In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women’s Representation in Governmental Office in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • Pioneering Works

Political Science Women’s Representation in Governmental Office in Latin America
Tiffany Barnes, Gregory W. Saxton, Dakota Thomas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0255


The Latin American region has been at the forefront of the inclusion and expansion of women’s representation in government offices for the last twenty-five years. During that time, the region saw many changes in women’s representation, including the adoption of the world’s first national legislative gender quota (Argentina in 1991), which gave way to the near-ubiquitous adoption of quotas across the region, and the subsequent drastic increase in the number of female legislators. In addition, some women in the region have been successful at attaining presidential office: between 2000 and 2018, five women have served as president in Latin America. Women are also gaining access to powerful cabinet posts at higher rates. That said, it is unclear whether women’s political gains—particularly in the executive branch—will persist into the future. On the one hand, as of 2018, all women presidents had left office (some via impeachment or with very low approval ratings), and some countries have experienced backslides and stagnation in the levels of women’s representation. On the other hand, some countries in the region are forging progress for women by adopting gender parity laws and expanding quotas and parity laws to other branches and levels of government. These changes in women’s formal representation have motivated many scholars of the region to devote considerable attention to the topic of women’s representation. This bibliography focuses on two distinct substantive areas of research on women’s representation in government: women’s pathways to power, and the consequences of women’s access to representation. The bibliography is organized as follows. First, there is an overview of the Pioneering Works on women’s representation in Latin America. Second, there is an outline of some useful Resources for scholars interested in women’s representation in the region, including Edited Volumes and Special Journal Issues on Women’s Representation in Latin America that provide broad overviews of this topic in the Latin American context, and Data Sources that facilitate past and future research in the field. Finally, relevant research on this topic is outlined, organized into the two main substantive areas listed previously: Pathways to Power and the Consequences of Women’s Representation in Latin America.

Pioneering Works

One of the earliest works to examine women’s representation in Latin American government was Chaney 1979, a groundbreaking work on the “supermadre.” This work influenced the study of women’s representation in Latin America in two key ways: first, by elaborating the concept of the “supermadre”, a feminine ideal applied to women in legislatures that at once gave women political legitimacy while also limiting their policymaking roles to domestically focused issues—an ongoing tension for women legislators in the region that Craske 1999 and later works built upon (Schwindt-Bayer 2006, cited under Policy Preferences and Priorities; Schwindt-Bayer 2010, cited under the Adoption and Diffusion of Gender Quotas). Second, Chaney 1979 made extensive use of elite interviews with female legislators, an approach that opened an entire avenue for research on the consequences of women’s representation in legislatures (e.g., Franceschet, et al. 2016, cited under Elite Networks and Social Backgrounds). In addition to the research on women’s representation in government (which is the focus of this bibliography), many of the earliest works on women’s political roles in Latin America concentrated on women’s social movements (Molyneux 1985). This focus was due, in part, to the prevalence of women’s social movements and high rates of women’s activism during a time with relatively low numbers of women in political offices. However, conceptual innovation from work on women’s movements is still a critical part of the literature on women’s representation in government, particularly Molyneux’s conception of women’s gender interests, which have informed how countless later works conceptualize women’s representation (e.g., Schwindt-Bayer 2010).

  • Chaney, Elsa M. Supermadre: Women in Politics in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

    This seminal work on women’s role in the politics of Latin America was a first look at women in elected office in the region, and from her work surveying female legislators Chaney derived the concept of the “supermadre.” This concept illustrates the regional ideal of woman as policymaker—a “mother” to the whole nation, defining and constraining women’s leadership roles to areas of domestic importance and reinforcing expectations of women as nurturing, affectionate, and passive. This concept went on to inform many works studying representation in the region, such as Schwindt-Bayer 2006 (cited under Policy Preferences and Priorities) and Schwindt-Bayer 2010 (cited under the Adoption and Diffusion of Gender Quotas), which found that this cultural ideal is still present but has relaxed over time.

  • Craske, Nikki. Women and Politics in Latin America. Oxford: Polity Press, 1999.

    Motherhood as an identity has been a powerful mobilizing narrative for women in the region. Critically, motherhood cuts across class, ethnic, and national boundaries, and affords women legitimacy in the public sphere. However, motherhood is only one of many identities women may occupy, and some of those other identities conflict with traditional notions of motherhood. This book documents the growing tension between women’s strategies for gaining acceptance in politics and their actual experiences and identities, anticipating the intersectional activism (and scholarship) to come.

  • Molyneux, Maxine. “Mobilization without Emancipation? Women’s Interests, the State, and Revolution in Nicaragua.” Feminist Studies 11.2 (1985): 227–254.

    DOI: 10.2307/3177922

    Focused on the outcome of the revolutionary movement in Nicaragua, this work provides a landmark analysis of women’s interests that many subsequent works have built upon. In particular, the author breaks down the concept of women’s interests into three parts: women’s interests, or gender interests—things that all or most women have in common; strategic gender interests—more abstract “feminist” interests that women develop as a product of their unique position in society; and practical gender interests—interests that arise from actual women’s occupation of their positions (such as women’s presumed domestic role creating women’s desire for government welfare programs).

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