Atlantic Council

Politics, Government, and Women in Latin America: Better Than You Think?

Jon M. Huntsman Jr.,
Atlantic Council

Peter Schechter,
Director, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center,
Atlantic Council

Hillary Clinton,
Former Secretary of State and Candidate for President, Democratic Party
Senator Ninfa Clara Salinas Sada,
Green Environmentalist Party (Partido Verde Ecologista de México)

Maria Isabel Nieto,
Consul General, Colombia,
New York City

Muni Figueres,
Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States

Capricia Penavic Marshall,
Ambassador-in-Residence, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center,
Atlantic Council

Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.

Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
Date: Monday, November 30, 2015

Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

JON M. HUNTSMAN JR.: Good afternoon, everybody. On behalf of Fred Kempe, our great president and CEO, and the entire Atlantic Council family, it’s my great honor and privilege to welcome you to today’s event on Politics, Government, and Women in Latin America.

We’re honored to be joined by former secretary of state and, just as important, former Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award recipient – (laughter) ¬¬– Hillary Rodham Clinton. Secretary Clinton, we couldn’t be happier to have you back at the Council. Thank you so very much for giving us your time.

I’m also pleased to welcome our panelists: Mexican Senator Ninfa Salinas, former Costa Rican ambassador to Washington Muni Figueres, and Consul General of Colombia in New York Maria Isabel Nieto. I’m confident we can look forward to a lively and informative discussion, moderated, of course, by our own ambassador-in-residence Capricia Marshall.

Today in particular I’d also like to recognize our Atlantic Council vice chair, Ms. Adrienne Arsht, whose generous support for our Latin American Center has enabled it to produce work of unparalleled quality and impact. Adrienne, we’re delighted, as always, to have you here with us. Adrienne is joined by several of our board members who are here with us today. We thank you, one and all, for joining us as well.

A special welcome as well to the esteemed ambassadors in the audience this afternoon. We’re joined by ambassadors from Belize, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica. And I’d also like to offer a warm welcome to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, and the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Ponte.

Today’s event marks the launch of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s Women’s Leadership in Latin America Initiative, a new venture that will explore the rise of women across sectors within the region. At a time when the level of female participation in government is increasing throughout Latin America, this initiative is more important than ever and another example of how the Arsht Center and the Atlantic Council as a whole is working to promote constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs. And it is fitting that Secretary Clinton joins us for today’s launch. She was honored, as I mentioned, with the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished International Leadership Award in 2013, at the same time that we launched the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Madam Secretary, you noted in your remarks that evening both the importance of the Council’s concerted expansion into the Latin America policy realm and the great need to tie it to the security and prosperity of the entire Atlantic community. And I’m proud to say in two short years the Center has – (inaudible, audio glitch) – increased cooperation among the United States, Latin America and Europe. The Center has repeatedly challenged conventional wisdom and placed Latin America into a global context. The Center is on a mission, you could say, to reaffirm the strategic possibilities of closer ties with a much transformed Latin America.

With that, it’s my great pleasure to invite to the stage the great Peter Schechter, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin – I was tempted to call him the Renaissance Man of All Time, but I’ll – (laughter) – spare him from that description – director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, whose leadership of the Center has been absolutely fundamental in its character and success.

By the way, today’s event is on the record, and we encourage you to join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag ACWomenLeaders.

Thank you once again for being here with us. Peter, the time is yours.

PETER SCHECHTER: (Applause.) Wow. I don’t get that introduction most of the time. Thank you, Governor Huntsman.

Welcome, everybody. I’m Peter Schechter. I’m the director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. And on behalf of all of us here at the Atlantic Council, we’re really happy to have you for the launch of the Women’s Leadership in Latin America Initiative.

We’re incredibly honored to have former secretary of state Hillary Clinton here with us for the takeoff of this new initiative, an effort which has been boldly led by Capricia Penavic Marshall, our ambassador-in-residence. (Applause.) And I’m so proud, after two years of working with Capricia, to be able to call her not only my colleague who is in the office next door, but also my friend. Thank you for designing this program and for raising the profile of women in Latin America everywhere.

Madam Secretary, it’s a great privilege to hear your insights and your thoughts into this relevant topic, both for the work of the Atlantic Council but also for the Americas as a whole. We’re grateful that you’ve taken the time out in your visit to Washington – I know you’re here for one day – in this busy campaign season. You’re a transformative figure. You’re a transformative figure for women worldwide. Your contributions to the advancement of women everywhere are singular, as secretary of state, as senator, as first lady and throughout your career. I can say this with real appreciation because 2015 is the 20th anniversary of your groundbreaking speech in Beijing, which all of us remember. (Applause.)

