The Journal of Politics

Book Reviews

Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. By Magda Hinojosa. (Temple University Press, 2012.)

Lisa Baldez

Dartmouth College

At this writing, four Latin American countries have women presidents: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica. Female candidates have come close to winning the presidency in other countries in the region as well, including Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. Five Latin American countries are in the top 20 slots of women in national legislatures, with women holding well over a third of legislative seats in Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua. What’s going on? If you want to know the answer, read this book. Selecting Women, Electing Women argues that the rules for candidate selection affect the election of women to political office in Latin America.

Hinojosa’s overall approach and the substantive argument she makes represent significant innovations. While most studies of women’s political representation focus either on single countries or cross-national variation, Selecting Women looks at variation across parties at the local level within two countries, Chile and Mexico, on the grounds that parties exhibit a greater degree of variation in terms of female candidates and female parliamentarians than do individual countries. Her findings are based on more than 130 interviews with political party officials in eight different municipalities in Chile and Mexico. The districts vary in terms of population and whether they had a female mayor.

Hinojosa lays out the theory, argument and evidence for the book in Chapters 2 through 6. In Chapter 2, Hinojosa addresses two arguments often forwarded to explain a lack of women running for office. She uses analyzes survey data to show that there is no lack of qualified women in Latin America, and that both “men and women are overwhelmingly willing to vote for female candidates” (18). In fact a bottleneck prevents women who are eligible to run for political office from becoming candidates. In Chapter 3, she categorizes candidate selection rules in terms of exclusivity and centralizations and develops a theoretical framework that argues women are more likely to be s/elected in parties where candidates are chosen by rules that are “centralized and exclusive,” that is, in which a small group of people at the national level select candidates. This finding flies in the face of conventional assumptions that female candidates would fare better in a more open and democratic environment (i.e., primaries). Centralized exclusive candidate selection rules allow women to overcome the hurdles of self-nomination, by which predominant gender norms decrease women’s proclivity to put themselves forward as candidates, and power monopolies from which women are excluded. The analysis demonstrates that many of the arguments invoked to explain variation in women’s representation at the cross-national level (lack of qualified women, economic factors, voter bias, culture etc.) cannot account for widespread variation across parties within a particular country. She presents the evidence for these claims in Chapters 4 through 6 by examining the status of women candidates across a range of parties in municipal-level elections in Mexico and Chile.

In Chapter 7, she writes about something that everyone knows about but few have addressed from an academic perspective: the family ties of female—and male—politicians. The brilliance of this chapter is that she shows how women’s status as “widows, wives and daughters” can obviate the institutional factors that she explicates in the rest of the book. Chapter 8 focuses on the interaction between gender quotas and candidate selection rules; it provides a useful overview and an original perspective on the literature on gender quotas. Chapter 9 concludes by identifying specific strategies that political parties could use to increase the political representation of women in Latin America. I won’t reprise her recommendations here—you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I plan to use this book in my “Gender Politics in Latin America” course. I can also envision using it undergraduate and graduate Latin American Politics courses, as well as general comparative classes that focus on elections, political parties, or legislative office. In addition to providing a persuasive explanation of the puzzle of variation in women’s representation in the region, the book provides ample background on the status of women overall, a clear description of the political terrain in two important countries in the region, and a sense of how the same issues play out in other countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Guatemala, and Peru. Her interview data provides the kind of detail that illuminates important differences within and across countries and makes the book easily accessible to readers unfamiliar with political parties in Latin America. The book also works on a pragmatic level: it reads well, it’s short (170 pages of text), and it’s available in paperback.