Geopolitics

Paraguay's First Woman Presidential Candidate Tries To Crack Macho Culture

Lilian Soto is a longshot to win Sunday's election, but she may have already changed the last South American country to have female voting rights.

Magui Balbuena (L) and Lilian Soto (R)
Magui Balbuena (L) and Lilian Soto (R)
Christine Legrand

ASUNCION - In Sunday's national election, Paraguay, a country still both firmly patriarchal and culturally macho, will have the possibility to vote for the first time for a woman to be their president.

The feminist party, Kuña Pyrenda ("platform" in the indigenous language Guarani), has put forth Lilian Soto, a surgeon and graduate in Public Administration from the University of Ohio, to lead the South American nation of 6.5 million. Magui Balbuena, head of the National Coordination of Rural and Indigenous Women, is running for vice president.

A leftist militant since her student years, Soto, 50, appears confident, even though polls have her trailing far behind leading candidates, Horacio Cartes, a tobacco magnate and former public works minister Rival Efrain Alegre, vying for the presidency 10 months after the resignation of Fernando Lugo, the former “bishop of the poor” ousted by Parliament.

Still, despite her slim chances Sunday, Soto is proud to have “introduced the feminine element into the political debate.” She says that a “feminist and socialist movement was necessary in Paraguay, where gender inequalities, just like social inequalities, are ignored by traditional parties.”

Kuña Pyrenda, created in 2010, gathers female “students, employees, peasants, indigenous, but also from the bourgeoisie,” Soto explains.

The party struggles for the legalization of abortion, in a conservative and Catholic country, where clandestine abortions are the leading cause of mortality for young women. Soto says they favor same-sex marriage and the protection of rights of discriminated minorities.

Single and childless, she has been harassed by journalists with questions about her private life. She had to publicly proclaim that “no, I am not a lesbian!” A former Secretary of State for Public Service in center-left government of Lugo, Soto has made violence against women and defense of mothers central to her campaign.

This is a country where only three out of ten children are recognized by their fathers. The country has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America. De facto polygamy is rife.

A poster at the entrance of the Kuña Pyrenda headquarters in Center Asuncion declares: “If women were able to rebuild Paraguay after war, I want women to govern my country in 2013.”

Priests as fathers

It is a reference to the long and bloody War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), involving Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, decimating more than half of the Paraguayan population. According to some historians, the war left only 29,000 adult males alive for 120,000 women -- and so Paraguay was dubbed “the country of women.”

“Women worked on the social and economic reconstruction of the country," notes Soto. "The demographic balance between sexes was restored after the war, and politics remain exclusively men's affair.”

Paraguay is the last Latin American country where women gained the right to vote, in 1961. It is also one of the poorest countries in the region. The unemployment rate for women is higher than for men, and wages are on average inferior by half, both in rural areas and cities. Mostly for economic reasons, many Paraguayan women emigrate, leaving the education of their children in the hands of other women, aunts or grandmothers.

It is estimated that more than one million of these women are domestic workers in Argentina. Others work in hospitals in Spain, Greece, Italy or in the United States. “Many are victims of prostitution networks,” says Soto.

She adds that “this tradition of courage and resistance is anchored in the history and culture of the country: during the war, women were at the mercy of occupying armies. Struggle is the everyday life of indigenous women."

Clara Rosa Gagliardone, a prominent attorney, recalls the case of Viviana Carillo, the first woman to denounce former President Lugo for being the father of her two-year old child. His resignation last June was not prompted by revelations that he'd fathered children when he was a priest. And Carillo's denounciations that the then bishop had beaten her were widely ignored.

“Machismo is so deep in Paraguay, that it is considered normal that men beat their wives,” she says with indignation. The memories of the aftermath of the Triple Alliance War is the base of popular acceptance that one must “procreate by any means and without any responsibility. And even with a priest.”

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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