We’re also delighted to have our founder, Adrienne Arsht, here with us. Her vision continues to shape our work, not the least of which on this very issue. And I am really personally grateful for her mentorship throughout my time here at the Atlantic Council.

I also want to thank our panelists for coming, from near and far, for joining us today: Senator Salinas, Ambassador Figueres, Consul General Nieto. You each have a breadth and depth of experience into women’s ascension in Latin America because you’ve all served as public servants. And Senator Salinas, a particular word to you of appreciation, to you and to Grupo Salinas, for recognizing the potential of this initiative. You’re a symbol of Mexico’s own great strides for women in leadership, and thank you for your generous support of this, and thank you for your statesmanship.

Our mission here at the Center has been to demonstrate the strategic and economic potential of closer relations with 585 million Westerners that are our neighbors in Latin America. Over the last two years, we’ve focused on the big, thematic issues that cut across countries: the regional impact of improved U.S.-Cuba relations, China’s role in Latin America, trade, urbanization, the potential of Colombia’s post-conflict future. Next year we’re going to take on the issue of infrastructure and launch a report on how the region is going to look in the year 2030. We see our role as shaping the big picture, expanding the universe of those people who are interested in Latin America, and spotlighting the transformations that are visible the minute you land in Bogota or in San Jose or in Mexico City.

Secretary Clinton, during your many visits to Latin America and the Caribbean as secretary of state, you recognized the opportunities to work with a region that has an expanding middle class, consolidated communities to which the United States is irrevocably tied. You saw the changes happening in real time. And one of those transformations, one of those changes has been the rise of women in all levels of society, but particularly in politics and government. Latin America’s national legislatures hold among the highest percentages of female representation. The region has had several notable heads of state – (inaudible, audio glitch) – Cabinet and local government positions is in many countries equal to or better than in other Western nations.

Still, there’s much work to be done and there are many lessons to be shared from the South to the North. That’s why we’re launching this initiative that’s going to examine the progress of female leaders, and that’s why we’re going to issue a report to call on public and private sectors and to empower them with tools for women in the Western Hemisphere.

So to kick it off today, we’re fortunate to hear from three participants in the region’s progress. Senator Ninfa Salinas serves in the Mexico Senate, where she was previously a deputy. Ambassador Muni Figueres was Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 2010 to 2014. And among the many distinguished government posts that she had, she was Costa Rica’s minister of foreign trade. Consul Maria Isabel Nieto is Colombia’s consul general in New York. She previously served as senior adviser to President Juan Manuel Santos and as senior executive at SABMiller in Colombia.

Capricia, who will moderate the discussion, will now accompany the panel onstage, and the discussion among these three esteemed women follows Secretary Clinton’s introduction. We ask you to remain in your seats for the duration of the program.

With that, it’s my distinct pleasure and honor to introduce the most recognizable woman in the world today, Secretary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON: (Laughs.) (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you all very much.

Well, it is a great pleasure to be back at the Atlantic Council. And thank you, Peter. Thank you for your leadership of this important initiative.

And thank you so much, Governor Huntsman, for your stewardship of the Atlantic Council. I never know whether to call you governor or ambassador, because I was privileged to serve with you in your capacity as our ambassador to China and I greatly appreciate everything you did on behalf of our country in that very consequential relationship. Thank you.

And Fred Kempe, thank you so much for the breadth and depth of the work that the Atlantic Council is doing under your presidency and the fact that it is branching into new areas, that it is taking Atlantic from North to South and not just East to West. And that is a very important development indeed.

I’m looking forward to hearing about this panel because it is filled with such distinguished members, who have been introduced but I want to add my appreciation to each and every one of them for being here and also for the work that each has done in your respective positions in your countries. And I want to thank Capricia, a long-time friend and colleague, for her leadership on this important matter.

You know, so much of the Atlantic Council’s work demonstrates the enormous potential for cooperation between the U.S. and Latin America. It’s something, as Peter said, that I spent a great deal of time – (inaudible, audio glitch) – the extraordinary assistant secretary, who is here with us, Roberta Jacobson, who has a coterie of friends and colleagues, some of whom I see before me, who made such a difference in our efforts to try to forge a new relationship with Latin America, and indeed that has continued and intensified, certainly since I left the State Department. And I am thrilled that the Atlantic Council is paying such close attention.

