The issue of women’s lack of participation in political processes and decision-making positions is considered one of the greatest problems facing women’s presence in the public sphere; as well as the ratification of her rights. Women’s rate of participation differs from one country to the other, depending on the social and cultural realities, and laws of each country. Women’s presence in decision-making positions is a way to support women’s participation in the public and political life of their countries, taking into account the variety of women’s political, social, and cultural backgrounds. The quota system was suggested as one of the mechanisms during the fourth international women’s conference in Beijing in 1995, and as an interim solution to the issue of women’s weak political participation and in decision-making positions. This is in light of women’s marginalization and exclusion; which has led to lack of representation, or poor representation, and their abstaining in most cases of participating in decision-making positions.
The quota system was introduced to provide solutions to increase women’s political participation in elected councils; and as an interim solution to problems relating to women’s political participation. This system is highly controversial, as it raises the question of the extent of positive discrimination’s ability to create real political participation for women who are excluded from political participation and decision-making processes.
There are three forms of quota: Legal quota or constitutionally representative quota, which dictates that a certain percentage of seats in legislative councils must be held by women. For example, the Iraqi constitution dictates that 25% of parliamentary seats must be held by women. This is similar to Jordan, where the law dictates that 10% of parliamentary seats must be held by women. Another form of quota is the candidacy quota which might be legalized, thus obligating parties to nominate a specific percentage of women on their lists. This is the case in Palestine as the electoral law stated in 2005 that “Every electoral candidate proportional lists must include minimum representation of women no less than woman in the each of the following: 1-The first three names in the list, 2. The four following names, 3. The five following names1. The third form of quota is voluntary quota. This is adopted by parties in their internal bylaws without the presence of a legally binding clause, which is the case in several Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway.
Quota has been applied with its different forms, including representative quota in some Arab countries such as Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt, and in a few African countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, and Senegal. European countries have always set an example in applying quota, particularly on party lists, whether legally or voluntarily, as is the case in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Belgium.
Quota is an interim solution to women’s minimal participation in political life. However, the quota system has been criticized. Some of its opponents consider it to be a form of discrimination against women’s representation. Moreover, it might not express the true will of the voters, or it limits the choices of voters, especially when seats are assigned for women in legislative councils. Quota remains an interim solution to be effective until obstacles which face women in political life are abolished, and until they are effectively empowered and it is no longer a discriminatory practice. Reality confirms that women have fewer chances to run for elections due to a number of social and cultural factors in societies which are ruled by domineering masculine forces. This is evident in percentages of women’s representation in the Arab world.
Representational quota is a double-edged weapon. A number of women join elected councils, but this is interloped with the size of constituencies that women run in to win quota seats. Furthermore, women handle many of the burdens related to elections such as campaigns and propaganda, particularly if she is running for a seat designated for women. Experience has proven that women who attain these seats have power and influence, and they express the interest of the ruling power, and not women’s interests. This was the case of the Egyptian experience in 2010, when the ruling part commandeered the majority of seats dedicated to women, as will be shown later when we discuss Egypt’s case.
On the contrary, candidacy quota as a form of positive discrimination gives political parties a motive to place women in better positions within their interior structures. It also empowers women more effectively, and prepares female cadres to work in elected councils. Political will of parties is one of the key factors for empowering women politically. Women usually abstain from joining political parties as their roles are marginalized inside the parties, and work is divided according to gender. An example of this is forming a women’s committee where women can join, but they do not get involved in other committees and decision-making positions within the organizational structure of parties. Therefore, political parties are responsible for empowering women in the political field through effective participation within the party, and providing them political support during the election process.
However, one of the remaining problems of quota is that it limits women’s participation. The percentage of women involved usually does not extend beyond the allocated percentage, either in laws or constitutions. Voluntary quota might be the only form of quota that avoids this trap, as the percentage is determined by parties themselves, and it might increase or decrease depending on what parties want.
This paper will showcase a few examples of the quota system across the world.