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Women Make Major Inroads in Latin American Governments


Women increasingly are seizing the reins of power in Latin America. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay currently have female defense ministers, and Chile also has a woman president. In a region where men have traditionally dominated every facet of public life, some observers see the ascendancy of women as nothing less than a revolution in gender roles, one with far-reaching implications for the future. VOA correspondent Michael Bowman reports.

Lorena Escudero is one of five women defense ministers in Latin America. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa named her to the post in January, after her predecessor was killed in a helicopter crash. Formerly a college professor, Escudero says her appointment is but one sign of positive change for women in the region.

"There is a determination within the new generations to overcome the inequities and within those, the gender inequities and by doing so, we will all benefit," she said.

Escudero says she does not see herself as a leader for women's rights, just as a "normal" woman with hopes and aspirations for herself and her country. Asked if she has encountered any resistance to her authority, or perceived any annoyance on the part of the military officers she oversees, she says no.

"I felt very welcome, everyday I've been surprised by the positive values I encountered from the military commanders, the officers and the troops that I have gotten to know," she said.

The naming of females to top government posts is cheered by many, including some Latin Americans who no longer live in the region.

"A woman can do more than get married, clean house, iron clothes and cook. She can also take the reins of power," said Dominican-born Rosa Kasse, the founder of Miami's Hispanic Coalition in the U.S. state of Florida.

Kasse says Latin Americans have grown weary of what she terms "bad governments led by men," and they have turned to women in hopes of a better future.

"We [women] are less corrupt, because we set the example in our homes, for our children, for our families," she added. "We bring those values to positions of high responsibility."

Some observers suggest that, in a region that once saw military governments commit flagrant human-rights violations, the naming of female civilians to head the armed forces constitutes an attempt to heal wounds and promote reconciliation.

Others credit the overall consolidation of democracy for women's expanding role in public life, rather than any notion of gender-specific traits being sought out in government. Christopher Sabatini is a policy director at the New York-based Council of the Americas.

"What this [trend in Latin America] means is that there is a growing civilian sector of society that is well versed, trained, and can hold its own on matters of the military and the armed forces. And, they are coming, not from the armed forces, but through less traditional means, if you will, of security and international affairs. And it just so happens that it is women [who are emerging]," said Sabatini.

Sabatini predicts that the current wave of female defense ministers will bring even greater opportunities for women in the future.

"It is going to have a tremendous impact for women in a 'machista' [male-dominated] society for what they can do, what they can achieve, and for their role at the table in politics," added Sabatini.

For her part, Ecuador's defense minister, Lorena Escudero has a message for today's women:

"To be proud of our capacity to love, to work, to improve and to empower the best of everyone, to make this world better for ourselves, our daughters, our sons and all people," she said.

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