Now, it would be probably predictable for me to say this, but there’s a lot we can learn from Latin America’s success at electing women presidents. (Laughter, applause.) And that is just a small part of the story. But it is a region that is transforming itself. And I was privileged to be here at the Atlantic Council in 2013, when the announcement was made of Adrienne’s really generous commitment to build this Latin America program here at the Atlantic Council. And from all that I have seen in the years since, you have just taken that and run with it.

And in particular, this focus now on women is welcome and as important as ever.

I was looking back. In 1998, I actually spoke about women’s leadership at a conference in Montevideo. Back then, according to the statistics, women in Latin America were trailing men in education, economic and health indicators and security. Many countries were still emerging from decades of dictatorship and political violence. Seventeen years later, there’s been enormous gains in Latin America and the Caribbean. The percentage of women legislators has nearly doubled. Girls are now equal to, even surpassing their male classmates in educational enrollment. And voters have elected women presidents in Brazil, Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, and prime ministers in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and others as well.

It’s not just, though, elected office and government. Women have long played a critical role in advancing human rights in Latin America, as we see today in Venezuela and Cuba. I had the privilege of meeting one of the founders of the Women in White in Miami this July, and we spoke about the need for openness and engagement and supporting those working for change in Cuba.

Women are leading Latin America’s transformation at all levels, as entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, executives, bankers, lawyers, teachers, scientists, working to lift their families out of poverty and bring whole economies into the future, sparking innovation and growth. But we still have work to do. We need to raise incomes and end poverty, eliminate gender-based violence, strengthen reproductive rights, end the outrage of women getting paid less than men, take on inequality. Indigenous and Afro-descendant women still trail Latin America’s averages in almost every indicator. So we need to close the gaps that persist at home and around the world in order to make real the promise that democracy and economic opportunity hold out.

Now, we have more data than ever before that confirms what we should have known all along: When women and girls participate, economies grow and nations prosper. If we close the global gap in workforce participation, global GDP would grow by nearly 12 percent by 2030. If women farmers had the same access to productive resources, agricultural output would rise and the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by as much as 150 million. And when women are involved in peace processes, they are more likely to raise issues, like justice and health care, which are fundamental to long-term peace and security.

So advancing the full participation of girls and women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing, as well. That’s why I made elevating the status of girls and women a high priority and a strategic imperative as secretary of state, and I will continue to champion that going forward.

Now, Latin America’s growing commitment to supporting women’s leadership is a sign of a deeper alignment, and I believe firmly that no region in the world, no region, is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than our friends in Latin America. No region in the world is better positioned – (applause) – no region is better positioned to emerge as a new force for global peace and progress.

I believe that if we look at the Western Hemisphere as a part of the world that is interlinked and interdependent and we work from the middle out, we would carry so much more influence in so many areas of concern and opportunity, and I, for one, would like to see us begin thinking more like that.

Yet I have to hasten to say that I know there are Americans who only think of Latin America as a land of crime and coups. They’re very out of date, but that is a stereotype that has fixated itself in the psyche. They want to return to a failed policy on Cuba and cut our ties instead of strengthening them. They talk about deportation and walls instead of recognizing that America’s diversity is our greatest strength and supporting meaningful reform that will keep families together benefits all of us.

As we look at the reality of Latin America today, it’s especially important that we talk with our fellow Americans about the changes that everyone here has seen and indeed have helped to shape. The interdependence between the U.S. and Latin America is an advantage to be embraced. We need to build on what I call the power of proximity. And it’s not just geography; it’s common values, common culture, common heritage and, yes, common interests. Closer ties across Latin America will help our economy here in the U.S. and strengthen our hand around the world.

And there is enormous potential for cooperating on clean energy to combat climate change, and I have to give credit to a number of Latin American countries that have been leaders in the effort against climate change and today in Paris are once again leading the way in talking about innovation, moving more quickly toward clean energy, and we should be looking for every opportunity to collaborate.

Now, there is a lot of work that we need to do together to take on persistent challenges, such as crime and poverty, and to stand in defense of our shared values. I want to say a word about Venezuela because as the people in Venezuela go to the ballot box this weekend, it is really up to all of us in this hemisphere to ensure that their will is respected. And that responsibility begins with the Maduro administration, which to date has been doing all it can to rig these elections – jailing political opponents, blocking others with trumped-up charges, stoking political tensions. And I am outraged at the cold-blooded assassination of Luis Manuel Diaz on stage at a rally last week.

