A Democratic Transition in Venezuela Requires the Inclusion of Women

With the release of the U.S. Department of State’s Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela earlier this week, the international pressure on the Maduro regime to step down increased. In an eventual negotiating process that may follow, it would be crucial for all parties involved to include women—front and center—to ensure sustainability of the agreement and social and economic equality.

For several years, women in Venezuela have been viewed as victims of the humanitarian crisis. Politically, the Maduro regime boosted women in power but disavowed feminism and women’s rights. Given this context, it is fundamental that a gender lens be placed on a potential democratic transition process and a “Day After” scenario—a critical addition to the transition framework that is currently silent on women, gender, and inclusion. As experience in previous transition processes shows, when more women are represented in government, states have much higher levels of stability, security, and economic and social inclusion—all of which Venezuela currently lacks.

This piece addresses the gendered nature of peace processes and the effect women can have in a transitional process. It highlights the importance of women’s representation and participation in government and proposes some initial recommendations for how Venezuela’s Day After government can increase female participation.

Role of Women in Peace Processes

Evidence-based research and statistics prove that the inclusion of women in peace negotiations results in significantly more positive and long-lasting outcomes; when women are included in a peace process, the resulting peace agreement is 20 percent more likely to last at least two years, and when women are included in the negotiation process itself, the agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.

With probably very few exceptions—such as the current vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, and Maduro’s wife, Cilia Adela Gavidia—neither the Maduro regime nor the Guaidó government have a notable female presence at the table during important political discussions. This decreases the likelihood of approaching any agreement with a gender lens and lowers the probability of a deal lasting for any meaningful period. The input of women, whether as chief negotiators, mediators, representatives of women’s groups and other civil society organizations, or other actors, is critical to operational effectiveness and therefore can help ensure that any policies or initiatives included in an agreement are properly implemented. Figures also highlight how political exclusion leads to a positive correlation between severe economic and social inequalities and levels of conflict. As Venezuela begins its transition process from an authoritarian regime to a democracy, the presence of women at the negotiating table will be fundamental in order to achieve a lasting, durable peace.

Representation of Women in Government

Women’s leadership in conflict prevention, management, and resolution and in post conflict relief and recovery efforts does not end with the signing of a peace treaty. A diverse government that reflects the population it serves is crucial for the survival of democracy. Evidence-based research has proven that a government’s policies are more likely to be stable if the government composition reflects all of society. Women, especially in political arenas, are more likely to raise issues that affect women in a differentiated manner than men, such as inequality, education, gender-based violence, and healthcare. This added emphasis on these issues translates into broader and more inclusive government policies that address the needs of the population as a whole, lowering the possibility of societal discord as a cause of inequality in the future. As the OECD notes, a greater number of women in public life leads to lower levels of inequality and also results in increased confidence in national governments. This is essential for a transitioning government such as Venezuela’s, as confidence in public institutions is low and inequality is pervasive throughout Venezuelan society.

Women make up more than 50 percent of Venezuela’s population yet are significantly underrepresented in the country’s political systems. For example, only 32 out of the 167 total deputies in Venezuela’s democratically elected National Assembly are women. Of the 20 national deputies involved in Plan País—a National Assembly initiative in charge of creating a reconstruction plan—only three are women. This underrepresentation inhibits the possibility of addressing public policy in a gender-sensitive manner, particularly reconstruction policies thought out by Plan País. If women’s voices and experiences are excluded from the post-conflict reconstruction plan, transitional government policies will lack a gendered perspective, increasing potential for future societal discord due to unequal resources and inequalities. In addition, as women’s physical security and gender equality correlate with broader peace and stability, it is in the best interest of Venezuela to ensure that women are adequately represented in government in order to ensure that these issues are placed at the forefront of the political and policy agendas.

Some Initial Recommendations

The following are initial recommendations for all involved in a possible transition in Venezuela, such as the members of Plan País in their planning and establishment of a Day After government and the Day After administration. Furthermore, these recommendations are also relevant for the international community, who will accompany a transition process and will leave a footprint on the reconstruction of Venezuela.

  •  Commit to key international frameworks. Take into account and commit to, for example, the U.N Security Council Landmark Resolution (SCR 1325) on women, peace, and security , which reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

  • Have parity in the proposed Council of State. Most of the international community agrees that Venezuelans must lead their own return to democracy and find a peaceful solution that includes all the political and social sectors of the country. The fundamental decisions need to guarantee emergency response, pandemic mitigation, international humanitarian assistance, and international financial aid; they also must arrange for the approval of norms for national reconciliation, framed in the respect for human rights, and the celebration of democratic general elections, with renewed and independent electoral organisms and international observation.

  • Use public consultation to encourage women’s participation. Deliberately, and as part of every step of the strategic planning and implementation processes, enshrine gender equality and reach out to women’s organizations through targeted public consultation.

  • Address political finance barriers to women’s participation. Women often cite lack of funding as a significant deterrent to entering politics. The establishment of monetary incentives for female candidates, such as making electoral funding contingent on the inclusion of a certain percentage of women on a party’s electoral list, would both encourage women to run and inspire a party’s candidate pool to include women.

  • Implement the existing legislative candidate quotas. Quotas are an effective way to promote gender equality and women’s participation in the electoral and political process. Most of Latin America, with the exceptions of Guyana and Suriname, have introduced legislative candidate quotas, which require that a certain number of candidates on a ballot be women. According to the United Nations, conflict and post-conflict countries with legislated gender quotas have more than twice the number of women in parliament than conflict and post-conflict countries without quotas (24.3 percent versus 10.6 percent).

  • Consider an inclusive legislative agenda. The role of the National Assembly during the transition process will be crucial. The development of a prioritized legislative agenda, that effectively utilizes a gender and inclusion lens, is more likely to yield more inclusive legislation and public policy that takes into consideration all Venezuelan citizens. For example, legislation to support working parents is critical, as often domestic responsibilities are cited as the main factor deterring women from entering politics; a government support system for parents would lower a significant barrier to women’s participation.

A Democratic Transition in Venezuela Must Include Women

As plans are designed for Venezuela’s eventual return to democracy, it is crucial for all parties involved in the transition process to include women in the negotiating process. By bringing women to the table, negotiators would be more likely to reach a long-lasting peace agreement, and this agreement would be more likely to incorporate a gender lens.

Politically, Venezuela has long left women out of decisionmaking positions and processes, inhibiting policies from being gender-sensitive and addressing the specific needs of the female Venezuelan population. Increasing the representation and participation of women in government would lower the chance of instability in a post-conflict Venezuela and would ensure that Venezuelan society is more accurately represented. A democratic transition in Venezuela must include women.

Margarita R. Seminario is deputy director and a senior fellow with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Arianna Kohan is a program coordinator with the CSIS Americas Program.

The authors are grateful to Dr. Gabrielle Bardall, Ph.D., an electoral assistance expert, for providing valuable insights for this piece.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Arianna Kohan

Former Program Coordinator, Americas Program