the level of local government, during 1996-2001, women comprised only 2.7 percent of elected mayors and 15 percent of city council members. Women hold no governorships in Paraguay.

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