"Without women, there is no democracy. Without the defense of women's rights and an effective representation of their demands, there is no democracy. Without women's presence and incidence in decision-making processes and spaces, there is no democracy."
With these words, the Inter-American Commission of Women launched its First Hemispheric Forum on Women's Leadership for a Citizens' Democracy (April 4-6, 2011 in Washington, DC). This three-day encounter brought together women leaders--ministers, parliamentarians, academics, and activists--to begin an in-depth questioning of the principles and fundamentals of democracy and its institutions from the perspective of women's rights and demands.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, emphasized in her keynote address that, "... women's leadership is pivotal for progress in the interdependent areas of democracy and development," contributing to a debate that aims to propose a vision of a citizens' democracy that prioritizes and promotes the participation, representation, and leadership of women at all levels.
Proposed by the UNDP and the OAS during the First Forum on Democracy in Latin American (Mexico City, October 12-14, 2010), the concept of a citizens' democracy is defined in contrast to representative electoral democracy in the sense that it seeks to support the full participation and citizenship of all, through the elimination of the economic and social inequalities that impede the exercise of that citizenship. Accordingly, a citizens' democracy requires citizenship training for all in order to ensure that votes are informed and conscious and that they reflect a political position. From the perspective of women, a citizens' democracy implies in-depth questioning of the nature and operation of current democratic systems from the basis of parity in leadership, representation, and participation.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar went on to affirm that: "When we look at democracy in our region, a very distinguishing feature is the Inter-American Democratic Charter. This document represents a laudable achievement." The final paragraph of the Charter, almost as an after-thought, declares that "States shall promote the full and equal participation of women in the political structures of their countries as a fundamental element in the promotion and exercise of a democratic culture." As the region celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American...