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Authors of the Month: Michelle Saint-Germain, Cynthia Chavez Metoyer

Published: August 15, 2011

Women Legislators in Central America: Politics, Democracy and Policy

Michelle Saint-Germain, Professor of Public Policy and Administration, CSULB, and Cynthia Chavez Metoyer, Professor of Political Science, CSU San Marcos

Published in 2008 by the University of Texas Press, Women Legislators in Central America represents 10 years of research by Saint-Germain on the record number of women elected to national legislatures in Central American republics between 1980 and 1999. Her study asked, “Do quantitative increases in the presence of elected women in Central America produce qualitative political changes?” Saint-Germain and Metoyer explored the reasons for this unprecedented political rise of women and what effect it has had on the region. Focusing on Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, the authors analyzed national and regional indicators to evaluate various hypotheses concerning the reasons for women’s electoral success as well as to make comparisons with findings from other world regions. They found that the election of more women depends on three things: the presence of a crisis, a pool of politically experienced women, and a culture of gender consciousness. The authors documented how elected women used their policy-making power to begin to change the lives of all Central Americans, women and men alike. In more than 75 in-depth, personal interviews, these women legislators reflected on their lives, political careers and gender identities in their own words. Saint-Germain was surprised by the many differences she found in an area often dismissed as a series of cookie-cutter banana republics. “I found strong differences beginning with who settled where,” she explained. “What difference was made by the relative presence or absence of indigenous populations? Costa Rica did not base its agricultural economy on indigenous or imported labor so there was less of a gap between rich and poor. Guatemala’s large indigenous population was never completely annihilated nor completely assimilated by European settlers, a dynamic that still generates social tension today. U.S. Corporations played a large role in Honduras, and women representatives

Author of the Month

there had small business backgrounds. Women in both Nicaragua and El Salvador drew on their backgrounds in revolutionary movements to win elections.” Saint-Germain, who joined CSULB in 1995, received the Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award in 2007. She earned her B.A. in Sociology from UC Berkeley in 1969 and her Ph.D. in public administration from USC in 1983. She left her first job teaching at the University of Maine to join health workers observing the 1984 Nicaraguan elections. She remained two years at the Nicaraguan Institute of Public Administration and continues to return.