Quotas for women in parliament


The issue of quotas for women in parliament is once again in the news, with motions to introduce quotas to be debated at upcoming Liberal Party state conferences in New South Wales and Victoria.

An Essential Report poll published on 30 March 2021 found that 48 per cent of those polled supported political parties setting gender quotas for candidate selection (with 36 per cent opposed).

The international experience of quotas

Since the 1990s over one hundred countries have implemented political gender quotas, and by 2013 over half the world’s countries had adopted some form of quota, including by 2018, over twenty established democracies.

Many countries have found quotas to be an effective mechanism for increasing women’s political representation and fast-tracking women’s political participation.

Of the ten countries with the highest percentage of women in their lower (or single) house of parliament, seven have implemented some type of quota system. Prior to implementing quotas many of these countries had very low numbers of women in parliament.

The table below shows the ten countries which currently have the highest rankings for women’s representation in parliament, based on the percentage of women in each country’s lower (or single) house of parliament and whether they have implemented quotas (either legislated or voluntary).

IPU Ranking

Country

Percentage of women in lower (or single) house as of 1 January 2021

Percentage of women in lower (or single) house as of 1 January 1997*

Percentage change

Quotas implemented

1

Rwanda

61.3

17.1

44.2

Yes

2

Cuba

53.4

22.8

30.6

No

3

United Arab Emirates

50.0

0.0

50.0

Yes

4

Nicaragua

48.4

10.8

37.6

Yes

5

New Zealand

48.3

29.2

19.1

Yes

6

Mexico

48.2

14.2

34.0

Yes

7

Sweden

47.0

40.4

6.6

Yes

8

Grenada

46.7

20.0

26.7

No

9

Andorra

46.4

3.6

42.8

No

10

Bolivia

46.2

6.9

39.3

Yes

Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), ‘Monthly ranking of women in national parliaments’ and ‘Women in national parliaments archive’, and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) ‘Gender Quotas Database’.

* 1 January 1997 is the earliest date for which the IPU’s ‘Women in national parliaments’ data is available.

As at 1 January 2021, Australia is ranked equal 50th, with women comprising 31.1 per cent of members of the lower house. The ranking system used by the IPU does not include data on the membership of upper houses (many countries have only a single chamber). However, women now comprise 51.3 per cent of Australian senators.

Types of political gender quotas

There are three main types of quotas used in politics.

Reserved seats are legal quotas mandated by a country’s constitution or by legislation that set aside a certain number or proportion of seats for women. Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates are examples of countries with reserved seats for women. In some parliaments, seats are reserved for other categories of people (for example, New Zealand’s Parliament includes seven Māori electorates).

Legal candidate quotas, also known as legislative quotas, require political parties to preselect or nominate a certain proportion of women as candidates, but do not guarantee a particular level of women’s representation in the parliament. Legal candidate quotas may be supported by incentives for compliance or sanctions for non-compliance, such as loss of public funding to non-complying political parties. Nicaragua, Mexico and Bolivia are examples of countries with legal candidate quotas.

Political party quotas are adopted by political parties voluntarily and have no legal status. Parties may choose to require that women comprise a certain proportion of preselected or nominated candidates. In some cases, a system in which male and female names alternate on party lists of candidates is adopted. The Women’s Electoral Lobby has called for Australian political parties to use this type of system on Senate ballot papers to increase women’s representation across parties. New Zealand, Sweden and Australia are examples of countries where political parties have implemented voluntary quotas.

In 1994 the Australian Labor Party (ALP) adopted a mandatory 35 per cent preselection quota for women in winnable seats at all elections by 2002. This was replaced by a ‘40:40:20’ quota system from 1 January 2012 ‘to produce an outcome where not less than 40% of seats held by Labor will be filled by women, and not less than 40% by men’. The remaining 20 per cent could be filled by candidates of either gender. In 2015 the party adopted new targets: 45 per cent female representation by 2022 and 50 per cent female representation by 2025. The percentage of female ALP parliamentarians in the Commonwealth Parliament has increased from 12.5 per cent in September 1994 to its current 47.9 per cent.

Other barriers to women’s full participation

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has also emphasised the importance of removing other barriers to women’s full participation. These ‘gender-sensitive parliaments’ are those ‘whose structures, operations, methods and work respond to the needs and interests of both men and women.’

Further reading:

Tags: women, parliament

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