Book project

Paths to Women’s Suffrage in Latin America

My book project, based on my dissertation, draws on approaches from political science, history, and sociology to explain the timing and paths to female enfranchisement in Latin America. Focusing on variation in the timing of enfranchisement, I find that the alignment or misalignment of decision-makers’ two sets of motivations – strategic and normative beliefs – explain the success or failure of reform. Strategic calculations refer to the potential electoral and political benefits of extending the franchise, while normative commitments about the issue include ideas about democracy, inclusion, and gender roles. The literature on electoral reform, however, tends to only emphasize the first of these motivations. This micro-level explanation is complemented by a historical argument for motivation alignment and misalignment. The central finding is that historical class and religious cleavages in Latin America, in what I consider the period of early enfranchisement (before World War II), produced contradictory motivations in political parties and individual legislators, making early women’s suffrage rare. Moreover, I find that for understanding early suffrage, normative motivations take preponderance whereas in the postwar period, as democratic values extended through newly created international organizations and norms, strategic considerations became more relevant. For this project, in addition to a region-wide analysis, I examine in close detail the cases of Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. By analyzing inclusion along gender lines, introducing religion as a major factor, and focusing on Latin America, this research overcomes the male, class, and European biases that characterize the democratization literature.