Achieving gender parity in the political system is needed to uphold social justice and women’s rights, but it is also as an important condition to strengthen the democratic system.
In Paraguay women are severely underrepresented in the political arena. The latest studies show women only occupy 15% of the existing representative positions, while men occupy 85%.
To increase women's political participation and leadership in the country, the European Union supported the creation of the Political Training School for Women Leaders of the Superior Court of Electoral Justice. This initiative is part of the EU-financed project "Consolidation of Paraguayan Democracy II", implemented by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
The aim of the project is to help consolidate democracy in Paraguay by strengthening the electoral process; increasing the political participation and representation of women, under-represented groups and civil society; and promoting gender equality.
Being a woman and a politician is not easy in Paraguay. “It’s very hard to be a woman. Sexism makes women think twice, if they continue or not in politics,” says Teri Silvero, one of the women who is taking part in the training. Attitudes towards women candidates are still characterised by deeply ingrained stereotypes, and political opponents will often use those stereotypes to question women’s capabilities.
And it cannot be said that women’s low representation in political participation reflects a lack of interest in politics. During the 2021 elections, 57% of eligible women voted – a similar level to the 56% of eligible men that voted.
Both men and women should have equal opportunities to participate fully in the political processes. Supporting gender balance will benefit not only female politicians, but also parties themselves and the rest of society.
"The best politics is the one that is made with the heart. Why? Because you are feeling the problems. And if you are sensitive to the problems, you want to solve them," says Fátima Duarte, Councilor candidate in Carmelo Peralta.
Mirtha Rivas was one of a group of women who decided to change this situation. They chose to run for representative office in the municipal elections of Paraguay 2021, and to make sure women will be at the forefront of their country's political action.
Thanks to the project, the women involved are provided with education and training aimed at strengthening their ability to run for political positions and improving their decision-making skills. So far, more than 700 women candidates and pre-candidates have been trained.
The fact that more women are willing to run for office is a positive step. When women move from the political margins, they make a visible impact on political as well as economic decision-making, while contributing to a more democratic society. Women have the potential to be the building blocks of Paraguay’s democracy.