Violence against women: male dominance in politics

Political violence is systematic and constant, and is used to inhibit, slow down or restrict the political participation of women, within a system which refuses to accept their equal rights. Until work is done to stop this specific violence, true representation remains out of reach, as does democracy itself.

 Women in Guatemala still do not exercise full citizenship 

Women who participate in the country’s politics have been continuously subjected to this type of violence. However, it gets worse during election time. When asked, women speak of various experiences, from receiving threats to being the victims of gun attacks in their homes, to being assaulted by male mobs who do not accept their candidature. The digital landscape is not unconnected, with women reporting that the 2019 election period led to an increase in attacks from bot centres.

As Guatemala does not have a specific criminal offence in such cases, there is no official data about these crimes. Additionally, the majority of women do not file complaints through the justice system. In some cases this is because they see these events as part of the political game, while in others it is because they know things won’t go in their favour. Fear is another factor. In the past, when they filed evidence through the party system, not only have their aggressors not been punished, but they themselves have had to face the consequences.

The underrepresentation of women in public office is also a dimension of this problem. In Guatemala, it is caused, in part, by political violence which involves not having laws or affirmative measures to help end this inequality; the political system is still permeated by patriarchal, male-centric and exclusive modes of thought.

For more than 30 years, the percentage of female representation in political posts and high office has been marginal. In fact, it is one of the lowest in the region. Women make up the majority of the electoral roll (53.72% in 2019 and 54% in 2023). According to data from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), more women (55.1%) than men voted in the 2015 elections. However, they still have a lower rate of representation. In the nine electoral processes that Guatemala has developed since its democracy was restored, this percentage has increased by less than 15%.

in 1989, female politicians held 6.9% of all seats. The figure was 13.7% in 1999 and 12% in 2009. Since 2020, only 31 of the parliament’s 160 seats (19.38%) have been occupied by women (TSE, 2019). This percentage places the country in 119st place out of 186 on the  “women in politics” map, created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women (2023). This is far below the regional average (34.6%).

 Marginalisation results in a more disadvantageous situation for indigenous women. The first indigenous deputy, Ana María Xuyá Cuxil, took office in the 1986-1990 parliament. In the 1996-2000 and 2000-2004 sessions, the participation of indigenous female politicians remained at 1.9% (with 3 serving in each term). It rose to 4 (2.54%) in the 2008-2012 period, before dropping back to 3 in the 2020-2024 legislature. Over the last three years, there haven’t been any Garífuna or Xinca women politicians. Nor have there been trans-women politicians.

Meanwhile, the percentage of female ministers has remained at 14.2% under the last two governments. During this period, the number of vice ministers fell to 12% (6 women out of 50 positions).  The “women in politics” map places Guatemala in 167th place out of 190 countries for the number of women in ministerial positions. As of January 1, 2023, only one of the country’s 14 ministries was run by a woman.

Only two indigenous women have held ministerial positions in the last twenty years: Otilia Lux de Cotí in the Culture and Sports Ministry (between 2000 and 2004) and Leticia Teleguario in the Labor Ministry (between 2016 and 2018).

The promoter of an anti-harassment law 

March 13, 2023, was the eleventh anniversary of the violent death of councilwoman Aimara Juana Quispe in Bolivia. She had been elected as a local councillor, but neither the municipal council nor the mayor approved of her appointment. Between her election and her death, she faced two years of violence, ranging from the physical (cement was thrown in her eyes), to the verbal (constant threats and insults) and the institutional (extra red tape, the withholding of her salary, as well as the refusal to listen to her constant complaints).

Quispe was one of the main promoters of Law No. 243 Against Political Harassment and Violence Against Women, along with the Association of Councilwomen of Bolivia (ACOBOL). With the help of various feminist and women’s organizations, they managed to get the bill approved on May 28, 2012. After twelve years spent fighting for its recognition, Juana did not live to benefit from its provisions.

 Violence and political harassment against female politicians

Since the law passed in Bolivia (making it the first country in Latin America to adopt such a framework), efforts have been made elsewhere to create a similar criminal offense and to define political violence against women who participate in politics. The fight continues.

has been framed as any aggression against women – be it physical, psychological, sexual or symbolic – that is used to discourage, inhibit, or stop their participation in political life. It is generally a type of violence exercised by men against women. However, in some cases it is carried out by women, who transform themselves into instruments of patriarchal logic

In fact, the Inter-American Model Law to Prevent, Punish, and Eradicate Violence against Women in Political Life, which was brought into force in 2017, brings together most of these elements in its definition

Flavia Freidenberg, an expert in this subject, explains that they are “situations of invisibility, discredit or guilt”.

It results in psychological or sexual abuse or harassment, intimidation, threats against them and their family, public silencing, physical exclusion from the seats of power, questioning about the actions they have taken, ridicule or sexist comments, denied access to financial resources, and even criminalization and direct physical aggression.

Two women are running for Guatemalan president. Has the problem been solved?

The 2023 election campaign has already begun and two women are running for president. However, this does not solve the problem. Although these women are “authorized”, this does not make the path easier for other women. On the contrary, it reinforces patriarchal strategies that accept women as long as they conform with the rules of the dominant system. Those who do not agree, who challenge the status quo through speeches and proposals, are excluded from the process.