Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment

About the project

Current data on political and economic empowerment and representation in Colombia is not disaggregated by gender, and in some cases, gender has not even been documented. This gender disaggregated data is central to give policy makers, the government and researchers a greater understanding of the current levels of both women’s political and economic empowerment and representation in the country. It also allows for evidence-based reviews on both the effectiveness of current policies and laws, and the improved implementation of policies to come to improve women’s political participation in the country.

This project’s historical dataset is the first in Colombia to bring this data together and disaggregate by gender. Data has been gathered where available since 1958 when women were first given the vote in Colombia. This dataset documents how many women voted in all 1,123 municipalities of Colombia, how many women candidates ran, and how many women were elected at the municipal and national level at every election since 1958.

Key findings: Political Empowerment

Cultural barriers to women’s participation remain.

Cultural norms, such as “women do not make good leaders”, persist in Colombia. These norms are not being recognised nor challenged. This cultural environment does not make politics a tempting or easy place for women. There is also a general attitude that understanding how many women and men vote is irrelevant.

Political quotas are not leading to better representation of women in politics.

The worst representation of women happens at regional and mayoral elections, where only 12% of mayors are women, and only 6% of governors are women. Whilst at the national level the 50/50 gender quota is not translating to more women being elected. For example, in 2018 in the House of Representatives only 31 women were elected as opposed to 139 men, and in the Senate 24 women were elected whilst 82 men were elected.

Key obstacles in accessing data on political participation remain.

Where there is data, obstacles to accessing this continues post Covid-19 where restrictions to archives and data access remain. Beyond these restrictions, since the 1990s gender disaggregated data has not been collected at the point where people vote.

Political participation in connected to economic opportunity.

There is a connection between the lack of women’s political representation and economic empowerment. It is hard for women to reach political positions, and normally those that do come from an urban context and are well educated.

There is a correlation between this lack of woman representation and economic empowerment. And of course, because it’s very hard for a woman to reach one of these positions.

Recommendations: Political Empowerment

Government and local communities

  • There needs to be a change in the cultural environment surrounding politics and a shift in the social perceptions of women and their leadership skills if we are to see the full political participation of women.

Political parties

  • It is important that political parties support more actively their female candidates through economic support and visibility within their own parties. Political parties and governments should invest in training of young female political leaders. These trainings should include knowledge on how the state works, empowerment and self-confidence among others.

Key findings: Economic empowerment

Urban-rural divide in women’s economic access.

There is a large gap between the economic realities and rights of urban woman and rural women across all indicators, including the care economy, education, land access and ownership, access to credit, access to the health systems and property ownership. This is also true for other indicators that are more difficult to observe, for example bargaining power within households and the informal labour market. Improvement in all of these areas has been very slow for rural women, in comparison to women as a whole in Colombia.

Women’s access to education.

Despite progress in the levels of women who have access to and have completed education in Colombia, gender and urban-rural gaps persists. The data shows that almost 60% of rural women have only primary education, and education enrolment rates remain higher for male students across Colombia.

Care Labour.

The 2010 1413 Law, which recognises unpaid work as a contribution to the economy, has been insufficient in terms of reaching gender quality in the care market. Unpaid work is still done mostly by women in Colombian society, where almost 7 hours a day is dedicated to the care economy by women within the household, compared to less than two hours a day by men. This prevents equal participation in the Labour market, directly affecting women’s economic independence and empowerment.

Land rights.

Data from the last 100 years shows that 80% of land has been given to men, and only 20% of land has been given to women. Despite the 2022 goal for 12,142 women to benefit from land tenure rights, between January and May 2018, only 832 women had benefited from land allocation and the formalisation processes. This is particularly stark for rural women, where land is their main economic asset and there are higher poverty rates (37.4%), compared to a much lower percentage (12%) of women in urban areas.

Access to public services.

Access to health, pension, and credit has not changed significantly in the last two decades for rural women, whose financial inclusion is lowest relative to rural men and urban women.  

The labour market.

Although the gender gap in labour-market participation has been narrowing, women still have significant lower labour market rates. For example, in 2017 75% of men in Colombia participated in the labour market, compared to 55% of women.

That’s the history of Colombia, right? A lot of laws with a lot of good intentions, but in practice they haven’t been applied, they are not reaching the target population.

Recommendations: Economic empowerment

Government and academia

  • An intersectional approach is needed in both research and the process of gathering data to inform government policies and practices for effective implementation of laws designed to increase of women’s economic participation. Both the data gathering process and evidence informed policies should be inclusive of not only the urban-rural divide, but also differences across racial identities, sexualities, class and other forms of identities that are informing women’s economic inclusion.
  • Evidence is crucial to show the (in)effectiveness of laws and policies. As much data and evidence should be gathered as possible to inform decisions on the effectiveness of policies implemented, and those being developed. This data should always be disaggregated by gender.

Government and policy makers

  • The economic empowerment of rural women should be a policy priority and efforts made to ensure that policies move from paper to being implemented on the ground. The government and policy makers need to reach out to women in rural communities, so they are no longer isolated from the system and are central to laws and policies relating to women’s economic empowerment.