Quotas/Equalising ActionQuestion and Answer
Q. Surely quotas are not democratic?
A. Democracy is representation of the people
by the people, and it cannot be real democracy when the largest
proportion of the populationwomenhas little or no
representation in the fora where laws are discussed and voted
on. Unless hidden systemic barriers to women are removed women
do not, in reality, have equal opportunity. Women make up at least
50% of the population of most countries. And yet, under the current
political systems, in which nominations are controlled by political
parties which are largely dominated by men, it is unlikely that
women will be nominated as candidates in reasonable numbers.
Quotas may be the only way to democratise political
systems. Gender-balanced parity quotas with equal rules for women
and men and in which everyone has to stand for election are a
democratic type of quota system.
Q. Surely women elected as part of a quota
will be just Political Party puppets?
A. It is true that in some countries the
first wave of women to get into parliament or local councils as
part of a quota were run as "fronts" for male interests
in power. This problem can be overcome by training women candidates
and training newly elected female local councillors and parliamentarians
in skills and their rights and responsibilities as democratically
Q. What do you mean by Gender Balanced or
A. The most successful systems are "Gender
Balanced" (sometimes called introducing Equalising Action)
in which the rules are the same for men as for women. For example,
one system states that at least 40% candidates have to be men
and at least 40% candidates have to be women, the rest either.
This means there can be no more than 60% representation by either
sex. It avoids the trap of women appointed by a quota being perceived
and treated as some sort of second class "quota queen"
Gender Balance also retains democratic credibility
because once they have been chosen to be candidates by their political
party, female and male candidates still have to get elected by
Q. What examples are there of the use of Gender
A. The Zipper is one example of a Gender
Balance procedure. The zipper can be used with PR electoral systems
in which each party puts up a slate of candidates. Political parties
in Sweden, Germany and Norway have zipped candidate lists.
Q. How does the Zipper work?
A. Under the zipper system the names of
women and men alternate equally in the critical top positions
of the Party list of candidates in the election:
If, for example, a Party gains sufficient percentage
of the vote for the top four names on the list to get elected,
two will be men and two will be women.
The precise operation of the system can vary.
In the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), the executive of
the State Party proposes a list to a meeting comprising delegates
of local Parties. The 40% rule requires that the lists should
be zipped, but with freedom to allocate every fifth place to someone
of either gender.
In the Swedish Social Democrat Party, candidates
are selected at a delegate conference for each of 26 electoral
districts. In some districts members vote for a male list and
a female list. The candidates who get most votes from each male
and female list are merged to produce a female/male zipped list.
If a woman is selected for top of the list, a man is placed second,
followed by a woman, then a man etc.
The Swedish Green Party uses a similar system.
The English Liberal Democrats used this system for the European
Parliament Election in 2000. The result was Liberal Democrats
had five women and five men elected to the European Parliament.
Q. Are there any problems with zipping?
A. After the November 2001 elections
in Kosovo, some of the female candidates were "persuaded"
to stand down and were replaced by men in their Party. To safeguard
against this unacceptable deceit, new electoral rules in Kosovo
include procedures to be followed if a woman leaves office prematurely
for any reason. She will be replaced by the next woman on the
Q. The zipper can be used with a PR "closed
list" electoral system in which candidates have a fixed and
unmovable position on the party list. Is it possible to use a
zipper with an "Open List" PR electoral system in which
candidates can be promoted up or demoted down their party list
according to the number of votes they receive at the election?
A. Finland uses an open list electoral system
and it has not seemed to hinder women. Voters have ensured 36.5%
of the seats in the Finnish Parliament are held by women. A 1991 poll
indicated that 57% of women voters and 25% of male voters voted
Q. What gender-balanced system can be used
with a "First Part the Post" election system where an
individual candidate is elected to represent an individual constituency?
A. "First-past-the-post" is like
a horse race, the one candidate who gets the most votes wins the
seat, even if he/she has received well under 50% of the total
vote. History shows this type of voting system presents difficulties
for women trying to make a break-through in traditional politics.
Twinning, which is another example of Gender
Balance procedures, has been used in countries with a first-past-the-post
electoral system to help balance women's chances.
Twinning is extremely appropriate where a new
legislature or new electoral system using first-past-the-post
is being introduced or where there have been major boundary changes
to create new constituencies and so there is no existing incumbent.
Even so, negotiations between constituencies to agree on the twinning
formulas can be robust!
Twinning was used by the British Labour Party
for the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh
Assembly and the Greater London Assembly. As a result, 48% of
Labour Party Members elected to the Scottish Parliament and 54%
elected to the Welsh Assembly were women.