Our voices need to be raised on behalf of the people of Venezuela. And voices across the region have started to speak up for democratic values, but we need much more. The people of Venezuela need to know that their friends and neighbors in the Americas are rallying to their cause and defense. They are not alone. They deserve every opportunity to have the same choices and chances that everyone in this hemisphere is finally seeing within grasp.

Now, the United States also has to show leadership and lead in the region more broadly. And I, for one, am pledged to do that, because as I think about our future, I’m really excited about how much more we can do together. I was pleased as secretary of state to work on behalf of women entrepreneurs, to lift up women’s rights and human rights, to stand for more cooperation between nations as we try to electrify the continent but also to do it in a way that transitions toward clean, renewable energy, to create more of a texture of connectivity between the United States and the rest of Latin America. And I’m especially pleased that the three panelists you have here today are real leaders, not only from their own countries, elected and appointed, but also of the region as a whole.

I’ll end with a story from a wonderful visit that we had to go and meet with entrepreneurs, women who were making a real difference for themselves and their communities. We visited a number of projects, from El Salvador through Central America, into Latin America, in Colombia, in Peru, and I wish all of you could have been with me, because what you see on the faces of those women, who are beginning to make income, beginning to have the dignity that comes from being able to support oneself, being able to pay for not just luxuries but necessities for their children, to contribute to their husbands’ income, those who were married and had now two earners in the family, was such a transformational experience that all of us who were privy to it were deeply moved.

And what I want us to leave this session today and the work that the Center is doing, and particularly the emphasis on Latin American women, is that it’s not just about women’s lives, women’s rights and women’s opportunities; it is about lifting up families, communities and countries and providing greater opportunities for everyone. That should be our hallmark and our clarion call. And I will do whatever I can to support those of you who are on the front lines making change happen for women.

Thank you all. (Applause.)

CAPRICIA PENAVIC MARSHALL: Well, we are immensely grateful to Secretary Clinton for joining us for the launch of the Women’s Initiative here at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, and particularly for framing our panelists’ conversation so perfectly.

Before moving on, I also would like to echo a welcome to the diplomatic corps, but in addition to the wonderful ambassador from Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico, I would also like to welcome the ambassadors of Nicaragua and Peru. So thank you all for joining us very, very much. It is a sense of protocol that I retain with me from my days as chief of protocol. (Laughter.)

So I’m so pleased to be here with our panelists. You know, I am a first-generation Mexican American, and I grew up in a household with an abuelita that was very strong-willed, and con mi mamita, who was also, I would say, very tiene fuerza, that both of them pushed me. They really pushed me to do more, to reach higher, to see beyond the limits. And I feel like that was because they were Latinas.

Your personal stories are emblematic for young women in your countries, for all women around the world. We can learn so much from them.

So Senator Salinas, let me begin with you. And I want to thank you so very much for traveling from Mexico and joining us and leaving a two-month-old. She just had a baby. I cannot believe it. Look how fantastic she looks. What was your personal motivation for beginning a career in public service? And was being a woman part of that motivation?

SENATOR NINFA CLARA SALINAS SADA: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I’m very proud to be part of this panel. And I’m also very proud to be a mother and to be able to be here and to do both things at the same time. I think work and family is something that sometimes conflicts us, but it also makes us very proud and it also brings a lot of purpose to what we do.

So I think, regarding your question, one of my biggest motivations to join public service was the recognition that in my country there is a big gap, there’s a breach between the most educated and the politicians, so I feel that this breach is because people feel very disappointed about government policies, about people in government in general. And I think what was going to happen sooner later is that people started not to participate, so they just fell back into their own comfortable positions. And I would go to different events and people would say, oh, those politicians, those people over there, and they just simply detached themselves of the responsibility to be there, to have a voice and to create our own reality.

So I felt that that was my biggest motivation. So I talked to my family, and I think both my parents were very helpful, were very good teachers for me, and I was inspired because I thought that every day we make a difference. And every day that we don’t have a voice is a day that we let go by without building what we want to see for our children, for ourselves. So that was my personal experience.

