Will Female Quotas Be The Way Forward To Ensure Equal Representation In Government?

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After experiencing one of the most horrific genocides and civil wars in modern history, Rwanda underwent a massive structural change in its government when the 1994 ethnic struggle between Tutsis and Hutus came to an end. Many of the men who were left fled, while the rest were killed. The majority of Rwandans left behind were women and children, and they took it upon themselves to begin rebuilding.

It was not easy, but it gave them an opportunity to do things their way. As part of their new constitution, they ensured a 30% minimum quota to be set aside for women, and set up a gender monitoring office. Today Rwanda boasts the highest percentage of females in any government in the world – 64%.

By comparison, women don’t even make up 20% of the US government, as we are supposedly the “most powerful country in the world”. Gender quotas are becoming a highly debated topic as they are being proposed and implemented around the world not just in politics, but in industries such as business, in order to ensure equal representation at the highest level of leadership, as studies have proved diverse leadership leads to more profitability.

So what are the profits of having equal representation in politics? The idea that a diverse group of leaders and legislators can bring different sensibilities to the halls of congress and parliament and usher in laws that benefit a much wider constituency base. We recently saw how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, upon winning the election toward the end of 2015, told the press he made his new cabinet 50/50 gender equal “because it’s 2015”. The fact that gender equality was newsworthy shows we have a long way to go.

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There are a number of countries now recognizing the unspoken idea that it should be entirely voluntary to get women into politics and ensure gender equality is clearly not working. In Australia, the state of NSW Labor party is reportedly embarking on of the the most “ambitious” affirmative action programs in its history in order to boost the number of women in their membership.

During their 2015 conference, the Labor party introduced new affirmative action rules to increase the number of women in leadership roles in the party to 50%, as well as in pre-selections and union delegations to party conferences. From July 1, at least 40% of those elected must be women, increasing to 45% in 2022 and 50% in 2027.

“[NSW Labor is] leading the way in encouraging diversity of representation in Parliament, and our historic reforms will ensure our party is more representative at the grassroots level. A diverse Labor Party is a strong Labor Party, and we are setting the bar high for other parties to follow,” said Acting NSW general-secretary Kaila Murnain to the Sydney Morning Herald about the plan, which also came about after reports of sexual harassment toward women within the party.

Currently, the Liberal Party is in power, headed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but if the Labor party hope to win back power in the next federal and state elections, taking the lead on progressive issues where the conservative Liberals (we know, they are an ironically named party) are not stepping forward, including same sex marriage, ensuring gender equality in government is a major step forward.

In India, the northern state of Bihar recently announced it will reserve 35% of all government jobs for women in a bid to boost women’s empowerment in the impoverished region. According to a 2011 census, Bihar is one of the most impoverished states where social indicators for women (employment, healthcare, education) are lower than the national average. The female literacy rate hovers around 50% compared to the male rate of 701%. The national average is 65%.

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India have undergone a major push toward the empowerment of women in the wake of global attention on crimes which disproportionately affect women (rape, sexual harassment, dowry abuse, acid attacks, honor killings) and keep them trapped in cycles of poverty due to the patriarchal social dominance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a program called Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (“save girl, educate girl”) to place emphasis on the need to overhaul the country’s antiquated views toward women and girls.

In Bihar, gender quotas in government like the one recently announced is an indicator of incremental progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

“This will help end gender bias and prove to be a great leap towards women’s empowerment in Bihar as their confidence level will rise. The purpose is that women march ahead in every field,” said Brajesh Mehrotra, principal secretary of Bihar’s cabinet, which approved the policy.

Currently, the female participation rate in Bihar government sits at 10%, but a policy like this could change the social climate and enable people to look at women in a different way. It could also ensure that women are pushing for laws that protect and empower them specifically.

In the wake of the Bihar state quota being announced, gender rights experts said this type of action should be implemented nationally in India.

“This will bring huge change in the state as it will empower women both socially and economically,” said Shanti Ojha who runs a Patna-based charity called Jago Behan (Wake up Sister), which provides skills training to poor and marginalized women.

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Over in South America, Bolivia’s constitution mandates that half of all government ministers must be women, and during an election, each political party must field an equal amount of male and female candidates. Although there are major social issues damaging the progress of women’s rights across the country, including domestic violence and the influence of religion which prohibits laws protecting the rights LGBT people, creating a space for women to advance in government is one major step forward.

In district elections held in March 2015, the number of women elected surpassed that of men for the first time, according to the Economist.

In the UK, a leading Western nation where you’d think the representation of women in parliament would not necessarily be an issue, women are getting tired of fighting the “old guard” to see more females get elected. The progressive Labor party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has elected more women than men to a shadow cabinet for the first time in history (16-15) but there remains criticism of the lack of women represented in the top 4 leadership positions.

Not content to wait around for women to have their seat at the table, 2 British women started the Women’s Equality Party in order to ensure social issues such as childcare, education, and equal pay are given top billing during future election cycles.

While they are foraying into the political cycle for the first time this May for local elections, there are a couple of other female MPs who are aiming to take the lead on putting women front and center in government. Flick Drummond MP and Jess Phillips MP head up the new Women and Work all-parliamentary group which was created to respond to the growing need for women to have full participation in the economy and break barriers which stop them from doing this.

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“Here, in the House of Commons, only 29% of MPs are female. This must change and we plan to use our position as women in parliament to work towards more equal representation,” they wrote in a piece for the Guardian.

They hope to continue the momentum and focus on gender equality largely fueled by the media to ensure women’s issues become an integrated part of all economic discussions. They believe the way to do this is to include more women in the policy-making process.

“With our cross-party leadership, we hope that the group will provide a forum to constructively examine and debate the role that policymakers can play in delivering an improved gender balance within the economy. Together with parliamentarians, ministers and civil servants and with the businesses who understand the challenges faced by women in the workplace, the group will provide an excellent platform for influencing the development of policy,” they said.

It can only be a good thing when we see action to have a more diverse group of citizens represented at every level of government. It’s not just women we need to see as leaders of our communities, states and countries, but also people of color and LGBT people.

The fact that it is 2016 and we are just now beginning to see the roots of gender equality due to mandated quotas becoming a more consistent rule around the world shows we have to continue pushing for this. When Elle UK recently created a video for their #MoreWomen campaign showing what the majority of governments would look like if all the men were erased and women were left behind, the picture was appalling. In some cases, only one woman was pictured among a sea of men. It was a pointed reminder that the constant grumblings of women who are looking for that seat at a leadership table, pushing to break the glass ceiling and breaking down barriers are not made up.

It’s not about equal representation in all levels of government, and we believe mandated gender quotas could be an effective way forward.

shirley-chisholm

 

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