• Friday, November 27, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    PERU: Popular Women Vote-Catchers Stand in for Real Participation

    By Ángel Páez
    LIMA, Feb 7 (IPS) Women candidates nominated for the presidential and
    legislative elections in Peru in April tend to be big names in the worlds
    of sports, television or show business, or are following family tradition.
    But political parties are failing to promote meaningful participation by
    women in politics.

    There are two women among the 11 presidential hopefuls seeking to succeed
    President Alan García on Jul. 28. In the 2006 elections, there were
    three women running for president.

    A third woman, Mercedes Araoz of the governing Partido Aprista Peruano
    (PAP), resigned her candidacy because her party would not honour her
    demand that persons under investigation for corruption be excluded from
    the party slates.

    Keiko Fujimori, at present running third in the polls, is the daughter of
    former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who is running her election
    campaign from prison where he is serving 25 years for crimes against
    humanity and corruption.

    Juliana Reymer, a former street vendor who now runs her own small
    business, became the candidate of the small centrist Fuerza Nacional party
    when its previous nominee left the party to support former president
    Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who is the front-runner in the polls.

    "These presidential and congressional elections are a disgrace,"
    Rosa María Alfaro, head of Calandria, an organisation promoting
    women's political participation, told IPS. "Male arrogance is
    the basis of even Keiko Fujimori's campaign, because she depends on
    her father. There is a kind of gender dependence."

    Alfaro also criticised the way political parties have drawn up their lists
    of candidates for the next Congress, to be elected for a five-year term in
    April. By law, at least 30 percent of the candidates must be women.

    But to meet the quotas, parties have recruited prominent women from other
    walks of life, rather than training and promoting their own women members.
    Since the 1990s, "outsiders" and flash-in-the-pan candidates
    have held an attraction for Peruvian voters.

    Former showgirl and television presenter July Pinedo, a 1990s sex symbol,
    is on the congressional candidate list for the centre-right PAP.

    According to local media, Alberto Fujimori personally drew up the
    congressional list for the right-wing Fuerza 2011, formally headed by his
    daughter. The list of candidates includes Gina Pacheco, his personal nurse
    and a frequent visitor to his prison cell, and Leyla Chihuán, the
    captain of the national women's team for volleyball, a popular sport
    in Peru.

    And at the top of the list for Toledo's centre-right Perú
    Posible party is 1980s volleyball star Cecilia Tait, while soap opera
    actress Ebelin Ortiz is also a candidate.

    The right-wing alliance Cambio Radical, meanwhile, has nominated former
    starlet Daysi Ontaneda, frequently featured in the gossip columns.

    The head of Asociación Civil Transparencia, Percy Medina, told IPS
    that in a study on female political participation carried out by his
    organisation, women political leaders and activists complained of
    "arbitrary decisions" by male leaders who impose "media
    personalities with no political experience instead of active members of
    organisations" as party candidates.

    In the survey of women leaders and activists from five different political
    parties, all of the respondents emphasised the lack of a level playing
    field between men and women in terms of access to leadership posts and
    candidate nominations, Medina said.

    In his opinion, "a culture of machismo which hinders women from
    achieving a more decisive role" is behind this inequality and
    explains the profusion of actresses and sportswomen on candidate lists,
    instead of experienced women politicians.

    "The perception is that women's participation in Peruvian
    politics has slid backwards," even though women presidential or
    congressional candidates are now quite common, said Medina.

    Alfaro predicted that the April elections will not resemble the November
    2010 regional and municipal polls, when two women battled it out for the
    post of mayor of Lima. The winner was Susana Villarán, a moderate
    left-winger, and her rival was Lourdes Flores, a conservative.

    Both women had been presidential candidates in earlier elections and had
    recognised track records as politicians when they stood for the key
    position of mayor of the capital. "Their proposals were well
    developed and were debated in the media and among the general
    public," said Alfaro. "It was a campaign and a democratic
    contest truly led by women."

    Alfaro, an expert on communications and gender, said the presidential
    candidates and Alberto Fujimori are using popular women as vote-catchers,
    at a time when ideology is weak and personal conflicts are rampant in
    political parties, and male politicians are desperate to win at any cost.

    For instance, Luis Castañeda, the presidential candidate for the
    populist Solidaridad Nacional, placed second in the polls, chose as his
    vice presidential running mate Carmen Núñez, the estranged wife
    of a millionaire businessman and provincial mayor who supports a different
    presidential candidate.

    Lisbeth Guillén of the Manuela Ramos women's movement agreed
    that Peru's political parties "do not truly encourage
    women's participation," in spite of the fact that in opinion
    polls voters say they want to see more women active in politics and are
    sympathetic to the potential prospect of a woman president.

    Guillén pointed out that electoral quotas for women are enshrined in
    the Peruvian constitution, and that thanks to this, the number of women in
    Congress has increased steadily. The outgoing parliament (2006-2011) has
    35 women lawmakers, equivalent to 29 percent of the seats, compared to 26
    women in the 2000-2006 legislature, and 14 in 1995-2000.

    The activist said political parties nominate crowd-pleasing personalities
    who can attract a large number of votes because they must secure at least
    five percent of the national vote in elections in order to maintain their
    official registration.

    However, she said voters have another way to make their voices heard: the
    so-called "preferential vote," which allows voters to select
    candidates on congressional lists according to their own preference, thus
    changing the order of the candidates pre-established by the parties.

    Cenaida Uribe, president of the congressional women's caucus, offered
    another viewpoint on women's presence in parliament. A former
    volleyball player for Peru, she belongs to the nationalist Gana Perú
    party led by former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, in fourth place
    in the polls.

    "Every one deserves an opportunity to make a contribution," she
    told IPS. Artists, for example, can promote laws on cultural affairs, and
    she as a sportswoman has been able to push for laws that favour sports.
    "Newcomers to Congress who have no political experience should not be
    under-estimated," she said.

    In her view, the legislative term that ends in July "has been
    exceptional," because for the first year Congress was presided over
    by a woman speaker, all the commissions have included women, and
    "indigenous women, coca-growing peasant women, Afro-Peruvian women
    and low-income women are represented in parliament."

    But Uribe, who is black, stressed that in spite of these positive aspects,
    "there is still too much machismo in Congress, which cuts women off
    from access to the democratic decision-making process."

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