So I entered the House of Deputies and I served for three years, and now I’ve been serving in the Senate for three years. I had the honor of – I have still the honor of serving – of chairing the Environment Committee, and I’m very happy to build sustainable development and continue to be part of this transformation in our region and Latin America, who has definitely become one of the most transformative regions in – on the world. I think it is impressive. We have 22 percent of women serving in parliaments in this part of the world. So it’s interesting because we have so many things to talk about, so many anecdotes to talk about and to share with other people, inspire them to become involved and keep on working towards change.

MS. MARSHALL: Thank you. Thank you.

Consul General, thank you so very much also for joining us today and traveling on this blustery day. Did you have a similar motivation or were there other factors? Was being a woman part of your motivation factor?

CONSUL GENERAL MARIA ISABEL NIETO: Well, in my personal experience, our country was going through a very difficult moment. I was a student finishing high school, starting university, and it was the latest ’80s – don’t make any numbers now, with my age. (Laughter.) But then it was the late ’80s and at the moment it wasn’t really a matter of being a woman before being a student, being a young person with opportunities to – (inaudible, audio glitch) – was my inspiration, and he was killed later by the drug lords. And there was a series of events that really shocked the generation of students, and we decided to get together and we put up a movement called – (in Spanish) – that finally drove the country to a new constitution, to a general assembly and finally to a new constitution.

So what I think is that I didn’t look for politics; politics found me in the right moment. And also, well, as you were saying, your abuelita, in my family it was the same. My grandmother was the first woman that participated in a political campaign in Colombia, although she never, and no one in my family has ever been appointed or elected, the politics were very natural in my family. She was always talking about the problems of our country, how we should get involved. My father, as well – we were seven children – every day, politics were on the menu.

But, yeah, so then I started and I’m still here. But it was not really a matter of women. After I entered politics, I realized that there were little – in women, there were little space for women and that we had really to fight. And, well, all of us have been fighting for long, but that’s my experience.

MS. MARSHALL: That’s wonderful. Thank you.

Ambassador Figueres, it’s so nice to see you again.

MUNI FIGUERES: Thank you, Ambassador Marshall.

MS. MARSHALL: It was wonderful serving you as chief of protocol, during the day.

MS. FIGUERES: Thank you.

MS. MARSHALL: Did the political circumstances and culture in your country encourage your career in government and politics? And also, I’m curious whether or not you felt the first woman president of your country reached out to you and selected you to be a woman ambassador to make a statement.

MS. FIGUERES: Well, thank you. Thank you to the Council for this invitation, and to Adrienne Arsht for having created this wonderful institution.

I must confess that I never had a Joan of Arc moment about going into politics, because I was brought up in a political family. And you may almost say it had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t so something in the public sector, not necessarily politics, but certainly public service. And because I am half – my mother is American, like my colleague the present ambassador of Costa Rica I have always looked at my country, Costa Rica, as part of a partnership with my other country, the United States.

So I was working in the private sector in my family’s company when a program was begun to diversify exports and attract foreign investment that would finance the diversification of exports and the export platform and the markets for our products, because we had been a commodity exporter up to then, and was called on to work on a very tiny team whose job it was, of all things, to tend to potential investors, take them around and convince them to believe in Costa Rica and bet on Costa Rica. And because I was – most of these investors, potential investors, were from the States, it was thought that and I thought that culturally it was a very good way to begin to get involved in the public sector in my country in a new initiative that would eventually transform our economy into what is today a high added-value, high tech exporting, very diversified exporting country.

So it happened that there was a match between my biculturalism and this effort which was going to be – even though we wanted to attract investment from all over the world, it was going to be concentrated on the U.S. because we were being very, very heavily assisted by USAID and by the U.S. government in creating this program and diversifying our exports to lower the risk of being a single or a commodity exporter in times in which we needed to find a new area of growth.

So there was this match. That’s how it started out. Not because I was a woman. That rationale did not enter my mind at that time. It did enter my mind that being a woman was not going to be a limitation. I had that very clear because I’m the mother of a – I’m the daughter of a very strong-willed woman. And then later on, I ran for vice president. And being in a political campaign makes you get so close to people. You do walk into their living rooms. You embrace their abuelas. You actually feel the capillaries of the society that you’re living in much more than you certainly do in public office, because by then you become very removed.

So that started to make me think that women were a well that had to be tapped in Costa Rica and that perhaps being a woman would somehow make it more successful for me to do so. And as you can see, women in campaigns, present company included, have a special – a special charm. And so that’s the way I got started.

MS. MARSHALL: Thank you.

