Achieving democratic parity is a fundamental asset for societies

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Bolivia - Dominican Republic - Panama - This year in Latin America and the Caribbean, eight countries have the challenge of conducting their elections under COVID-19 contexts, among them: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela. These countries must also rise to the challenge of guaranteeing the effective exercise of women's political rights before, during, and after elections. Under this premise, the International Conference "Elections 2020 and COVID-19 in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic: Guidelines for the defense of women's political rights" was held this Wednesday. The event analyzed the risks and challenges of holding inclusive elections free of harassment and violence against women in politics.

The experts agreed that the authorities of these countries must assume that COVID-19 will affect electoral processes in scenarios such as voter registration, nomination of candidates, electoral campaigns, electoral training, and education processes and the development of activities on election day, in addition to the risk of harassment and political violence against women candidates.

Guaranteeing women's political rights, considering intersectional factors such as ethnic identity, age, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among others, is a responsibility of the state, political parties, and all citizens. In the context of COVID-19, the challenge is even greater because gaps in political participation could increase due to cases of harassment and political violence suffered by women, and which in situations of isolation and quarantine are transferred to social media, putting the integrity of women candidates at risk, in a context where the regulatory frameworks that guarantees their rights and sanction these acts is not in place. Bolivia is the only country that has specific regulations that protect women and punish these crimes through Law No. 243 against Harassment and Political Violence; however, this is not always properly implemented.

Currently, in Bolivia, UN Women and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal are working on four main areas to address and confront the challenges posed: i) Promotion and development of pluralistic political dialogue spaces that allow the integration and visibility of the democratic perspective and women's proposals from a gender and rights perspective in the electoral agenda; ii) Design and implementation of measures for timely intervention of the PEO in the care and protection of women candidates who are victims of harassment and political violence during the electoral campaign; iii) Mainstreaming of a gender perspective, women's rights and non-violence in the different phases of the electoral process; and iv) Sensitization of electoral missions on a gender perspective.

Similarly, to strengthen women's political rights and promote their participation and representation in this electoral process, the Central Electoral Board of the Dominican Republic created mechanisms to ensure compliance with the quotas for candidates established by national legislation and designed and implemented training sessions for women's political participation throughout the country. In addition, in order to publicize the 742 women candidates for the various elected positions, the JCE, in a joint initiative with the United Nations Development Programme, launched the "Know your candidate" portal, where their profiles and political proposals are shared with the public. At the same time, polling stations will have a majority presence of women and gender-sensitive electoral observation will be guaranteed, with special participation by civil society, and with data disaggregated by sex.

Finally, at the international event it was highlighted that each country should apply health protocols before and during the elections, adjusted to their national and local realities, which allow, for example, the application of virtual training strategies and through other means for rural areas; electoral campaigns with greater emphasis on social networks, reinforcing the prevention of violence and cyber-bullying against women politicians; Sending of health materials together with electoral materials, with proper communication to the entire population that includes indigenous languages and persons with disabilities; distribution of polling stations that avoid crowding of voters, with mechanisms that do not exclude women in charge of single-parent households or the LGBT+ population; sanitization of the spaces in the precincts; and adequate scenarios for the vote count, allowing the participation of women voters and civil society organizations.

The regional panelists in the International Conference were María-Noel Vaeza, regional director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean; Adriana Favela, president of the Association of Women Electoral Judges of the Americas (AMEA); and José Thompson, director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH) and its Center for Electoral Assistance and Promotion (CAPEL). Violeta Domínguez, UN Women's representative in Bolivia, Salvador Romero, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Bolivia (TSE), Tania Montes, head of Gender and Political Rights at the TSE, and Rosario Graciano de los Santos, president of the Gender Commission of the Central Electoral Board of the Dominican Republic (JCE) shared their experiences.

In a joint action, UN Women, the IHRL, AMEA, the TSE of Bolivia and the JCE of the Dominican Republic express their commitment in defense and protection of women's political rights through this dialogue that seeks to contribute to an inter-institutional reflection that guarantees equal democracies free from violence for women in Latin America and the Caribbean.