– Times of India
Reservation to ensure fair representation of women in national legislative bodies seems more the norm than the exception globally, with almost 100 countries having some kind of quota system or the other in place. India happens to be in a minority group of over 20 countries that have no system at all to ensure a more gender-balanced national legislature. Hopefully that is soon set to change.
The average proportion of women in the national legislature is 18.5% for the Asian region, considered low by international standards, but almost twice as high as in India (11%). Even within South Asia, only Sri Lanka with 6% has a worse record. Both countries have no quota system for women in their parliaments.
In Pakistan, 22% of the National Assembly seats are held by women, made possible through the quota policy that reserves 17.5% of seats for women. In Nepal, the proportion of women members is 33% thanks to the constitutional stipulation that women must constitute at least 33% of the candidates and electoral laws that mandate that 50% of any party’s candidates should be women. In Bangladesh, a constitutional amendment was brought in to reintroduce quotas for women, by which 45 seats out of the total 345 seats are reserved for women. Following the 2008 election, Bangladesh’s parliament has 65 women MPs, which is 19% of the total seats. Incidentally, China has 21% women in the National People’s Congress without any quota policy.
Rwanda, which has reserved seats for women, happens to be the only country in the world with more women (56%) than men in their national legislative body. This is followed by Sweden with 47%, South Africa (45%), Iceland (43%), Argentina (42%), the Netherlands (41%) and Norway and Senegal with 40%. In the list of 11 countries with the highest representation of women in their national legislature, five (Sweden, South Africa, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway) have voluntary political party quotas for women. Angola and Costa Rica, both with 37% seats occupied by women, have electoral laws granting quotas. Only two countries in the list Denmark (38%) and Senegal have no quota system.
The widely accepted benchmark to ensure a critical mass of women parliamentarians is 30%. Yet, the proportion of women in parliaments globally stood at just 18.8% in December 2009, according to the Inter parliamentary Union (IPU). By July 2008, 21 countries had successfully met the 30% critical mass target and about a quarter of these were Nordic countries known for long-standing efforts to increase the participation of women, according to the Parliamentary Research division of Canada. Another quarter were so-called post-conflict countries, which took advantage of rebuilding efforts to implement electoral reforms and political party practices, thus jump-starting the effort to boost the representation of women.
It was also noted that a majority of countries that reached the 30% benchmark had done so through measures such as proportional representation systems and electoral quotas. Countries that rely solely on the usual majority electoral system show low levels of representation of women.
The data put together on countries with quota mandated through electoral law or the constitution also indicates that having strict legal sanctions for contravention of the quota system also can show results. For instance, in Argentina, where party lists that do not comply with the electoral law will not be approved, the proportion is 42%. In Belgium, where if a party fails to comply with the gender composition , their list shall be refused by electoral authorities.