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  • By Gwen L. Lucas

The rise of the Maga’håga

While Guam’s history saw a parade of male governors since the Spanish colonial era, it would be this auspicious year when Guam’s political destiny would be changed with the election of a Maga’håga, a legislature and judiciary predominantly controlled by women.

In Adelup, Lou Leon Guerrero will sit on the top executive post. In the judiciary, Chief Justice Katherine Maraman of the Supreme Court of Guam and Judge Anita Sukola of the Superior Court of Guam received overwhelming votes— 84 and 86 percent, respectively— in favor of their retention. In the 35th Guam Legislature, acting Speaker Therese Terlaje, the most senior lawmaker in the incoming legislature, is expected to lead the new set, mostly comprising fresh faces in politics.

The list of women names in power does not end there. The incoming administration’s transition team has more. Dr. Mary Okada, president of the Guam Community College, and Dr. Laura Torres Souder, president and CEO of Souder, Betances and Associates and former professor at the University of Guam, will manage the transition until Leon Guerrero and Lt. Governor-elect Joshua Tenorio are installed in January.

Historically, Chamorro women have taken a leadership and spiritual roles in island life. As a matrilineal society, Chamorros trace their kinship through the mother’s side of the family. Historical accounts also tell of Chamorro women taking a vocal role in the struggle against Spanish colonization.

Indigenous oral tradition also illustrates the gender balance between males and females in Chamorro society. Puntan and Fu’una, the brother and sister central to the Chamorro creation story, symbolize the balance and equality that exists between the male and the female elements of Chamorro society.

The two gods, according to the story, created the world from parts of themselves.

An article in Guampedia by University of Guam professor Dr. Anne Perez Hattori described this connection, “The Puntan and Fu’una account also tells us that in the Chamorro culture, men and women were both respected as powerful and contributing members of society. The Chamorro people had a matrilineal system in which gender roles were balanced equitably so that men and women shared power and responsibility,” Hattori said.

Hattori added, “In addition to the Puntan and Fu’una account, this gender balance can also be found in the political system. In Chamorro politics, the two most powerful titles in society were held by a male and a female, the maga’låhi (leading son) and the maga’håga (leading daughter).

Lou Leon Guerrero became Guam’s first female governor following a hotly contested race. Based on the Guam Election Commission’s unofficial results, Leon Guerrero and her running mate Joshua Tenorio garnered 18,081 votes, or 50.70 percent of the votes cast, averting a runoff that was speculated as a result of a three-way match with two male contenders, Frank Aguon Jr. and Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio.

It would be a race precipitated by mudslinging and character assassination. Leon Guerrero’s pro-choice position, a controversial one in a predominantly Catholic community, was used against her. She survived the “baby killer” ads, along with the accusations of racism resulting from her "I was born and raised here, Ray" speech.

“This election has been rough for our entire community,” Leon Guerrero said in a brief victory speech before her supporters after the GEC completed the vote count. “And as we move forward in healing, Josh and I look forward to working on behalf of all the people of Guam. Over the last two years, you have invited us into your homes. We have listened to your concerns, and with your input, developed a plan to change Guam for the better.”

At the Guam Legislature, a majority of female senators-elect are expected to steer the policy-making body within the next two years. Ten out of 15 seats at the 35th Guam Legislature will be occupied by a female senator once votes have been certified by the Guam Election Commission.

Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje has been predicted to continue leading the policy-making body. On the Democrat side, senators elect Telena Nelson, Tina Rose Muna-Barnes, Amanda Shelton, Regine Biscoe Lee, Dr. Kelly G. Marsh, and Sabina E. Perez landed a coveted spot in the top 15.

Sen. Mary Camacho Torres was the highest vote getter in the GOP side. Incumbent Louise Muna and returning senator Telo Taitague joins Torres in the minority. As the most senior, Torres has been speculated to take the GOP leadership position in the legislature once the body convenes in 2019.

While the numbers represent a historical first for the island, other factors are involved in shaping the future of the legislature in the hands of a female majority. Will the new composition influence policy-making decision? Will it bring a more congenial, bipartisanship collaboration on certain issues?

Elections in the U.S. mirrored Guam on a national scale as more women claimed seats in the U.S, Congress. Like Guam, the national elections broke historical records. Next year, more than 100 women legislators will be representing their districts at the 116th U.S. Congress. Aside from increasing representation for women, some of these women are also POCs (people of color) who broke ethnic and religious barriers when they were elected in November.

The members-elect of the 116th U.S. Congress includes Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from Minnesota and Michigan respectively. Omar and Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Sharice Davids from Kansas and Deb Haaland from New Mexico are the first Native American women in Congress.

Guam has yet to see the impact of this leadership change in the executive and legislative levels of government. But with the increasing number of women in top political positions across the U.S. and the world, several studies have already been made that looked at the impact of this trend. These studies looked at various aspects of governance, including corruption, policy development, and bipartisan cooperation.

A 2016 working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Gender Differences in Cooperative Environments? Evidence from the U.S. Congress” authored by Stefano Gagliarducci and M. Daniele Paserman looks at the effect of gender in terms of cooperation across party lines. The study sampled data from periods when the U.S. saw an increase in number of female legislators and executives.


While the numbers of women in power represent a historical first for the island, other factors are involved in shaping the future of the legislature in the hands of a female majority. Will the new composition influence policy-making decision? Will it bring a more congenial, bipartisanship collaboration on certain issues?


"Overall, our results suggest that differences in cooperative behaviors by gender are perhaps not as large as expected. Gender differences in cooperation arise when women strategically compromise to achieve a common goal, rather than because women are intrinsically more cooperative. It appears therefore that an increase in female representation is unlikely to lead to a substantial increase in cooperation in Congress,” the study noted.

In terms of corruption, a new study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization by researchers Chandan Jha of Le Moyne College and Sudipta Sarangi of Virginia Tech showed that women policymakers do have an impact in terms of addressing government corruptions.

"This research is timely underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government, Sarangi said in a press release from Virginia Tech.

Sarangi, an economics professor and department head at Virginia Tech added, "This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries including the United States."

The researchers conducted a cross-country analysis of over 125 countries, according to a release. The research also referred to a previous study that showed “women politicians choose policies that are more closely related to the welfare of women, children, and family.”

While the study also looked at women in decision-making positions in corporations, “The study finds that women’s presence in these occupations is not significantly associated with corruption, suggesting that it is the policymaking role through which women are able to have an impact on corruption,” Sarangi said.


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