Our Perspectives

Democracy: Where are women, youth, indigenous people and people of African descent?


women dancing with feathers(Photo: Gaëlle Bruneau / UNDP)

In 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean will hold seven presidential elections, many of which are to be determined by run-offs.

Fortunately, in general, our region has become accustomed to holding transparent elections where citizens can freely express their will in electing their representatives to public office. Empowered citizens demand better institutional quality: they call for more and better representation and participation in the processes of shaping and implementing public policies.

From the perspective of a citizens' democracy, which UNDP strongly promotes in Latin America and the Caribbean, the right to elect and be elected is a key dimension of political citizenship. Thus, it is important to take the pulse of various sectors of society who participate in the elections, and how the elected representatives reflect the heterogeneity of our societies.

Fortunately, there is good news regarding the exercise of voting rights and gender, as women effectively exercise their right to vote. However, there are still major shortcomings regarding the right to be elected. While the region has shown significant progress in recent decades, increasing from 8.2 per cent women’s representation in national legislatures in 1990 to 20.6 per cent in 2010, on average, there are still deep heterogeneities across countries.

Only six national congresses have above 30 percent women representation, while 11 are below 15 percent. A similar scenario takes place in the representation of women at the sub-national level. At the highest level of public authority, there are now six Heads of State and Government, i.e. 18 per cent of the 33 countries in the region.

However, in recent years, there has been worrying downward trend in levels of voter turnout among youth, as well as a lower turnout of indigenous peoples and people of African descent in certain countries. In addition, youth representation in parliament is much lower than the actual percentage of the population. Similarly, almost without exception, there is very limited representation of indigenous people and people of African descent in parliaments and other state decision-making bodies.

This situation and these trends mark an important agenda with the aim of qualitatively improving levels of participation and representation in the region. It is important to visualize and monitor these dimensions in the electoral timetable, but also to design and develop consistent and long-term actions for strengthening state institutions – executive, legislative, electoral – at the national and sub-national levels, and in political parties. This would open up greater opportunities for participation and representation of under-represented sections of society – women, youth, indigenous peoples and people of African descent.

Talk to us: How can we encourage the representation and participation of youth, indigenous people and people of African descent?

Governance and peacebuilding Elections Political participation Latin America & the Caribbean

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