Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Annex 1

Quotas/Equalising Action—Question and Answer Briefing

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 population—women—has 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 elected representatives.

Q.  What do you mean by Gender Balanced or Equalising Action?

  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" representative.

  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 the voters.

Q.  What examples are there of the use of Gender Balance?

  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:

    1. Woman

    2. Man

    3. Woman

    4. Man etc


    1. Man

    2. Woman

    3. Man

    4. Woman etc

  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 candidate list.

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 for women.[177]

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 votes—one 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 quotas?

  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%.[178]

  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-balanced—at 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 penalty.

  A number of other countries have passed legislation to make quotas mandatory.

  These include:

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. These include:

  China, Eritrea, Guyana, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, Argentina, India.[179]

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 exact—a 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% men—a difference of 10%—will lose 5% of its state funding.

  This system offers a strong incentive for Parties to comply

Q.  Are quotas legal?

  A.  European Member States belong to international bodies which have passed resolutions to support the use of affirmative action.

UN CEDAW supports the use of special measures.

  CEDAW—The 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 Article 4.1).

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."[180]

  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)." Skopje—22-23 January 2003

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 countries.

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 democratic—and 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

178   (8 of April 2004, n.90). Back

179   International IDEA and Stockholm University Global Database of Quotas for Women. Back

180   Ellis, E. (1998). EC Sex Equality Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Back

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