In total across the parties in 1999, 37% and
40% women Members were elected to the new Scottish Parliament
and Welsh Assembly.
In the subsequent 2003 election in Wales
50% women (30 men and 30 women) were elected without
the need to re-use the twinning quota. The parity quota mechanism
used in the previous election had already successfully broken
down the gender barriers and entrenched women as legitimate politicians.
Q. How does Twinning work?
A. In an electoral system in which one person
is elected to represent one constituency, a party "twins"
two (usually nearby) constituencies to select their political
candidates. The Party in one of these constituencies chooses a
female candidate, the Party branch in the other constituency chooses
a male candidate. However, it is really only feasible to use twinning
in a situation where there are no previous incumbents.
In 1999, the elections held for a Scottish Parliament
were the first since Scotland and England came under joint rule
300 years ago. The Labour Party twinned pairs of constituencies
where there was a reasonably equal chance of winning. Party Members
from each pair of constituencies came together to select the candidates.
Members had two votesone for a woman and one for a man.
The man with the most votes became the candidate for one of the
two constituencies, and the woman with the most votes became the
candidate in the other constituency.
Q. Surely quotas are demeaning to women?women
do not need quotas because women will get there on their merit.
A. This argument is put forward by women
as well as men but if this was true, why aren't there many more
women in the world's legislatures? Does anyone deny the thousands
of willing and capable women in every country? Merit just does
not seem to be sufficient for women.
Clearly Quotas are needed. This is not because
women are unable to succeed in politics on merit, but because,
all too often, women are rarely given the opportunity to try.
The system may not be selecting candidates "on merit"
at all. There are plenty of able women in all Parties who are
not getting selected for winnable seats or winnable positions
on Party Lists. It is not unknown for a woman applicant to be
told "You were the best person for the candidacy but we felt
we should choose a man".
If women really were being offered the chance
to succeed on merit, Equalising Action would not be needed.
Equalising action is designed to introduce a
level playing field so women can compete fairly at the candidate
selection stage. Women make up 50% of the population of most countries.
And yet, under current political systems, in which nominations
are controlled by political parties largely dominated by men (what
in the UK is often called "the old-boys' network", it
is unlikely that women will be nominated as candidates in sufficient
numbers. Until hidden systemic barriers to women are removed,
women do not, in reality, have equal opportunity. Equalising action
is therefore required to make the break-through.
Q. Surely you should not counter discrimination
with more discrimination against men?
A. Equalising action is not designed to
discriminate against men as some sort of revenge for the discrimination
suffered by women. It is designed to introduce a level playing
field so women can compete fairly for selection. It gives women
the opportunity to compete on merit, which is not currently happening.
Q. Surely with positive action we will end
up with low-quality MPs?
A. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest
that women selected under positive action mechanisms are any better
or any worse than the rest of their political colleagues, whether
male or female.
Q. Surely the law should not interfere with
how political Parties operate?
A. Laws can certainly be used to create
a just and fair society. Legislation can be permissive (you can)
or prescriptive (you must). Permissive legislation makes it legal
for a political party to introduce quotas on a voluntary basis.
Norway, Denmark Germany, and Sweden have permissive legislation.
An increasing number of NE European political Parties have chosen
voluntarily to introduce quotas. In 1988 the Danish Social
Democratic Party introduced a 40% quota for local and regional
elections. In 1983 the Norwegian Labour Party introduced
a 40% quota.
In Germany the Green Party introduced parity
quotas in 1980, the Social Democrats in 1988 and the Christian
Democratic Party in 1996.
Five Swedish political parties have now made
the choice to introduce a quota.(v)
(See Greek and French and other systems below).
Q. Are there any disadvantages to a permissive
system in which parties can choose whether or not to have a quota?
A. The disadvantage is that unless every
party introduces Equalising Action processes, there is no guarantee
of the "critical mass" of at least 30% women continuing
if there is a change of government, if the in-coming party or
parties did not use equalising action.
Q. What other models are there for introducing
A. In Greece the quota law which
has been implemented (Law 2910/01, number 75), provides that at
least one third of each sex must participate in the ballot lists
of the candidates of each political party. The quota law made
a great impact on the results of the Greek elections. In 2002 the
percentage of the women's participation in the ballot lists of
the political parties in the municipal elections increased from
14% in 1998 to 34% in 2002 and the percentage of elected
women in the municipal elections rose from 11% in 1998 to
18%!! In the prefectural elections, the percentage of the elected
women increased from 7% in 1998 to 12% by 2004.
In Italy the Law on the election of Members
of the European Parliament specifies that on any political party
constituency list there must be at least one third women and at
least one third men and no more than two thirds of either sex.
