Women's Political Representation in countries where HART works.

Political Participation and the use of Quotas | HART International Women’s Day Blog Series

March 4th, 2015

Political Participation and the use of Quotas | HART International Women’s Day Blog Series

This is the fifth article in HART’s blog series for International Women’s Day 2015. Yesterday, Sam Hudson discussed ‘Rape as a Weapon of War‘ . Read the whole series here

Political participation can cover a range of forms from taking advantage of suffrage rights, to representation in local councils, attending forums and perhaps the first that springs to mind, being elected as a member of parliament. In fact, long before the first group of women were given suffrage in New Zealand, 1893 they were participating in politics through forming groups in civil society, lobbying the government and signing petitions. Historically, and persisting today there are many barriers to women’s formal political participation – yet women have persisted and often succeeded in making voices heard and their criticisms count. Women are far from being able to participate equally on the political stage, yet there is a growing trend of increasing participation.

Barriers to political participation often relate to the patriarchal nature of societies. Across the world, men have been deemed more worthy of education whilst women have traditionally been placed in the sphere of the home. These traditional gender norms in various forms have impacted women’s opportunities. Access to education and therefore knowledge of political systems is one barrier to participation. Discriminatory laws have further prohibited women from voting or being elected into office. As these laws have been altered, women that have aspired to enter the world of politics have been struck by a largely hostile environment, and many have faced discrimination. For example, one Nigerian noted that women entering politics are subjected to scrutiny and taunting. This is a general trend regardless of time and location, for the entering of women into politics. Whilst many countries’ political systems are increasingly open to women and participation is growing, barriers and norms persist meaning that women today still do not participate equally with men in the political field despite making up approximately half the population. This is highly problematic as it can lead to issues of lack of representation, and women’s issues being sidelined for more high-profile political arguments that have potential to win favour in the electorate.

Since there have been so many barriers to political participation – particularly of women, why do women persist in fighting for equal inclusion and representation?

Well, the answers all seem pretty obvious. ‘Democracy cannot truly deliver for all of its citizens if half of the population remains underrepresented in the political arena.’ Women know and care much more about issues that affect women, than most men – that doesn’t mean to say that men don’t care – but if problems are not staring you in the face, preventing you from achieving your goals, you may not notice them enough to prioritise change as a politician trying to solve other issues that seem more pressing to you.

Especially in areas of conflict, women and children often disproportionately suffer. Due to gender norms, women are often left to cook, care for children and look after the home. During conflict their responsibility can increase dramatically as the traditional ‘breadwinner’ is often away to fight. Furthermore, vulnerability to sexual violence increases dramatically. Similarly, women, as the traditional carer often suffers more from poverty. As women are more directly affected by poverty and conflict, ‘women’s participation and leadership is… an essential prerequisite for poverty alleviation and gender inequality’. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India demonstrated that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils. Similarly, in Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found. These are just a few examples demonstrating that women’s political participation can help to ensure that issues that directly affect women are addressed more concretely.

It is clear that women’s participation in politics is vital. The statistics below show the levels of formal political participation of women in the 8 countries in which HART works:

Nigeria  
  • Year women could vote:
1958
  • Number of women in parliament in last election:
24
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in last election (lower or single house):
6.7%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
35% of women in political representation called for in National Gender Strategy
Uganda  
  • Year women could vote:
1962
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
135
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election (lower or single house):
35%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
Must have 1 female representative per district (112 districts)
Sudan  
  • Year women could vote:
1964
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
86
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election (lower or single house):
24.3%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
Quota for 25% of seats in national Assembly allocated to women
South Sudan  
  • Year women could vote:
N/A
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
88
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election (lower or single house):
26.5%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:

 

25% of seats allocated to women
India  
  • Year women could vote:
1950
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
62
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election (lower or single house):
11.4%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
33% of seats in panchayat (local council) but no national quota
Burma  
  • Year women could vote:
1935
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
26.74
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election(lower or single house):
5.6%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
None
Timor-Leste  
  • Year women could vote:
N/A
  • Number of women in parliament in Last election:
   65
  • Percentage of government seats taken by women in parliament in Last election (lower or single house):
38.5%
  • Governmental quota/promise of quota:
1 of every group of 3 candidates must be a woman
Nagorno-Karabakh  
Statistics unavailable.

What can be done to increase women’s participation?

Despite women in all the countries above having the right to vote, none of the countries have even close to proportional representation of women in parliament (actually no country in the world does!). The government with the highest level of female representation in the world is Rwanda with 38.5% of upper house seats filled by women and 63.8 per cent of seats in the lower house. Yet, while no country has proportional representation, some are severely and dangerously lagging behind.

The use of quotas in government or for parties has been one effective way of having a greater number of women participating in parliament. By ensuring that a certain percentage of seats are taken by women, there has to be a greater amount of representation, as women will be more present in decisions. However, issues also arise with the use of quotas. There have been multiple claims that quotas can lead to a number of ‘token women’ being visible but not necessarily with opportunity to contribute fully. One example of this is ‘A Daily Monitor study of the Parliamentary Hansard [in Uganda] that keeps track of all the MPs’ contributions to debates also shows that 34 MPs have spoken less than 15 times in the House dominated by the male lawmakers ever since they were elected.’ Furthermore, critics of quotas in India have argued that quotas lead to favouring ‘elitist women’ who are more likely to be elected and who may undermine representation of lower castes and minorities. There also remains the question of whether gains for women would remain if the quota was removed. As a result of these complications, quotas can arguably undermine the effort for greater women’s political participation as it can quell the discussion and appease many women, effectively weakening some women’s organisation without giving many concessions.

Nevertheless, in some countries, the number of women in parliament has exceeded the official quotas set. In 2011, with 114 out of 446 elected being women, the number of representatives in Sudan exceeded the quota of 112 whilst in South Sudan, 27% parliamentary seats are held by women – 2% over the quota. Similarly, at 38 percent, the number of women in parliament in Timor-Leste has exceeded the one-third quota mandated by law (though this is also a result of international funds being used to support and train women candidates). As such, the official recognition for the need to include women in political decisions, seems to have set the ball rolling so that women are increasingly accepted into government.

Another, arguably less controversial method of increasing political participation of women is through education, empowerment and training. If girls are able to read and write at the same level as boys, they will have increased opportunities to learn about political issues as well as to articulate their views more effectively and have greater confidence to contribute in the political arena. As a result, it is so important for girls to have a good basic education. HART’s support of the Marol Academy ‘girls school which boys may attend’ is vital for encouraging girls’ education with female teacher as well. The school is so successful that many boys attend the school as well – encouraging the education of both male and female children together. By giving girls a basic education, they have a greater chance to contribute in the future. Similarly, women’s empowerment programs coupled with political and leadership training and give women vital skills to learn how to share their opinions publically and advocate for change. This is a model used by organisations across the countries that HART works and particularly in Burma, as organised by Shan Women’s Action Network and Karen Women’s Organisation. By helping to advance women’s knowledge of human rights and political systems, whilst improving leadership skills, these organisations are able to develop the skills of already active women to increase their impact. You can find out more about this on the blog post about civil society.

How can you #makeithappen?

There is a huge amount of work being done by many local organisations and international groups and conventions such as CEDAW and UN Women, to increase the participation of women in politics.

We can all help in the bid to improve women’s participation in politics on a level playing field. Supporting the education of girls and in particular women’s political and leadership training through donations, fundraising and raising awareness will help multiply the work of already brilliant organisations.

You can fundraise for or donate to HART to support partners such as SWAN and the Moral Academy through this link to encourage greater education of girls and challenge perceptions that girls should not study whilst promoting education of both males and females.

Finally, organising events and workshops to share with others the need for inclusion of women in politics, and the levels of political participation of women around the world is a great way to get people together and share ideas.

 


 

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

Anna Cox

By Anna Cox

Anna holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Sussex. She is passionate about human rights and gender, in particular in the context of Burma. She has worked with refugees from Burma and is currently a research and advocacy intern at HART.


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