Women’s Right to Vote in Latin America

Hispanic Community March 2023 PREMIUM
The year 2020 marked 100 years since women obtained the right to vote in the United States, a reminder of how far women’s rights have advanced over the past century, despite the many challenges that still remain.

Latin American women have also fought hard over the past century to obtain the right to political representation, a basic catalyst for changes to women’s social and economic conditions.

Some Latin American feminist activism can be traced back to the late 19th century, as a result of liberal and secular political movements which encouraged women’s education and participation in the public sphere; nonetheless, the 1920s and 1930s were the key decades for women’s suffrage movements in the region. Most of the key Latin American activists of this time were upper class women who were educated and exposed to foreign experiences and ideas, and who took part in pan-American associations and gatherings that included U.S. suffragettes. Scholars and historians who have researched Latin American feminism at this time describe how Latin American activists diverged from U.S.-based suffragettes in some important ways, particularly in their criticism of the U.S.’ repeated interventions in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and in their insistence on discussing women’s social and economic rights, as well as their political and civil rights.

In 1910, the First International Feminine Congress took place in Buenos Aires, organized by Argentinean activists who led the way for subsequent movements in the region. In 1916, at the end of a national revolution in which women had played an important role, Mexican activists organized the International Congress of Women in Merida, which was attended by 700 delegates. In 1922, U.S. suffragettes organized the League of Women Voters Pan American Conference in Baltimore; some Latin American attendees were discouraged by the fact that, despite its intention to include the entire region, the conference’s agenda was controlled by the U.S. organizers, who also ignored petitions to condemn U.S. interventionist policies. As a result, some Latin American activists formed their own organizations, such as the Liga Internacional de Mujeres Ibéricas e Hispanoamericanas (The International League of Iberian and Hispano-American Women).

It was in the 1930s, however, when this initial activism gained traction and real change began occurring. Several international gatherings took place, in conjunction with the influential Washington D.C.-based Interamerican Commission on Women (IACW), where women’s political rights were recognized as equal to men’s: the 1933 Pan American Conference held in Montevideo, where a key resolution recommending women’s suffrage – the “Civil and Political Rights of Women” -was passed; the 1936 Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace in Buenos Aires, where another women’s rights resolution was passed; and the 1938 Eighth International Conference of American States, held in Lima, where IACW participants passed the Lima Declaration in Favor of Women’s Rights. All these developments led up to the inclusion of women’s rights in the 1948 United Nations Charter, and in the norms upheld by the Organization of American States, created in the same year. Latin American activists played key roles in including women’s rights in the newly formed United Nations; indeed, Brazilian IACW representative Bertha Lutz led the initiative to create the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and Chilean activist Amanda Lebarca became its first director.

These international developments, together with specific political changes in each country, led to the official enfranchisement of women in the bulk of Latin American countries in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

There was some recognition of women’s right to vote before the 1920s, but it was very limited. Notably, Argentina has allowed women to vote in municipal elections in the province of San Juan since 1862, and the 1917 Uruguayan constitution afforded men and women equal voting rights in principle, although this was not enacted into law until decades later.

In 1929, Ecuador became the first Latin American nation to grant women the right to vote at the national level. Nonetheless, this right was only applicable to women who were literate, which excluded the large indigenous population altogether. In 1978, women’s enfranchisement became truly universal, when the literacy requirement was eliminated. Peru, Guatemala and Paraguay also initially imposed literacy requirements on women’s right to vote, which was thus exclusionary for the majority of the indigenous population; these restrictions were later lifted.

Populist regimes in Argentina (under Juan Peron and his iconic wife Evita) and in Brazil (under Getulio Vargas) - which strived to be modern and inclusive, and also wanted to increase their party’s voters’ base -  gave women the right to vote in 1947 and 1932, respectively. In Mexico, the presence of a revolutionary, liberal government ironically had the opposite effect on women’s rights – the enfranchisement of women was delayed from its initial discussion in the 1930s until 1953 due partly to fears within the ruling party that Mexican women, known for their religiosity, would vote conservatively. Paraguay, the last country in the region to grant women suffrage, did so in 1961 because of a decision by the authoritarian leader Alfredo Stroessner, who wanted to boost his waning support among men by attempting to draw upon women’s votes.


A Chronology of Enfranchisement

1929 – Ecuador

1932 – Uruguay, Brazil

1934 – Cuba

1939 – El Salvador

1942 – Dominican Republic

1946 – Panama, Guatemala,


1947 – Argentina

1949 – Chile, Costa Rica

1952 – Bolivia

1953 – Mexico

1954 – Colombia

1955 – Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru

1961 - Paraguay


“El Voto Femenino”, by Beatriz García Nice and Lucy Hale, Wilson Center, August 12, 2020, at

“Taking Stock: A Hundred Years After Women’s Suffrage in Latin America”, Lucinda Grinnell, March 21, 2019, in NACLA News, at’s-suffrage-latin-america

“Key facts about women’s suffrage around the world, a century after U.S. ratified 19th Amendment”, by Katherine Schaeffer, October 5, 2020, Pew Research Center, at

“Women’s Suffrage: A World Chronology of the Recognition of Women's Rights to Vote and to Stand for Election”, Inter-Parliamentary Union, at

“Women’s Suffrage”, Wikipedia, at

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