Any movement or party which presents a list that does not respect
this gender balance will be fined a portion of their state-subsidised
election funds. Italian women activists believe new laws are needed
in order to achieve a system capable of ensuring parity in Italian
politics. The percentage of women in the European Parliament increased
from 11.5% to 20.5%.
France has enshrined gender-balanced
parity quotas in the French Constitution.
Since 2000, French electoral law states that
in all elections using PR list systems (including local and regional
elections, some elections to the Senate, and European elections)
the parties must put forward lists which are gender-balancedat
least 40% male candidates and at least 40% female candidates.
This was first applied in the municipal elections
in March 2001. As a result, the number of women representatives
in the cities increased from 22% to 47.5%. In other French elections,
including those to the Lower House, parties are required to put
forward a gender-balanced slate of candidates, or pay a financial
A number of other countries have passed legislation
to make quotas mandatory.
Belgium, France, Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, Costa
Rica, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Djibouti, Dominican
Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Jordan,
Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru,
Philippines, Sudan, Serbia and Montenegro, Tanzania, Uganda, Venezuela.
Some countries in addition to France have enshrined
quota procedures at national or local level in their Constitutions.
China, Eritrea, Guyana, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines,
Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, Argentina, India.
Q. What are the advantages of enshrining quotas
in the Constitution or by introducing legislation?
A. A basis in law provides a basis for enforcement.
In France, if a party submits a list which is not gender-balanced,
it is declared invalid. This rule was first applied during the
municipal elections in March 2001.
In other French elections, including those to
the Lower House, parties are required to put forward a gender-balanced
slate of candidates or pay a financial penalty. The balance does
not need to be mathematically exacta party putting forward
49% of candidates of one sex and 51% of the other sex pays no
penalty. If the discrepancy is any greater than this, the party's
State funding will be cut by an amount equaling half the percentage
difference. A party which puts forward 45% women and 55% mena
difference of 10%will lose 5% of its state funding.
This system offers a strong incentive for Parties
Q. Are quotas legal?
A. European Member States belong to international
bodies which have passed resolutions to support the use of affirmative
UN CEDAW supports the use of special measures.
CEDAWThe Convention for the Elimination
of all forms of discrimination against women, to which the UK
is party, states:
"adoption by States Parties of temporary
special measures (TSMs) aimed at accelerating the de facto equality
between men and women shall not be considered discrimination."(CEDAW
European Commission recommendation (84/635/EEC)
urges Member States
"to take steps to ensure that positive
action includes as far as possible actions having a bearing on
the following aspects . . . encouraging women candidates and the
recruitment and promotion of women in sectors and professions
and at levels where they are under-represented, particularly as
regards positions of responsibility . . . active participation
by women in decision making bodies."
The Inter-Parliamentary Council (the plenary
policy-making body of the Inter-Parliamentary Union) agreed a
"break-through" plan of action to correct imbalances
in the participation of men and women in political life at its
meeting in Paris in April 1994. Section III(4) stated that -
"On a strictly interim basis, affirmative
action measures may be taken."
The Council of Europe agreed a Resolution at
the European Ministerial Conference on Equality between women
and men which stated "Special legislation should be passed
to make it easier for women to get involved in politics and eventually
create a gender balance (positive action)." Skopje22-23 January
The Council of Europe
The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly
adopted a recommendation on Equal Representation in Political
Life on 22 June 1999 (no. 1413).
Point 12 (ii) of this recommendation states
"The Assembly invites its national delegations
to urge their parliaments to introduce specific measures to correct
the under-representation of women in political life, and in particular
to institute equal representation in political Parties and to
make their funding conditional upon the achievement of this objective."
45 countries belong to the Council of Europe
including new democracies in SE Europe and other former Communist
Q. Surely the Parties will not be able to
find enough suitable women candidates?
A. This argument is a serious indictment
of political parties which have remained entrenched in narrow
and often undemocratic methods of working. By introducing quotas,
political parties necessarily reach out into a wider pool of talent
from the community than solely the previous "old boys' networks".
When a party decides to take a fresh look at
the way it recruits and selects its candidates it can result in
a more inclusive and thus more democraticand modern
- political party.
In France, during the first local elections
held under the Parity Law in 2001, the need to find suitable women
candidates forced Parties to rethink their recruitment strategies.
It was reported that in Paris the Socialists went from department
to department at the top universities. The Gaullist Rally for
the Republican Party turned to the Internet.
177 Kuusipalo, Jaana Katriina, Report from Finland
by European Databank, August 2000. Back
(8 of April 2004, n.90). Back
International IDEA and Stockholm University Global Database of
Quotas for Women. Back
Ellis, E. (1998). EC Sex Equality Law, Oxford: Clarendon