We had a fascinating conversation about the definition of machismo just a short while ago, and I’m wondering if the – you know, it is said that in Latin America that there is a machismo culture. Did any of you experience that as a barrier to the advancements of your career?

SEN. SALINAS: I would say that it definitely is in our culture, but there’s also a culture of a great matriarchal society – is that a correct word? Yeah, matriarchal society. So I think in Mexico everything is held together by women. And you can see the numbers. Women are responsible for the economic stability of the household. They’re responsible for the education of the kids, for the extended family. They’re the ones who are awarded credit lines, and they’re responsible for that. And I think that makes them stand out in many ways.

So it’s just the belief system that’s a little bit corrupt, because we are – the women are very powerful, at least in my country, and I think it’s the same in the rest of Latin America. But I think the belief system just makes us feel a little bit – I don’t know if it’s not worthy, but we don’t believe that we are those leaders.

So I think that what we have to change comes from the inside, first of all in the education of our kids and the way we are building the belief system on how women work in society. But machismo was definitely something that stands in the way. But I’ve also had great male leaders and they’ve helped me see through their shoulders and I’ve seen great support and education from them.

So my opinion is it’s personal. We should not generalize, but there is definitely an issue that we have to address, and this is to these men. We’re not the same, but we need the same opportunities.

MS. MARSHALL: Well, as Secretary Clinton had noted also, that there’s an extraordinary number of chiefs of state from the region. And I calculated that in 2014, I believe that there were four women presidents and three women prime ministers, which is really extraordinary for the region. And so people ask the question, why? And one of the answers that is raised is quotas. Since the early ’90s, I believe beginning with Argentina – right, Ambassador? – that Latin American countries began to adopt legal and constitutional changes to put women in political leadership positions, resulting in a rise in the percentage of women legislators, almost, in some countries, by 50 percent. By contrast, no woman has been elected president of the United States yet, and we have only about 20 percent representation of women in – legislators in Congress.

Senator Salinas, in 2014, Mexico approved a political reform package that requires gender parity. Do you feel that quotas have been an effective tool to increase female political participation and also participation in government?

SEN. SALINAS: Well, I definitely think that it’s been a good tool to encourage participation, but I also feel that that is not the real solution. I really think that if we want this to be a sustainable and an effective tool through time, we have to come up with other support mechanisms, such as education, such as better life conditions and new opportunities and spaces for women. I think the quota system just miraculously puts us there, and it helps, definitely, but I think we have to transform our system into a system that rewards capacity and results. But it’s difficult. So we’re in a transition and I think that that’s a good transition, but we still have to work on it.

MS. MARSHALL: Ambassador Figueres, what do you think about the quota system? Do you think it is sustainable?

MS. FIGUERES: Yes. I think it is sustainable as a transition phase, that it has been successful, and I think that it will be held onto until women in politics become a mainstream phenomenon and a non-topic, so to speak, which we hope will happen soon. But I think it’s also important, Capricia, to point out that the obstacles women face in politics, as anywhere else, vary a great deal according to their background, according to the resources that are available to their families. That’s a very obvious point and I don’t want to belabor it, but it has to be said that the lower income group a woman belongs to, the harder her fight is going to be going up. That’s true here and it’s true in all of our countries, and all over the world, most probably.

So maybe what we have to work on is crafting polices and crafting mechanisms that will especially concentrate on women in lower-income families to raise their standard of living, because by osmosis they will participate more in politics. It’s just not the same scene for those who are very poor and have to survive, barely, than for those who have all of the privileges of an education. So maybe you need to develop differentiated policies for different levels of society and aim to bring the floor up, not just politically, but economically, obviously.

MS. MARSHALL: Like Secretary Clinton said, bring them up, lift them up.


MS. MARSHALL: Consul General, the quota system in Colombia is interesting as well. Do you feel as though there might be any resentment to the quota, do you sense that there might be some resistance, or do you think that people are generally rather accepting of the quota system?

CONSUL GEN. NIETO: Well, before I answer your question, I would like to say that I’m a believer of the quota system because – for the things that you were just saying, that Ambassador Figueres was just saying, that the access to the political world has lots of obstacles, including the economical obstacle. So if the quota didn’t exist, then women into politics, I don’t say they won’t be, but it would be very difficult.

In Colombia, for example, we have 50 years ago the quota system approval. It was 30 percent of the executive level – of the executive branch has to be women. That means ministers, vice ministers, directors of institutions in the public sector. That has allowed us really to be in those positions of power that would never have been possible if that quota didn’t exist.

