Stephanie McNulty, assistant professor of government, teaches courses on Latin American politics at F&M. After the election of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil’s first female president, McNulty penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer that compares Brazil’s historic election with the U.S. congressional elections that saw a decline in the number of women holding seats. She just completed her book, Voice and Vote: Decentralization and Participation in Post-Fujimori Peru, forthcoming from Stanford University Press.
How did your interest in Latin America begin?
I studied abroad in Spain when I was in college and fell in love with the culture and language. I decided that after graduation I wanted to learn more about Spanish-speaking countries. I won a Rotary Fellowship and studied in Chile for a year. That set my path.
Are you fluent in Spanish?
Yes, I am now. But I wasn’t when I studied abroad. For my dissertation research at George Washington University I had a Fulbright Scholarship. During the interview the committee switched to speaking Spanish, and the Spanish professor said, “I see that you have picked up Spanish on the streets.”
You write that five women have been elected heads of state in Central and South America since 1990. Is this a trend?
Several have been wives or family members of famous politicians; some have worked their way up in the political system. So it’s a mixed bag. But the trend is that women are gaining higher-level elected positions—ministerial and legislative—in governments in Latin America.
How does the United States compare?
Compared to other developed nations, the United States is still low. It is ranked 72nd for female legislative representation, and the number of U.S. state governors who are women is below places like Ecuador, Chile and Panama. And not one woman has been a major party’s presidential nominee.
Do women leaders implement different policies than men?
A pretty large body of research shows that women push social and family policies more. When I was in Peru last summer interviewing female politicians, I asked them why they got involved. Across the board they said they wanted to improve the lives of women and children.
What were you doing in Peru?
I was working on a new book on political participation and an article on women’s participation. I took my two daughters, who are 4 and 1½, and my husband was with us for part of it. It was wild. The first week was awful, but then we ended up loving the experience. We are going to Guatemala this June.