Loophole in Uruguay’s Gender Quota Provokes Feminist Backlash


EspañolA reshuffle in the Uruguayan Senate, involving the exit of a female senator and her replacement by her male substitute, has brought the contentious issue of quotas for women in politics to the forefront of public debate in the South American nation.

Graciela Bianchi resigned her seat in the Senate with the opposition National Party (PN) on Monday, January 26, leaving Álvaro Delgado as a stand-in, as she concentrated on her post as a deputy for Montevideo, having won both positions in October’s elections. But Delgado’s assumption of her vacant seat has provoked controversy and calls for quota legislation to be revised.

Graciela Bianchi resigned her seat in Uruguay's Senate and will focus on her duties as deputy in Montevideo.
Graciela Bianchi resigned her seat in Uruguay’s Senate and will focus on her duties as deputy in Montevideo. (@gbianchi404)

Outlined in Uruguay’s 2009 electoral law reform, but applied for the first time in the 2014 presidential and legislative elections, candidate lists “must include persons of both sexes in every shortlist of three candidates, guaranteeing no less than one-third of women overall.”

Every party thus had to present a female candidate for every two male contenders in October, but with Bianchi’s departure for the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate no longer fulfills gender diversity requirements.

In an open letter announcing her resignation, Bianchi praised her colleague Delgado and his links with Sen. Lacalle Pou, NP’s former presidential candidate, arguing that the young leaders complemented each other and could help “renew politics.”

“I waited until the electoral process was over and the new government’s line-up was known … to make this decision,” said Bianchi, now exclusively a deputy for the Uruguayan capital.


However, the relevant legislation doesn’t bar elected women from handing over their seats to male substitutes named on the list. For Bianchi, it was “a great pleasure” to relinquish her post to Delgado.

“People don’t occupy a slot because of their gender, rather because they’re important for a project,” said Bianchi, further describing the PN as “a team, a group of collaborators with the same goals. Therefore nothing comes before that except the common good.”

Bianchi nevertheless expressed her support for the quotas, albeit as a temporary “springboard” measure. “Women must get there on their own merits,” she said.

Bianchi further highlighted the provision made for women’s participation in politics in Uruguay’s 1919 Constitution. “If women haven’t participated as they should have, that’s women’s problem. Hands down. The Constitution already granted her the rights to do so.”

“Why do some women find it so hard to accept that there are women who make their own choices?”

“I don’t care about the personal attacks now that the decision has been made. I’ve always assumed the responsibility for my own actions. I don’t need anyone to look after me, still less to say that I was pressured [into resigning]. That’s impossible,” she concluded.

Following the controversy, Sen. Martha Montaner of the Partido Colorado proposed modifying the quota legislation to “fix shortcomings,” suggesting that the substitute candidates for shortlisted women should also be female.

Lilian Celiberti from feminist group Colectivo Mujer (Woman Collective) agreed: “If the spirit of the law is to increase women participation, then her substitute should also be female.”

Regional Controversy

On January 14, the Chilean Senate passed a major overhaul of the Pinochet-era electoral system, introducing a mandatory minimum number of women candidates to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

The bill stipulates “no gender can represent more than 60 percent of all candidates,” effectively mandating that at least 40 percent of candidacies will be filled by female politicians. Currently, 15.8 percent of Chile’s deputies are women, with the same figure at 15.79 percent for the Senate.

In Brazil, meanwhile, local press have reported former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as calling for serious reforms to the governing Workers’ Party (PT) in the face of debilitating corruption scandals, including the scrapping of a gender quota system to which Lula in part attributes the decline.

Moves promoted by his own party in 2011 required that half of key positions be occupied by women, 20 percent by those under 30 years old, and 20 percent by black candidates.

“The measure was celebrated at the time, but now is seen [in the Workers’ Party] as paralyzing and bureaucratic,” says Folha, quoting an anonymous source within the party.

In 1991, Argentina became the first Latin-American country to approve female quotas, making it mandatory for at least 30 percent of candidates for legislative seats to be women.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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