Do quotas for women work?

  Source: http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/general_opinions
By Claire Brownell

PARTI Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)'s 30% quota for women in leadership positions
is the first of its kind in any Malaysian political party.
But in the grand scheme of things, it's also 14 years late.

Malaysia signed the Beijing Declaration and the Convention for
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (Cedaw) in 1995.
One of the commitments in these declarations was
the 30% quota for women's representation.

Today, Malaysia still has a long way to go before it meets this goal.

Cecilia Ng, an academic and women's rights activist,
cites to The Nut Graph statistics from the New Straits Times
on 10 April to demonstrate this point.
Women occupy about 11% of seats in the lower house
of Parliament, and only 8% of seats in state assemblies.
Women fare better in the federal senate,
with 27% representation,
 but senators in Malaysia are appointed and not elected.

Malaysian women's rights advocates have been lobbying
for political parties to meet their Cedaw commitments
for years, but have consistently run into a lack of political will.

Simranjit Kaur Gill, who lobbies for more women in positions
of leadership with the Women's Candidacy Initiative (WCI),
tells The Nut Graph that the push for gender quotas in politics
has its roots in years of hard work.

"The stand of the WCI has always been that women
should form at least 30% of the candidates in any elections.
It's good to note that the DAP and PKR have taken heed
and made a stand to take action to hit their target or
quota of 30% women candidates in the next elections,"
she says in a phone interview.

The DAP, PKR and Umno have all recently proposed quotas
to get more women into positions of power.

But quotas to get more women into politics
are hardly a new idea, which is why PKR Wanita chief
 Zuraida Kamaruddin balked at
Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil's claim to inventing it.

In 2006, the quota was integrated into
the Ninth Malaysia Plan. The Women's Caucus
in Parliament proposed a similar quota
be applied to the private sector in November 2008.

It is true, though, that gender quotas in political parties
are a more recent phenomenon in Malaysia.

For example, only in April 2009 did the DAP set a goal
of at least 30% women as party members, delegates,
candidates and leaders by 2015.

Shahrizat has said Umno Wanita will lobby
for their party to adopt a similar policy.

Even if quotas are successfully implemented,
it would only be the beginning of the road
to political equality for women,
says Simranjit. Ideally,
one day the quota could be removed,
and women would be able to compete politically with men.

A long way to go

Nevertheless, Ng says the quotas being proposed
by PKR and Umno are a positive step.

They speed up the rate of women's participation in politics,
she says. At the current pace,
it would take 40 years for women
to achieve equal political representation.

But the problem is not one of numbers alone.
The women who are in politics tend
to have less important roles than men.

There are only two female cabinet ministers today,
and there have never been more than three since 1957.

And quotas won't change the gender structures
ingrained in Malaysian political parties.

Women's wings mean men and women
work their way up the party ranks separately.
But not all parties with
separate women's wings operate in the same way.

For example, PKR gives everyone in the party
the right to vote for its leadership.

This, coupled with its 30% quota
for women in leadership positions,
provides a better practical and structural opportunity
for women to become party leaders at the highest levels.

Umno, however, has a structure in which the women's wing i
s of the same status as the youth wing.
In addition to this, Umno's leaders are chosen not
by direct elections, but by a delegate system.

In this system, instead of one individual having one vote,
a division of up to 60,000 individual members
has only one vote in elections
for the party's leadership.
For a party that does not have gender balance
to begin with, this system does little
to increase leadership opportunities for women.

"There's a general consensus that no woman will
be elected to lead the party
with the delegate system as it is," Simranjit says.

And so, while it is not structurally impossible
for a woman to be voted in as Umno president,
it becomes practically impossible.

And this, by extension, is why Malaysia will probably
never see a woman prime minister as long
as Umno leads the ruling coalition.

Unless, of course, Umno changes its constitution
to build the capacities and opportunities
of women to access leadership positions.

In this sense, women's wings are useful for
helping women break into politics,
but should be abolished once they reach a critical mass,
Ng says.

She also recommends that all parties
adopt an equitable voting system like PKR.

Global models

There are a number of countries that have surpassed
the 30% female representation target
that Malaysia can look to as models.

The biggest success story is Rwanda.

After the 1994 genocide, Rwandan women played
an important role in developing a new constitution.
They included a number of aggressive and
complex gender quotas that reserved
24 out of 80 seats
in the Chamber of Deputies for women.

These requirements helped women enter politics.
The number of female politicians eventually
surpassed the quotas.

Rwanda is now the only country in the world
where women outnumber men in politics.

The Australian Labour Party has also
successfully met a 40% quota for women.

Norway was able to raise the percentage
of women serving on company boards of
directors from 3% in 1992 to 40% in 2008
through quota legislation.

The quotas functioned in different ways.

Rwanda's was legislated in the constitution,
while the Australian Labour Party
adopted it voluntarily.

But all successful models had firm political
and societal wills to take the targets seriously.

Why have quotas anyway?

Quotas can't change the societal structures
that lead to women being poorly represented
in politics.

Simranjit lists a number of reasons why
this is the case.

Women are traditionally expected
to take on more responsibilities
for caring for children and the elderly.

This means women, on average,
have less time and money than men
 — two necessary elements
for running a political campaign.

It's also important to remember that just
because a politician is a woman
doesn't mean she will be an advocate
for women's rights, says Ng. Shahrizat's gender
does not seem to have influenced
her to push for the speedy release
of a report investigating widespread
sexual assaults against Penan women
and girls, for example.

Still, quotas are a useful tool for making changes
that could take an unacceptably
long time without them, Simranjit says.

"There are more than enough competent women
out there. It's just a question of identifying them,
and enabling them to be candidates,
" she says.

Source: http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/general_opinions
By Claire Brownell

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