Women's Participation in Politics

This year’s heated presidential campaign season is provoking an important dialogue about women in the political sphere. Hillary Clinton’s gender, and the way the public reacts to it, serves as a catalyst to provoke conversations about gender disparities within our government.

Not including Delegates, women currently hold 84 (19.3%) seats in the House of Representatives and 20 (20%) seats in the Senate, totaling 104 (19.4%) of the 535 voting seats in the 114th Congress. Women are 50.8% of the nation’s population.

In this way, America and El Salvador are similar. Though women make up about 53% of El Salvador’s population, they are about 27% of the legislature.

One can find many parallels between the histories of female leadership in the United States and El Salvador.

El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war was destructive for countless reasons. However, much like the United States during the era of World War 2, the war years were characterized by ugliness as well as opportunity: women gained leadership positions.

During WWII, the US needed women to keep the economy alive by working outside of the home. The women had to prove their “strength in numbers.” Similarly, during the Salvadoran civil war, the left needed as many bodies on the ground as possible. They had to allow women into military ranks.

Though the playing field was gendered, it became more equal.

The FMLN, or Frente Faribundo Martí de Liberación Nacional, decided to take on the powerful Salvadoran government and military in 1979. Where they lacked in wealth and power, they needed to make up for in numbers. According to Erica Roggeven’s essay “Revolutionary Women in El Salvador,” women took advantage of a desperate situation: “In spite of the machismo that existed on society-wide and individual levels, women gained leadership positions within the FMLN army. In a military situation in which the odds were stacked against them, the FMLN could not afford to discriminate.”

Mimi Hoesley’s essay “How Women’s Entry into the Public Sphere Helped Win the War and Influence Gender Workplace Discourse” tells a similar tale in America. “Before World War II, women were largely restricted to the private domain: wifedom and motherhood,” she wrote. “However, during WWII, the need for workers was so great that normative gender roles were temporarily changed – and would start a discourse that continues today.”

Now let’s consider the modern-day implications of these histories. Ever since the FMLN’s shift from a military organization to a political party, it has been an uphill battle for women. Though there are women in political leadership positions, they are often encouraged to prioritize the party over women’s issues. For women who are not among the political elite, the culture of machismo and female subordination still keep them bound to their homes rather than to the political sphere.

In an attempt to encourage women to seize political opportunities, the Association of Salvadoran Women Parliamentarians and ex-Parliamentarians, or ASPARLEXSAL, created a course called “Political Leadership for Women.” Over 120 women have graduated from the program so far. Graduates have gone on to become parliamentary candidates, mayors and municipal officials.

On a policy level, there has also been a shift towards equality. Article 37 of the Political Parties Law, passed in February 13, mandates that “political parties must include in their candidate lists for elections to the Legislative Assembly at least 30% women candidates.” The FMLN also mandates has a 35% quota for women.

Though quotas are controversial, in a place like El Salvador, they may be necessary. The United States does not use a quota system but this year, there are more women than ever before in Congress. It is predicted that this number will only continue to increase.

There is a universal hunger for powerful female leadership. Regardless of politics, the public’s responses to Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiornia are proof of this. Though on the surface, the United States and El Salvador appear to struggle with different kinds of issues, both nations are striving to bring the female perspective to the forefront through political leadership.

“We need to have 50 percent participation by women and not only 30 percent, as the law demands,” said El Salvador’s Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato.

There is nowhere to go but up.