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Let’s take our seat at the table: Puerto Rico’s elections are another first step for gender parity in the world

A word from our Campaign Manager, Laura, on the importance of achieving gender parity now and an outlook on current politics:

"Women really do bring a new element to decision-making: they listen to experts. In this crisis, we have amazing women leading the struggle across the political spectrum, such as Jacinda Ardern or Angela Merkel." said Australian Senator Hanson-Young, during a virtual event in front of hundreds of activists from all across the globe.  

While this has largely been backed up by data, today, women make up only 24% of members of national legislative bodies and only 4 countries have at least 50% of women in the national legislature. These are disastrous numbers that are completely unacceptable when tools exist to ensure parity: from giving equal access to resources to training, zipper systems, quotas, the list of measures to rectify this is endless. 

Amid COVID-19, it has become clearer than ever that parity is not only an idea that should be achieved, but that it leads to better results. Indeed, countries led by female leaders are dealing with the crisis better and getting out of it quicker. While women do not make better leaders just because of their gender, they generally have to be better to become leaders. “Women are rarely able to fail up in the way men can; you have to be twice as good as a man to be taken half as seriously. You have to work twice as hardexplained Arwa Mahdawi.

With elections looming in Puerto Rico, the question of who will be leading the countries is more important than ever. Indeed, following Hurricane Maria in 2017, the country faced two devastating earthquakes, leaving Puerto Ricans to live with the physical and psychological damages left by too many natural disasters, and not enough help. Now, COVID-19 is penetrating the island: to this day, there have been 26,006 cases and 355 deaths

In light of such struggles, Puerto Ricans have risen to the challenge. Women, who were the ones to be worse affected by the Hurricane, came together to rebuild Puerto Rican homes, restore farms, install solar power grids and seek to transform the local economy.  Yet, to truly move beyond those crises, it will be key for women to be represented and co-lead the way toward a better future. In Puerto Rico’s reconstruction, half of the population cannot be left behind. Indeed, although women make up 53% of the Puerto Rican population, they currently occupy just 14% of public elective positions. Out of 161 leading public elective positions in the island’s government, only 23 are occupied by women. When thinking about the striking figures for women, so much more needs to be done compared to other countries to give women the space in politics they need, having successfully overcome many previous obstacles.  

After having achieved key battles, such as the rights of abortion, vote, to get an education, to work, to have property, or to vote, women and men need to come together to address the root cause of most gender-based discriminations and inequalities: the lack of political representation. This is the fight of our generation. Fortunately, some countries across the globe have managed to close the gap. It is the case for example of Costa Rica in the region, that thanks to strict quotas are now close to achieving perfect parity. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has provided a viable option for quota adoption by providing a long-lasting governing framework and organizing crucial elements of party activities and election regulations. The results are fantastic! Costa Rica currently comprises 45.6% women in their lower house, ranking 9th out of 193 countries for gender representation. 

Will Puerto Rico follow the example of its neighbours? The next elections will be fundamental. This November Puerto Ricans go to the polls. With just 23 women occupying elected positions, the almost 150 women running for office offer hope that Puerto Rico’s main political bodies can change. Organizations on the ground are working tirelessly to ensure that these changes. It is, for example, the case of Proyecto 85 that is working with female candidates to provide training and resources to increase their chances of being elected. “Women quite often don’t have the same access to resources as men do to achieve political power. Our organization provides tools and insights to female candidates and women interested in changing the political landscape to make it more inclusive, diverse and representative of the population in Puerto Rico”, said Natalie Caraballo, Executive Director of Proyecto 85.

Such fundamental resources, however, need to be complemented with legislative measures to ensure parity in the law. Indeed, taking the best practice of Costa Rica, the country reached such great results in female representation thanks to the measures it put in place. 

As Senator Hanson-Young mentioned, “politics is still blocky and we only going to change this if more women get involved”. And for women to get involved, the system needs to change, now! World leaders agree that it is high time to take the necessary actions to reach the new world of equity for all, which is why over 40 world-renowned politicians joined the #RunLikeAWoman campaign to pass laws in all countries to achieve parity. The 2020 Puerto Rican elections are the first step for all the women in the world to have a seat at the table.

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