The pressure exerted so that the president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), establish a government with gender parity not without reason: Brazil is the country with the fewest women in leadership positions in the public sector in Latin America and the Caribbean.
recent study of Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) reveals that women are only 18.6% of leaders in 12 areas of public administration in the country, from health to the economy —the figure is the lowest in comparison with other 15 nations in the region.
Lula announced this Thursday (22) 16 more ministers who will make up a portion of its 37 ministries and presented the first names of women who will head portfolios. They, however, remain a minority: they are six of the 21 ministers announced so far.
Conducted from December 2021 to March of this year, the IDB survey collected information on four different levels of hierarchy in the regional public sector. The name of the positions changes according to the country — in Brazil, for example, they would be ministers, special secretaries, assistant secretaries and assistant undersecretaries.
On average, women hold 41.4% of leadership positions in the region, yet they make up more than half of the overall workforce. The situation worsens according to the level of hierarchy: they are 23.6% of level 1 positions, equivalent to a minister, while they represent 44.2% of level 4 positions, similar to a director.
This kind of vertical segregation, as the study is named, is also replicated in Brazil. The material indicates that female representation in level 1 positions is null. In the others, the presence of women never exceeds 25%: level 2 (9.1%), level 3 (22.1%) and level 4 (19, 3%).
The Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago, with about 1.5 million inhabitants, is the regional leader, with 68.8% of leadership positions in public administration filled by women. It is also the only country alongside Honduras with a woman as head of state —with presidents Paula-Mae Weekes and Xiomara Catro, respectively.
The data, of course, represents a snapshot of the moment. A country can increase its percentage, or decrease it, as a ruler with greater willingness and political capital to raise women to high positions enters power, or when laws are enacted that establish gender quotas in the public sector.
Argentine political scientist Mariana Chudnovsky, one of the authors of the material, says the conclusions were frustrating even for the team. “There have been advances, there are more women in the public sector, but this formal representation continues in feminized positions and in areas considered to be linked to the role of women in society.”
Chudnovsky refers to the fact that women are better represented in leadership areas associated with gender stereotypes, such as health and education, and underrepresented in sectors where traditionally men are in leadership, such as finance and defense, a dynamic that the IDB study names as horizontal segregation.
To the data: the social development, education and health portfolios lead in Latin America and the Caribbean in female leadership participation, with, respectively, 56.6%, 46.6% and 44%. The areas of economy and defense are in last place, with 31.3% and 26.5%.
One of the possible solutions presented in the study is the implementation of quotas. Colombia, Haiti and Panama are the only countries studied where there is an affirmative action system for the public sector. But this is not enough if women do not access leadership positions and if gender equality policies are not widespread.
“Qotas are necessary, they are an educational mechanism. But they were always thought of as transitional measures. It is not clear how they improve public policies and the status of women who work in these places”, says Chudnovsky. “The truly transformative measures, from a gender perspective, are often overlooked.”
The IDB material, which recently started to be chaired by a Brazilian, the former head of the Central Bank Ilan Goldfajn, also expresses a defense, based on theoretical research, on the importance of gender parity in public administration. The study argues that representative bureaucratic structures have advantages.
According to the document, there is a positive correlation between more women in public office and higher levels of economic growth, equality and investments in education, health and environmental protection. There is also a positive impact on the reduction of corruption levels.
But the material soon adds: “In order to promote gender equality in policy design and implementation, this numerical representation must have significant influence in leadership positions. Without participation in decision-making, assumptions about how the presence of women leads to a fairer society are distorted by the ‘black box’ of the public sector.”