Who is Francia Márquez and what does the electoral candidacy mean in Colombia?

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Afro-Colombian environmental activist, feminist and lawyer Francia Márquez obtained the third highest number of votes in Colombia’s March presidential primaries. She is now the running mate of Gustavo Petro, the current leader in the presidential elections of May 29 in Colombia.

In a country where elite men hold most political power, Márquez’s candidacy points to the growing influence of women and minorities from rural and conflict-affected areas. marquez and petro are promising changes, including economic empowerment and access to land for Colombia’s poor, and better access to health care, among other progressive goals.

But those who oppose a more inclusive Colombia impose high costs on candidates like Márquez. He has received multiple death threats and has full-time bodyguards, an indication that their presence and platform threaten the political status quo. Who is Francia Márquez and what does her candidacy mean?

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Márquez aims to speak for ‘the nobody’

Born in Cauca, a province plagued by almost 60 years of armed conflict in the country, Márquez says that she represents “the nobodys” from Colombia. Her signature style, clothing with bright geometric patterns, contrasts with the outfits favored by her male counterparts.

His speeches further break the mold. She speaks openly about important issues for indigenous peoples, the youth population, the poor and women of Colombia, especially women of African descent, issues such as reproductive rights, reparation for victims of the armed conflict, and environmental and climate justice.

Márquez is a single mother, recipient of government benefits for the poor, and officially registered as a victim of the armed conflict. She recently got her law degree. Her studies took more than 10 years, interrupted by long breaks while she worked for earn tuition money. Sometimes, her job included being a servant.

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She is also an environmental leader, winning the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize after leading a cross-country march to protest against illegal mining.

But like Julia Zulver’s New book “High-Risk Feminism in Colombia,” she explains, demanding justice in Colombia is dangerous work, particularly for women. Since the signing in 2016 of the peace agreements between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government, Thousands environmental and human rights leaders have been assassinated. The various armed groups are still operational and have reportedly assassinated 59 social leaders so far in 2022.

Márquez survived an assassination attempt in 2019. Last month, paramilitary groups, long associated with right-wing forces, sent him two brochures with a stark choice: cease his campaign or die.

Glass ceilings restrict women’s participation

Márquez’s victory would mark an important step in a country that lags behind the rest of Latin America when it comes to women’s representation.

Columbia has had a gender quota law since 2011, but only requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and applies only in constituencies with more than five seats. Conversely, 11 Latin American countries have gender parity laws that require political parties to appoint equal proportions of women and men.

The proportion of women candidates is important, as the number of women running explains the number of women elected, as jennifer piscopo‘s research found. Countries with gender parity elect more balanced legislatures, which means women hold 40 to 50 percent of the seats. But Colombian women held less than 20 percent of legislative seats during the 2010s.

Other characteristics of the electoral system also disadvantage women, such as the tendency of parties to choose open lists instead of closed lists. open lists give voters a preferential vote, which generally cast for men.

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Women candidates in Colombia also receive less campaign funds: they are more like be outsiders and newcomers, without the support of the traditional political machines. Money helps rookie candidates gain name recognition, but Jennifer Piscopo’s investigation in chilea country that also uses open lists finds that donors are more willing to fund male than female newcomers.

These obstacles mean that female candidates in Colombia have had trouble turning nominations into victories. they finally won 30 percent of the seats in last month’s legislative elections, due in large part to the forces behind Márquez’s rise: a growing demand for new forms of leadership. When voters look for a new approach, women’s electoral fortunes often increase.

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Marquez means change and resistance

However, it is generally elite women who benefit from increasing levels of women’s political representation. The current vice president of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, for example, is a former senator and minister of defense for the country’s conservative political class.

Likewise, Colombia reserves two seats in the lower house for Afro-Colombian representatives, but few have been women. Marginalized and racialized women like Márquez rarely gain national prominence.

But social movements demanding greater rights for Afro-descendants are sweeping the region. black women of Mexico for Brazil they are increasingly leading the charge and claiming their rights.

These women often pay the highest price. In 2018, the murder of Marielle Franco made international news. Franco was an Afro-Brazilian and bisexual councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro who stood up for the poor and demanded accountability for police brutality.

Latin America has the highest number of murders of human rights defenders around the world and 18% of those killed are women. from Colombia women activists and politicians face gender threatsincluding threats of sexual assault and harm to their families.

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The researchers call this larger phenomenon violence against women in politics, where the attackers are not motivated by political disagreements, but by misogyny. Quite simply, attackers use violence and threats of violence to preserve politics as domain of men.

So while many Colombians see themselves represented in Márquez’s experience, others use racist and sexist tropes to mock and bully her. Conservative politicians and public figures often troll her on twitterincluding many women who are well-known members of the economic and social elite.

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in a online event Held shortly after announcing his candidacy, Márquez quoted a common saying among Colombian social leaders: “If we keep quiet, they kill us. If we speak, they will kill us. So we can also talk.”

Against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, heightened insecurity, rising inflation, and diminishing opportunity, Márquez inspires hope for change for some Colombians, but fear for others. His candidacy, and his possible promotion to the vice presidency, indicates that minorities in rural and conflict-affected areas in Colombia can influence the future of the country.

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Julia Zuluver (@JZulver) is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie researcher at the University of Oxford and the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the author of “High-risk feminism in Colombia” (Rutgers University Press, 2022).

Jennifer M Piscopo (@Jennpiscopo) is associate professor of politics and director of the Center for Research and Scholarship at Occidental College. His research on women, elections and political representation has appeared in more than 20 journals and she is a regular consultant for UN Women and other international organizations.