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Quota matters

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 11 January 2018 00:00

Sometimes saying the obvious is important, though in this instance having to say it in the 21st Century is disheartening. Even after decades of having 5% or less participation of women across parliament and other bodies, the progressive step to introduce a quota of 25% for women has received a backlash of opposition for the wrong reasons. 

The basic crux of the argument of these patriarchy-apologists is that having a quota system reduces the space for equal representation and increasing women representation does not result in achieving better women’s rights. Despite women making up about 52% of Sri Lanka’s population, they have had little or no role in successive governments, making it clear that allowing the status quo to continue would not result in more women being elected. This is because there are many complex socioeconomic reasons behind why women are prevented from entering politics.        

Participation in electoral processes involves much more than just voting. Political participation derives from the freedom to speak out, assemble and associate; the ability to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and the opportunity to register as a candidate, to campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government. 

Under international standards, men and women have an equal right to participate fully in all aspects of the political process. In practice, however, it is often harder for women to exercise this right. In post-conflict countries there are frequently extra barriers to women’s participation, and special care is required to ensure their rights are respected in this regard. This is where the quota system comes in because it provides equity and not just equality.

Political parties are among the most important institutions affecting women’s political participation. Parties determine which candidates are nominated and elected and which issues achieve national prominence. The role of women in political parties is therefore a key determinant of their prospects for political empowerment, particularly at the national level. 

Politics has traditionally been a male domain that many women have found unwelcoming or even hostile. Societies in which traditional or patriarchal values remain strong frown upon women entering politics. In addition to dealing with unfavourable cultural predilections, women are often more likely than men to face practical barriers to entering politics, including a paucity of financial resources, lower levels of education, less access to information, greater family responsibilities and a deprivation of rights that has left them with fewer opportunities to acquire political experience. With the exception of the close relatives of male politicians, women generally lack the political networks necessary for electoral success.

It is precisely because of this lopsided playing field that many women who entered politics over the last decade are celebrities or kin of male politicians, rather than women who are professionals or career politicians. When deserving and competent women cannot enter politics that space is often given to decorative representation. This often makes matter worse, however, because these women do their job inefficiently, make bad decisions and often end up derided by the public. This behaviour is then used as a reason to block genuine women participation. 

It is true that a quota system alone will not solve the issue of low female representation in its entirety and certainly not in one election round. But it is a start and one that deserves to be used for real change.

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