International Women’s Day: Five women leading the way in the Americas

By Geovanny Vicente Romero

The previous decade saw a wave of women serving as presidents from every corner of Latin America and Caribbean, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago. For the first time in recent memory, there will be nearly a week in March 2018 without a female head of state in the position.  On March 11, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet will hand over power, and it is not until March 19 that President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes will take over Trinidad and Tobago.  The unifying theme underlining these recent electoral victories point to women who continue playing strong leadership roles throughout government at the international, national, state, and local levels.  In honor of International Women’s Day, here we highlight five women representing their countries and regional governments in each of these categories.

  1. Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado – Vice President and Foreign Minister of Panama

Saint Malo has the honor of being the first woman elected Panama’s first vice president in the country’s history.  Panama typically combines the vice president and foreign minister positions, and Saint Malo’s 15 years of experience with the United Nations Development Program has been a huge asset for Panama’s leadership in implementing the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Saint Malo frequently represents Panama on the world stage as a leading democratic country committed to economic development, social equality, and facilitating dialogue.

  1. Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez – Vice President of the Dominican Republic

Vice President Cedeno has been in the public spotlight as First Lady of the Dominican Republic from 2004-2012 while her husband, Leonel Fernandez, served as President.  Cedeño has led internationally recognized programs in education, childhood development, nutrition, family planning, and technology.  Cedeno is the second woman to become Vice President in Dominican Republic, the first being Milagros Ortiz Bosch in 2000. Before the elections in 2012, Margarita was the latest example of Latin American first women vying to become President. She is very popular in DR where many people greet her singing some slogans, including “Llegó mamá” or “Mom has Arrived,” a popular expression among her supporters.

  1. Maria “Mayita” Melendez – Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s second largest city (Ponce) elected Maria Melendez Mayor in 2009.  Following an extended economic crisis and the devastating hurricane in 2017, Melendez has emerged as an internationally acclaimed leader that Puerto Rico can rely on to help rebuild the island. A staunch defender of Puerto Rican rights as United States of America citizens, Melendez has designed a campaign called, “We are Americans too,” that has helped her city gain an audience to advocate for a more sustainable future and urgent response to energy needs with U.S. senators, other state officials, and business leaders.

In January 2018, Melendez was awarded the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award as a Tribute to Mayors during which she was described by the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as a “True American Hero.”

  1. Paula-Mae Weekes- 6th President of Trinidad and Tobago

Paula-Mae Weekes is a Trinidadian legal professional and a Judge of the Turks and Caicos Islands Court of Appeal, who is the President-elect of Trinidad and Tobago, due to take office on 19 March 2018.  Weekes will become the first woman to hold the office of President in Trinidadian history, as well as the nation’s second female head of state overall, after Queen Elizabeth II.  Weekes follows in the footsteps of Trinidad’s first woman Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who served in the role from 2010-2015.

  1. Patricia Espinosa – Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Patricia Espinosa has been a career diplomat since 1981. She is fluent in four languages and in 2015 was appointed to Ban Ki-Moon’s high level panel on sustainable development. In 2016, she succeeded Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica and became Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC).  Espinosa brings to her new appointment more than 30 years of experience at the highest levels in international relations, with a specialization in sustainable development, gender equality, climate change, global governance, and protection of human rights.  Before leading UNCCC she was serving as Mexico’s Ambassador to Germany (since 2013 and from 2001 to 2002). She also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2012.

The achievements of these five women are well worth celebrating.  However, much progress still needs to be made in integrating women and their leadership talents into our societies, governments, and businesses. There are many women working everyday making valuable contributions to their jobs, their communities and their families. International Women Day is about honoring these women so that they can pave the way for more successful role models at every level of society.

Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C. He writes a column for El Diario La Prensa (N.Y.), La Opinion (L.A.) and El Nuevo Día. 

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