At the same time, when you said – and the second part is recently, and Colombia was really late to do it, we approved a quota for the lists of the legislative branch to be elected; 30 percent of the lists have to be women. That also allows these poor women, in small villages, in small communities, really to be included in those lists and have the chance to be elected.

Regarding your question, I think they do resent, they do resent. And I had the chance to live it really close because I was a deputy minister of the interior when it – thanks to the quota law, and we had to fight for that bill of law in Congress. And the reactions of men were, you know: Why? I mean, why are you taking our spaces? Why don’t you fight your spaces by yourself? You should fight it in the same – with the same opportunities. It was very hard for them to recognize that they had to do a – they had to approve an affirmative action to fight against the inequality.

And at the same time, in the appointment – well, the political parties, for example, they also, it was very difficult for the political parties to accept that they had to include 30 percent on their lists. And it was very evident, I have to say, for women to be appointed, that 30 percent in the executive branch, because men felt that they were taking away part of their bureaucracy. And that’s a reality. I think they do resent it.

MS. MARSHALL: I was just handed a note that said that the audience is dying to ask a question, so I’m going to stop taking it and ask if anyone has a question from the audience. I believe we only have time for one question. (Pause.) No? Because I can go on and on. (Laughs.) Yes? Go ahead.

Q: Thank you very much. I was wondering if you could say a few words – my name is Joan Caivano, with the Inter-American Dialogue – if you could say a few words about the policy outcomes of having women in power. And you’re from two countries, Colombia and Mexico, excluding Costa Rica for now, that have made a lot of progress on women’s reproductive rights, in terms of reform to abortion laws and other aspects, but that in particular is very dramatic for Colombia and Mexico. And I wonder if you think having more women in power in your countries will keep the progress moving forward. There’s a lot further to go in both of your countries.

Do women make a difference, or is that irrelevant, or are women as likely to be on either side of an issue like reproductive rights? Thank you.

MS. MARSHALL: I think that we have limited time now, so.

SEN. SALINAS: Well, in the case of Mexico my experience is it does not make a difference whether there are women discussing the issue. It is a completely political view. So it depends on your party. But it’s definitely been a transformation decade for our country because women participating definitely have a different point of view in general towards every aspect of politics. It is funny that with respect to women’s issues, it’s just a political view, but to everything else – I don’t know if I’ve answered your question – but to everything else they do have a different view. So I don’t know if it’s the same in Colombia.

CONSUL GEN. NIETO: In Colombia it is different. In Colombia definitely women participating in those decisions as groups making pressure so that those bills are approved is definitely. And because of the specific situation of Colombia being a country in war for the past 50 years, women have got together around many –

MS. MARSHALL: It seems to be the case.

CONSUL GEN. NIETO: – many fights. And this is one that does not escape to that example.

MS. MARSHALL: Ambassador Figueres.

MS. FIGUERES: I think – I agree that women in high positions do not necessarily assure policy changes favoring women. In Costa Rica’s case, the opposite of Colombia is true. Because we’ve had no army for so long, we have had enough peace for there to be bottom-up women’s movements because the communities have time and they have peace in order to organize, and women are fantastic civil society organizers, as we all know.

So seeping up from the bottom is something that happens when you can afford it, from the point of view of peace, but also because I think there’s just been a lot of change in the conceptualization of development in general from the time all of our countries gave the vote to women in the 1940s, all the way through to the Beijing conference, where women’s rights were identified with human rights, and now the present situation, which is that there’s a whole lot of international legislation. In our case, at the OAS, there are many conventions that assure women’s rights in all kinds of areas.

So it’s not – there is a collective effort that has to be done and has to be continued to be done, obviously, and an institutional one that transcends a female figure.

MS. MARSHALL: Well, on that note, I think that was a wonderful way to say thank you, thank you to all of our wonderful panelists for joining us for this initial conversation, because it now will continue on.

And again I want to thank the founder of our center, the wonderful Adrienne Arsht, for her passion and vision in this regard. And I would be remiss if I also did not thank, of course, our chairman and the president and a wonderful colleague, the director, who makes this a do tank with our wonderful team at the Center. We do so much work together. A quick shout-out to Thomas Corrigan. I was very pleased that a young man was helping lead the effort with the women’s initiative. He did a great job today. (Applause.)

Thank you all so very much.