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Original Article
Political feminization in Latin America: analysis of the discourses of
Castro, Fernández and Rousseff
Feminización política en Latinoamérica: análisis de los discursos de Castro, Fernández y Rousseff
Andrea Camila Fernández
, Ingrid Paola Villalta
, Luis Rodrigo Corea , Luisa Cook Alvarado
Facultad de Ciencias Administrativas y Sociales, Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana, UNITEC, San Pedro Sula,
Article history:
Received: 28 June 2022
Revised: 1 July 2022
Accepted: 7 August 2022
Published: 31 August 2022
Latin America
Political discourse
Political feminization
Palabras clave
Discurso político
Feminización política
ABSTRACT. Introduction. The development of women in politics allows us to visualize how feminization influences
the Latin American socio-political landscape. The study´s aim was to analyze the political discourses of a current
president and two former presidents: Xiomara Castro from Honduras, Cristina Fernández from Argentina, and Dilma
Rousseff from Brazil. Methods. A qualitative analysis was used by describing and interpreting political discourses and
conducting interviews to experts. Results. Various similarities were evident between the discourses of Xiomara Castro,
Cristina Fernández, and Dilma Rousseff such as the strategies employed in their discourses and the feminization in
them, their most recurrent themes, their position regarding their opposition, among other aspects. Conclusion.
Feminization in Latin American politics still has a long way to go because we live in societies with immutable gender
roles, where masculinity bases persist.
RESUMEN. Introducción. El desenvolvimiento de la mujer dentro de la política permite visualizar cómo la
feminización influencia el panorama sociopolítico latinoamericano. El objetivo de este estudio fue analizar los
discursos políticos de una presidenta actual y dos expresidentas: Xiomara Castro de Honduras, Cristina Fernández de
Argentina y Dilma Rousseff de Brasil. todos. Se empleó un análisis cualitativo, describiendo e interpretando los
discursos políticos, así como la realización de entrevistas a expertos. Resultados. Se evidenció varias similitudes entre
los discursos de Xiomara Castro, Cristina Fernández y Dilma Rousseff como ser las estrategias empleadas en sus
discursos y la feminización de estos, sus temas más recurrentes y su posición con respecto a su oposición, entre otras
cosas. Conclusión. La feminización en la política latinoamericana aún tiene un largo camino por recorrer, ya que
vivimos en sociedades con roles de género inmutables, donde persisten las bases masculinas.
1. Introduction
The citizenship of Latin American women was
recognized for the first time in Ecuador in 1929
(Arámbula Reyes & Busto Cervantes, 2008). This was the
first country in the region to distinguish the capacity of
women as political actors. Today, 12 women have been
elected and have held the political position of presidents
in their countries. Although these milestones have marked
history in Latin America, there is still a long way to go.
In Latin America, although it has been reduced,
stereotypes persist that women do not have sufficient
capacity to hold political office. In many cases, women in
politics behave according to "gender performativity",
acquiring a feminine role which, socially, by complying
with masculinist standards, is acceptable. In a certain way,
it helps them rise within political life. This reality
contributed to analyze the political speeches of the
Honduran current president Xiomara Castro and two
former presidents Cristina Fernández and Dilma Rousseff
from Argentina and Brazil, respectively. It is important to
understand whether the population to which their
speeches were directed, their strategies and the topics
used, are influenced by their gender.
2. Methods
This research had a qualitative approach, with an
interpretive nature. The meaning of the speeches of three
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Latin American political figures was described and
analyzed and interviews with experts were conducted.
Regarding the analysis of the context of the countries
of the three figures, the following variables were
considered: events that marked the context of the
candidacy, the main political parties, and the political
opposition. To know the similarities and differences of the
speeches, their recurring themes, the population to whom
they, their strategies, and the position of the political
figure in relation to their opponents were analyzed.
2.1. Data source
The analysis was based on discerning various
documents and previous analyzes of the political and
gender context of Argentina, Honduras, and Brazil, as
well as the political speeches of Cristina Fernández and
Dilma Rousseff. Regarding the discourse of Xiomara
Castro, there are no previous studies carried out in this
regard since her candidacy is recent. Therefore, the data
was based on our own knowledge, and we interviewed a
Honduran expert in women's studies.
Many of the studies of the speeches of Cristina
Fernández and Dilma Rousseff have made a comparison
between both figures. An interview was conducted with
an Argentine expert in political communication and a
consultant in electoral campaigns, who have carried out
studies on Dilma Rousseff's speeches, campaigns, and the
effects on society. The information obtained during the
interviews was compared with what was published in the
literature to ensure consistency between the information
obtained through the interviews and the information
already published.
3. Results
3.1. Political contexts
It is essential to know the political context of the
countries of Cristina Fernández, Dilma Rousseff and
Xiomara Castro. This to better understand the research
topic to be addressed. A country´s political context is
defined as the formation of agents that interfere with the
political collaboration of citizens, which is not limited to
the social and political characteristics of individuals
(Morales Díez de Ulzurrun, 2001). Likewise, the political
context is considered as the history and political culture of
a country. The contexts of Argentina, Brazil and Honduras
show valid similarities, forging a notion that is exposed in
the numerous hardships that multiple Latin American
countries show, with the passing of the years (Table 1).
Table 1
Political contexts of Argentina, Brazil, and Honduras.
-Presidency of Néstor Kirchner, and
the first presidential period of Cristina
Fernández, known as the presidential
-Her first proclamations of her are
characterized by her independence,
self-confidence, and extensive
knowledge in economics and politics
(Londoño Zapata et al., 2019).
-The Workers' Party (PT) gained
popularity due to people's
dissatisfaction with the government
of the Brazilian Social Democracy
Party (PSDB).
- Government of Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva (elected in 2002). Positive
economic results and political-social
projects increased his popularity and
that of his party (PT) (Diniz, 2004).
-The turning point dates to the coup
d'état in 2009 to the government of
Manuel Zelaya Rosales.
-The National Party (PN) rises to
power in the 2013 elections. It was
the winner in elections characterized
by the emergence of new political-
electoral movements.
The Front for Victory, the party of
Cristina Fernández and Néstor
Kirchner, is a center-left coalition
(Alcántara, 2018).
-System polarized into two
coalitions: the PT (leftist) and the
PSDB (center-right) (Rome, 2006).
-Two-party system: PN, conservative
right and the Partido Libertad y
Refundación (LIBRE), leftist.
-Frente Amplio Progresista, a party
led by Hermes Binner, a democratic
and progressive left-wing coalition
Center for Municipal and Provincial
Studies (CEMUPRO, 2011)
-Much of the rivalry between these
parties and their coalitions persists in
the ideological difference (Sousa
Braga et al., 2016).
-The dismemberment of the Liberal
Party gave rise to the bipartisanship
between the PN and LIBRE. In the
2017 elections, the Opposition
Alliance against the Dictatorship
emerged, changing the political
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3.2. Gender in politics
To obtain a different approach to politics, it must be
analyzed using a gender perspective. Lamas (1996) has
established that there is some confusion about what it
means to employ a gender perspective, since many "make
the mistake of thinking that talking about gender, or a
gender perspective is referring to women or the
perspective of the female sex" (p. 4). These are not issues
related only to women, gender affects both women and
men, so it could be said that when a gender perspective is
used, masculinist concepts are left behind and the contexts
are understood from a relationship between both sexes
(Lamas, 1996). It is recognized "...that one thing is sexual
difference, and another thing are the attributions, ideas,
representations and social prescriptions that are
constructed taking that sexual difference as a reference"
(Lamas, 1996, p. 8). When understanding the gender
perspective, it is imperative to analyze politics from this
perspective. Latin American cultures are highly
masculinized and there are many obstacles in the women
political path (Figure 1).
3.3. Political discourse in Latin America
Women in Latin America have gone through various
obstacles to obtain opportunities for representation in the
political sphere of their societies. However, a critical
reflection must be maintained, since, despite the recent
and growing feminization of politics, the entrenched and
reproduced masculinist cult persists, largely due to the
discourses used. To begin to question these practices, it
must be recognized that Latin American societies are
unequal. These inequalities are reproduced in institutions
and in all spheres (Lamas, 1996), even linguistics.
As Aranda (1992) establishes, women provide a
“helpful touch” in politics when they hold office. When
some women come to exercise leadership, they show
characteristics that fall within a feminine act. They are
empathic in the face of interpersonal conflicts and tend to
favor appeasing or peaceful solutions. On the other hand,
authors such as Rettig (2020), McGinley (2009) and
Paredes (1990), point out that when women reach high
positions, they tend to become masculinized. Many times,
they get to "compensate" for their imagined softness and
submission. Regardless of whether women fall on a
feminine or a masculine act, they must fall on gender
performativity in order to be political actors (Fernández
Poncela, 2008). Gender discourse and acts are generators
of power, as described in Figure 2.
In the words of Ferreira (2013) it can be concluded that:
The formal consecration of women's citizenship is
insufficient to achieve effective access to elective
and partisan positions. The social situation of
women, the sexual division of labor, the traditional
exclusion of women from the public sphere, the
prevalence of patriarchal-type family structures,
among many other factors, explain why the formal
recognition of equality is not enough to produce
automatic effective equality (p. 4).
Figure 1. Gender context in Honduras, Brazil, and Argentina.
Law of Quotas
Argentina: 1991, Brazil: 1995, Honduras: 2000
Honduras. Women´s suffrage was
won in 1955. Women´s social
standing, their political exclusion,
the sexual division of labor and
masculinists structures explain that
the recognition of formal equality
was not enough to achieve it.
Argentina. Women vote for the first
time in 1951. Law N°13.010
established that women would have
equal political rights, obligations,
and standing to those of men.
Despite the existence of the Law of
Quotas, female candidates are
placed last. Candidates with more
chances to be elected must handle
the totality of their office because a
party may be able to win all of
Brazil. Feminist movements see the
State as a starting point for action.
Despite the Law of Quotas, men still
dominate politics. Political party
structures are an obstacle for the
feminization of politics because of
their weak institutionalism.
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Figure 2. Representation of gender performativity in terms of power.
3.4. Similarities and differences between the political
speeches of the electoral campaign of Cristina
Fernández, Dilma Rousseff and Xiomara Castro
The recurring themes in Cristina Fernández's speeches
were based on the achievements obtained during the
presidency of her husband, Néstor Kirchner. This was her
strategy, so consequently, her speech was directed at her
sympathizers, and at the middle class. In the case of Dilma
Rousseff, her recurring themes were based on exposing
her personal profile and her competence, and on
continuing projects, addressing both Lula da Silva's
supporters and her biggest critics. The continuity of Lula
da Silva and adapting to gender performativity were the
strategies used by her.
Xiomara Castro's speech included recurring themes
around the fight against corruption, and repeal of the
Employment and Economic Development Zones
(ZEDES). Her strategies were based on populism,
referring to the results and background during the
presidency of her husband, Manuel Zelaya, and other
similarities observed in other Latin American countries
with leftist tendencies (Table 2).
Regarding how the gender stereotype influenced
political speeches, Xiomara Castro appealed to the
message of empowering women, seeking labor
impartiality, and reducing the degree of impunity for
violence against women. Cristina Fernández questioned
gender roles through advertising spots, especially after the
death of her husband, Néstor Kirchner, where opposition
media portrayed her as a weak woman incapable of
holding office without the help of her spouse.
Dilma Rousseff showed herself as a female with a
strong and rigid bearing, characteristics that were
criticized and that resulted in a reformulation of her
image, later appearing with a more charismatic
countenance. Dilma Rousseff was even considered as the
mother of Brazil by the media. However, even though
these three presidential candidates presented an image of
female empowerment, a recurring theme in their political
speeches was always the reminder that there was a male
figure who supported and reinforced her candidacy
(Figure 3).
4. Discussion
Political discourse is the imminent tool used by any
political character within the global context. It is the
optimal way to transmit its promises and ideologies to the
population. This discourse has become the seed of an
electoral process to reach a resolution and safeguard social
welfare. Within our study, each presidential speech
represented the rise to power of female politicians in their
respective states. The strategies used by the presidents
were to discredit their main opposition, position their
image and figure as the representation of continuity and
the improvement of the projects and policies of their main
backers: male figures.
As a common denominator in the speeches of the three
presidents, we can highlight the fact that all of them, in
economic and social aspects, highlight positive aspects
that occurred during the presidency of the men who
supported them: Néstor Kirchner, in the case of Cristina
Fernández, Lula da Silva, in the case of Dilma Rousseff
and Manuel Zelaya, in the case of Xiomara Castro. This
appealed to the continuation of the policies and projects
of his previous co-religionist.
There is a diverse variation of the methodology
undertaken by Cristina Fernández, Dilma Rousseff and
Xiomara Castro to the segments of their population. The
Honduran population that voted for Castro was mostly
characterized by a lower-middle class population and was
driven by the young segment that supported his
presidential appointee, Salvador Nasralla. These
populations were the same to which his speeches were
addressed. A similar case was that of Dilma Rousseff,
who adapted her speeches and personality according to the
conservative and middle class of Brazil, targeting a
popular segment already benefited by Lula da Silva's
economic model, promising her continuity in the
Power nucleus
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Table 2
Similarities and differences between political speeches.
Cristina Fernández
Dilma Rousseff
Xiomara Castro
-Achievements obtained during the
presidency of Néstor Kirchner and
his first presidential term: economic
expansion, energy subsidies,
transportation, public services, and a
universal assistance program for
citizens in poverty called Universal
Child Allowance-AUH (Cherny,
-His profile and competence: to
convince the population that he did
have the technical skills and
suitable personal profile.
-Infrastructure and political-social
projects: proposals for the
organization of the basic system,
and new and continuing projects of
Lula da Silva (Panke, 2015).
-Combat corruption and impunity.
-Economy: on the economic indicators
that had reached worrying levels.
-Tax matters and labor market: open
more job opportunities.
-Zones of Employment and Economic
Development (ZEDES): repeal of this
Population to
whom the
discourse is
-Sympathizers of Peronism: Kirchner
represented a Peronist movement,
under the name of Front for Victory.
-Middle class: direct beneficiaries in
economic matters under the
Kirchnerist policy, who enjoyed a
stable exchange rate.
Expert 1
-Popular sector: population
satisfied with the economic
situation under the Lula
-Most conservative and middle-
class sector: most critical of its
ability, so it resorted to
demonstrating its profile and skills,
and discrediting the competition.
Expert 2
-Low- and middle-class segment of
the population: speeches aimed at the
country's working class, promising to
eradicate the discouraging figures and
removing the country from the lists of
the most unequal nations in the
Western Hemisphere. It also targeted
the unemployed segment of the
Expert 3
-Continuity of the legacy of stability
and economic prosperity, under the
government of Néstor Kirchner. This
was reflected in his speeches,
television spots, storytelling, among
Expert 1
-Continuity of the Lula
government, being the greatest
guarantee of it.
-Gender performativity to mold the
image of him in the “mother” of
Brazil (Lula being the “father”).
-Discredit the main opposition in its
televised propaganda.
Expert 2
-References to the background and
results of her husband, Manuel
Zelaya, during his government period.
-Discursive similarities with other
Latin American countries with
moderate and progressive leftist
Expert 3
Position in
relation to
-Hermes Binner obtained the lowest
percentage of votes recorded by
opposition candidates, in the last ten
elections in the history of Argentina.
Kirchner faced a fragmented, weak,
and poorly positioned opposition.
Panke et al., 2015 and Expert 1
-José Serra of the Brazilian Social
Democracy Party was the main
-Both used speeches of continuity
to the government of Lula da Silva.
-None were charismatic, so, by
themselves, they were not good on
Expert 2
-The National Party was his biggest
opposition, being the face of this
Nasry Asfura, better known as “Daddy
to order”.
-He was charged with embezzlement
of public funds and money laundering
in 2021.
-Campaign based on proposing
improvements in the educational
system, health, development, and
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Figure 3. Feminization of political discourse
Cristina Fernández, of the three presidential candidates,
had the most solid base of voters. Likewise, similar to
Rousseff, she endorsed the results and favored by the
economic model that Kirchnerism had brought.
Cristina Fernández, Dilma Rousseff, and Xiomara
Castro used the strategy used of the results obtained by the
male figure represented in their electoral campaign. Dilma
Rousseff used as a basis the economic stability obtained
by the policies employed by Lula da Silva. Xiomara
Castro appealed to the positive data under the presidency
of her husband, Manuel Zelaya. Cristina Fernández made
a call to the achievements obtained since the presidency
of her husband, Néstor Kirchner, emphasizing how she
would continue using similar economic policies, hoping
to obtain better or equal results.
