Central & South America

We have not employed the term ‘Latin America’ for this region because it privileges European settlers, many of whom were from Spain and Portugal. As elsewhere in the Americas, the place of Indigenous women is critical to understanding the extent of equality in politics as in much else. Nationalism and anti-colonial politics have been influential in shaping attitudes to women’s rights and in mobilizing activists but so too has the power of forces such as the Catholic Church. Women were key players in the Cuban and other revolutions and Catholic nuns became some of the most outspoken proponents of liberation theology. Today some leaders in the region have named themselves feminists, such as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Chile’s Michele Bachelet (now Executive Director of UN Women). The latter named an equal number of women and men to her cabinet in 2006.  Women of European descent remain most visible in public office but male violence and entitlement persist as an obstacle for them as well.  In 2002, it was estimated that women’s “participation in political power” in this region put it “behind Europe, on par with Asia, and ahead of Africa, the Pacific and the Middle East” (Htun 10). The UN Commission on the Status of Women more recently reported, however, that only Europe and this region surpass the world average for women in government. In 2011, the United Nations opened the new UN Women Regional Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama City.

Central & South America Suffrage Timeline

Right to Vote
Right to Stand for Election
September 29th, 1947 September 29th, 1947
March 25th, 1954 March 25th, 1954
July 21, 1952
July 21, 1952
Bolivia Notes
*Right to vote extended to “literate women and those with a certain level of income” (p. 41).
July 16th, 1934 July 16th, 1934
May 30th, 1931*/
May 15th, 1949**
May 30th, 1931*/
May 15th, 1949**
Chile Notes
*Right to vote/stand for election in “municipal elections” (p. 77). **Right to vote/stand for election in “legislative and provincial elections” (p. 77).
August 25th, 1954 August 25th, 1954
Costa Rica
November 17th, 1949 November 17th, 1949
Dominican Republic
1942 1942
March 3rd, 1929** March 3rd, 1929
Ecuador Notes
*First country in South American to grant woman suffrage. **”Between 1929 and 1967, voting was compulsory for men and optional for women; in 1967 it became compulsory for bothe sexes” (p. 115).
El Salvador
1939 1961
1946 1946
1953 1945*
Guyana Notes
*”Eligible to sit on the British Guiana Legislation Council” (p. 163).
April 21st, 1955 April 21st, 1955
July 5, 1941* July 5, 1941/
March 1st, 1946
Panama Notes
*“A 1941 electoral law granted a limited franchise to women (to vote for and be elected to provincial bodies) if they held a university degree or had completed vocational raining, a teacher’s college, or secondary schooling. Full political rights were granted to women in 1946.” (p. 298)
July 5th, 1961 July 5th, 1961
September 7th, 1955 September 7th, 1955
December 9th, 1948 December 9th, 1948
December 16th, 1932 December 16th, 1932
March 28th, 1946 March 28th, 1946


Bergmann, Emilie, et al. 1992. Women, Culture, and Politics in Latin America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Htun, Mala. 2002. “Women in Political Power in Latin America.” In Women in Parliament. Stockholm: International IDEA. . Also in Spanish as “Mujeres en el Parlamento”. http://www.idea.int/publications/wip/upload/Chapter1-Htun-feb03.pdf

Htun, Mala and Mark Jones. 2002. “Engendering the Right to Participate in Decisionmaking: Electoral Quotas and Women’s Leadership in Latin America.” in Gender and the Politics of Rights and Democracy in Latin America. Eds. Nikki Craske and Maxine Molyneux. London: Palgrave.

Reif, Linda L. 1986. “Women in Latin American Guerrilla Movements: A Comparative Perspective.” Comparative Politics. 18:2. 147-169.

Safa, Helen I. 1990. “Women’s Social Movements in Latin America.” Gender and Society. 4:3 354-69.

Yeager, Gertrude M. 1994. Confronting Change, Challenging Tradition: Woman in Latin American History. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources.