Nausheen Khan writes about quotas and women in parliament:
Political participation of women is a global challenge. Half the world’s population still faces numerous obstacles to participating in the political process. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) address this issue;Under Goal 3, (Promote gender equality and empower women), Target 3.3 states, ‘3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament’ (MDG Report, 2015). As we enter into the new development framework comprising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important to evaluate women’s political empowerment and the progress over the last two decades in an effort to close the gender gap in this important sector.
According to the latest MDG Report (2015), women have gained ground in parliamentary representation in nearly 90 per cent of the 174 countries with data over the past 20 years. During this period, the average proportion of women in parliament has nearly doubled. Figure 1 shows the changes in the levels of participation from 2000 to 2015 for the different regions. One of the biggest contributors towards increased political representation is the quota system, which operates in more than 120 countries. Despite this improvement, only one in five members are women.
Electoral quotas are quite a debated topic. The Quota Project refers to three types of gender quotas; Reserved seats (constitutional and/or legislative), 2) Legal candidate quotas (constitutional and/or legislative) and 3) Political party quotas (voluntary). While reserved seats regulate the number of women elected, the other two forms set a minimum for the share of women on the candidate lists, either as a legal requirement (no. 2) or a measure written into the statutes of individual political parties (no. 3). (Quota Project)
Baldez (2006) shares the concerns surrounding quotas and highlights that the benefits of gender quotas must be analyzed in terms of the broader political context, not solely in terms of their impact on women but also in terms of how they interact with other aspects of the electoral process. Citing Latin America as an example, she suggests that, ‘Gender quota laws strengthen highly centralized, undemocratic processes of candidate nomination.’ In another paper, Nanivadekar (2006) uses the Indian evidence of reserved seats to highlight that quotas by itself are not enough to achieve meaningful participation of women across all sectors and ensure gender equality in politics.
As we enter a new phase of global development, we need a development framework that will guide us for the next 15 years and play a more effective role in closing the gender gap in politics not just through representative but also through meaningful participation. The Sustainable Development Goalshas prioritized this issue. Under SDG 5, Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls, Target 5.5 states, ‘Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.’ (SDG, 2015)