Cristina Fernández, Dilma Rousseff and Xiomara
Castro used a male figure to give greater credibility, and
reinforce, in the case of Cristina Fernández, her position
as a woman by opting for a high political position such as
the presidency. In the Latin American region, the presence
of a man in politics is not questioned as critically as the
presence of a woman. Of the three political speeches
analyzed, the change in the strategy used by Dilma
Rousseff in her electoral campaign in 2010 stands out.
Before starting her campaign, she was perceived by
Brazilians as a woman, although competent for the
position, but very cold, rigid, and hard (Dantas, 2019).
Dilma Rousseff had to adjust her political discourse to
anew character that was maternal, likeable, accessible,
and feminine. Together with Lula da Silva's constant
support and approval, she had a greater chance of being
victorious in the electoral contest. Although this is an
example that stands out within the speeches analyzed, it
does not mean that it is the only one. This practice of
conforming to gender roles, using gender performativity
to approach power, is used by many people globally.
Regarding their political opposition, Dilma Rousseff,
and Cristina Fernández did not have the same magnitude
of opposition, as was the case of Xiomara Castro in
Honduras. Both won their respective elections with a wide
margin and with massive popular support (Carletta, 2011;
Tribunal Superior Electoral, 2011) due to different
coalitions presented in Argentina and Brazil that ended up
weakening electoral resistance. On the contrary, Xiomara
Castro showed more difficulties regarding her political
opposition; she went through two unsuccessful electoral
campaigns and a series of alliances to gain popular
support. Finally, she achieved victory in 2021, favored by
the punishment vote of the population against the National
Party, which had been in power for 12 years generating
national discontent with corruption scandals linked to
organized crime (Morazán, 2021).
In the feminization of political discourse, the fact that
both Xiomara Castro and Dilma Rousseff sheltered under
the image of a man to reinforce and give credibility to her
candidacy stands out. In the case of Cristina Fernández,
she used the death of her husband as a base strategy. These
men were key in the political speeches of the electoral
Presence of a masculine figure in their respective political discourse
Xiomara Castro. Discourse was
centered on women’s empowerment,
lowering femicides, and increasing
labor equality. Presented herself as the
“mother” of Hondurans. Discourse
also revolved around destroying the
stereotype of a male president. Expert
Cristina Fernández. Néstor Kirchner’s
death created ideal conditions for a
new public image. The opposition
portrayed her as a fragile woman,
incapable and lonely, which put her
abilities in question. Challenged
gender stereotypes and the role
women are supposed to play in society
(Pérez, 2019). Despite her theme of
strength, TV spots aired images of her
husband as a communication strategy
with a personal plea. Expert 1
Dilma Rousseff. Strong public image
because of her political career.
Recognized as a competent technocrat,
which characterized her as rigid and
uncharismatic. Adapted her image to
one more “suitable” for women in
politics; more feminine and
approachable which cast her as the
“mother” of Brazil. Expert 2
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campaign of the three women candidates. Likewise, it is
worth highlighting the fact that, although Xiomara Castro
and Dilma Rousseff share the strategy of sticking to
gender performativity, which allowed them to climb the
power game by showing themselves to be charismatic and
maternal. In the case of Cristina Fernández, she was not
questioned for being a woman with a strong and
egocentric personality and she did not have to apply any
gender strategy in her political discourse. Cristina
Fernández limited herself to resorting to the motto of
strength as a synonym for female empowerment.
In contrast to Dilma Rousseff, gender aspects in
politics occurred very differently with Cristina Fernández
and Xiomara Castro in Argentina and Honduras,
respectively. Cristina Fernández, for example, should not
have resorted to adapting to gender regulations to
monopolize the vote of a greater percentage of the
population. She was always seen, from her time as deputy
and senator between 1989 and 1995, as a rigid, pragmatic,
and even egocentric woman before the media. These
qualities did not affect her electoral campaign.
In the case of Xiomara Castro, she did not have to
resort to adapting her image and person to gender roles as
such for being the wife of Manuel Zelaya, former
president of Honduras an