BOGOTA, Colombia (WOMENSENEWS)–Angelica Lozano is well-known in the Bogota district of Chapinero as a crusading attorney against governmental corruption.
But now the 29-year-old lawyer is working from the inside.
Since August, she has been Chapinero’s “minor mayor,” a city administrator appointed by the mayor. This puts her in charge of the city’s budget for her district of about 136,000 people. Lozano said she will put special effort into galvanizing her community to participate in the budget-setting process and making the budget itself more transparent.
“In the past, local politicians pushed to get the budget invested in contracts of their political or economic interest,” she told Women’s eNews. “So, what I want is to put the money where it is more needed, according to the consulting process which I am carrying on with the community.”
With all that she has on her mind, one thing that Lozano need not fret over is her minority status. This year, female minor mayors hold more than a majority. They have a complete monopoly.
‘Ruling With Tenderness’
On Aug. 6–as flags emblazoned with the words “The Right to Rule With Tenderness” flew from the old palace that houses city hall–Mayor Garzon appointed the women to all 20 of the minor mayor posts.
In the last administration, six of Bogota’s minor mayors were women. But this time the mayor–who says he wants to clean up corruption–decided to appoint only women to the posts. For an explanation he cites a pro-woman bias. He says women have a reputation as straightforward and effective administrators and that women will be more honest in assessing public bids for city contracts.
“Regarding bids, women inspire confidence,” Garzon told El Tiempo, Colombia’s main daily. “They make up more than 50 percent of the Colombian population and they are very sensitive to social policies.”
A July study by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that the needs of women are not taken into account by the Colombian state and their voices have still not been fully incorporated into public policies.
Helena Alviar, a law school dean at University of the Andes in Bogota, however, doubts that the mayor appointed the women out of the expectation that they would initiate new policies.
“The mayor’s determination in appointing 20 women as minor mayors shows that there are many women with the qualifications and education required to be minor mayors,” Alviar said. “However, these are mostly political positions, so the main selection criteria are their commitment to the mayor’s political agenda.”
Not so, says Lozano. She emphasizes that the minor mayors were selected for their qualifications, not because of their political affiliation.
“We won the selection process because we have potential, skills and experience,” Lozano said. “This is what inspired the voices of opposition, who were expecting a political distribution of these positions. We are women from a wide range of political movements. Moreover, there are also some women appointed who have no political background at all.”
Displaced Families Moving to City
Colombia has been embroiled in a decades-old civil war that each year claims an estimated 3,000 lives. Bogota has begun to feel the impacts of the conflict as an average of five families without jobs or housing arrive in the city each day, displaced by the conflict in rural areas.
The minor mayors are all in charge of implementing within their districts the mayor’s programs for tackling hunger, improving public health, curbing child labor, reaching universal education and pushing a program to create new sources of income for poor people in this city of 9 million.
This means that the 20 new minor mayors–attorneys, accountants, engineers, historians, sociologists and political scholars–have to be good negotiators. Implementing the mayor’s programs means they will work with big and small businesses, private and public schools, landlords and tenants, workers and the unemployed, as well as the police on the problem of crime and violence.
Garzon’s female-only appointments stirred immediate an outcry from those who said men were discriminated against in a selection process that lacked transparency.
While the mayor is directly elected by Bogota’s citizens, the minor mayors are appointed and are selected based on the confidential results of exams and interviews.
Garzon has said he stuck to legal rules while exercising his autonomy to choose whom he wants.
“I didn’t break any proceeding. I only broke the sexist stereotype that doesn’t recognize women’s potential,” Garzon said in a speech the day the minor mayors took office.
Colombian Women in Many Top Posts
Critics also railed that the exclusive selection of women was unnecessary in a nation that outpaces its Latin American neighbors for the number of women serving in top posts in the public sector.
In 1999, Colombia passed a law championed by 42-year-old Senator Viviane Morales that reserves for women 30 percent of its appointments to decision-making public berths. The law reserves 30 percent of ministerial positions and senior posts in public institutions for women and requires that at least one among three senior judicial positions in the high courts be held by women.
Since the passage of the law, the percentage of women in senior ministerial positions has climbed to 38 percent from 13 percent in 1998.
The 20 female minor mayors of Bogota, meanwhile, represent an even more substantial gain. While 100 percent of the posts are now held by women, the previous high-water mark in 2001 was 30 percent.
Angela Castellanos is a Colombian journalist and communication consultant who has 15 years of experience working for national and international media, such as Women’s Feature Service, Inter Press Service and ISIS Magazine.
For more information:
la Alcaldia Mayor de Bogota
Mujer y Generos
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Escuela de Estudios de Genero