By Cynthia Richie Terrell on July 27, 2018
Contrary to prominent views in the West and among secular liberal groups about women in Islamist movements being submissive to a male-dominated hierarchy, there has been an increase in women's participation and role in these movements.
Abderrahim, a 53-year-old pharmaceutical company head, is a leading figure in Ennahda, a traditionally conservative party describing itself as "Muslim democrats". She has often been portrayed as a symbol of the party's openness and embrace of modern values, and her nomination challenged stereotypes about the differing opinions on women held by Islamists and secularists.
While Ennahda supported Abderrahim's candidacy, Foued Bousslama, a member of the "secular and modern" Nidaa Tounes party called it "unacceptable" because she would be unable to attend a mosque during Ramadan.
Gender parity law
Ennahda's support for women's representation is not new. After the Tunisian revolution, women's activism and leadership has grown. More than 30 percent of seats in the Tunisian parliament are now held by women, the highest share in the country's history, thanks to a new gender parity law. Passed in May 2011, the law requires party lists for national elections to contain an equal number of men and women.
Ennahda delivered the most female representatives to the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the post-revolution constitution. Women from Ennahda were elected in significant numbers to the National Constituent Council in 2011 and 2014. More recently, women made up 47 percent of the candidates competing in the the May 2018 municipal elections.
This type of progress is not limited to women's representation. Tunisia was the first regional country to repeal "marry the rapist" laws, and last year, President Beji Caid Essebsi revoked a 1973 law prohibiting Tunisian Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men.
This came after the Tunisian parliament passed the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women, which introduced criminal penalties for domestic violence and provisions to prevent child labour, sexual harassment in public places, and pay discrimination. Commenting on the law, Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said: "Tunisia’s new law provides women with the measures necessary to seek protection from acts of violence by their husbands, relatives and others."
Some have accused Ennahda and the Tunisian state of instrumentalising women's rights for their own political purposes. Indeed, Islamist groups and parties understand the importance of women's representation for garnering support from different sectors of society and gaining international legitimacy.
Moreover, governing Islamist parties in Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen have strategically encouraged women's political participation in their disputes with both secular and radical religious opponents.
Still, the push for women's engagement in political parties and the presence of women in leadership positions - regardless of the motives - has empowered women and created more acceptance for their political participation.
As some research suggests, the presence of women in the public eye as political leaders is often accompanied by electoral gains for women, while also challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging other women to pursue leadership positions. Oumayma Ben Abdullah, a Tunisian fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told The National: “Abderrahim's victory is one for the cause of women. It's empowering in the sense that women can aspire now to be mayors and have leadership positions regardless of their political affiliation or where they came from.”
This case demonstrates that an Islamist party's rise to power does not necessarily come at the cost of gender equality and women’s rights. On the contrary, in some cases, it can boost women’s representation.
Mr Speaker Sir, there is no need to mention that the women’s quota system was received with a lot of jubilation by women activists as an important milestone that would transform the political landscape of the country by empowering them. They had been previously marginalised due to various factors and other culturally related issues.
Women representation in the Parliament of Zimbabwe has improved to 35 percent, the highest since 1980. This was mainly achieved through the constitutional provision that 60 seats must be given to women through the proportional representation (PR) quota.The inclusion of the 60 female MPs is over and above the 210 legislators with geographical constituencies where they are still free to contest with their male counterpart.
Section 124 (b) of the new Constitution reads:
“. . . For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces . . .”
The adoption of the women’s quota system by Zimbabwe was in line with relevant international instruments relating to full political rights for women, among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
If you read the headlines, there’s a “pink wave” set to sweep America this November. With a record number of women having entered midterm races, it looks like women’s representation in Congress is set to take a major step forward. But is such progress nearly enough to make up for the long-standing and persistent underrepresentation of women in American government?
Women make up more than half of the U.S. population but still less than 20 percent of congressional seats. And, when compared with the rest of the world, the U.S. is doing worse than before, not better. The U.S. ranked 41 out of 177 countries in female legislative representation in 1997. Twenty years later, America comes it at No. 102, trailing countries like Rwanda and Bolivia, whose parliaments are now half composed of women. Why are so many other countries surpassing the U.S. on this front? One of the main reasons: gender quotas. Forty of the 46 countries that now enjoy more than 30 percent representation by women have such quotas.
Should the U.S. embrace this growing trend, including setting both gender and racial quotas for Congress? After all, even though the 115th Congress is the most racially diverse in history, non-White members (including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans) make up 19 percent of the body (but 38 percent of the population).
Electoral quotas have been something of the rage in recent years. Several countries in both Europe and the Middle East — including Libya, Tunisia and Iraq — have now embraced quotas to enhance female political participation, and around 90 countries globally employ them. More than 30 countries worldwide also reserve seats in their parliaments for representatives of minority groups. Singapore, for example, employs racial quotas in everything from political representation to public housing in an effort to fairly allocate opportunities between its majority Chinese population and its minority Malay-Muslim and Indian ethnic groups.
Are such quotas necessary to bolster representation levels and hasten progress? “Democracy has failed women,” says Drude Dahlerup, a professor of political science at Stockholm University and a global consultant on electoral systems and gender quota systems. “In spite of recent increases, 100 years of women’s suffrage has not fundamentally changed male dominance in politics in the old democracies.”
Proponents of quotas argue that they help guarantee women and minorities equal representation and ensure that their voices get heard in political life. And research on the impact of gender quotas suggests that such policies are effective. A recent study found that not only did women’s representation double on average — from 10 to 20 percent — in countries where quotas were implemented, but the improved representation also tended to shift government priorities, including away from military spending and toward public health.
Still, many countries including the U.S. remain hesitant to enact quotas because it means giving some individual candidates a preference over others — and in a way, that may limit voters’ range of options. Dahlerup has heard such objections frequently, including that there are not sufficient qualified female candidates, but she says that most such negative predictions about quotas never materialize. The bigger challenge is likely how best to implement them given the U.S. electoral system. Many countries employing quotas also have proportional representation systems where parties can nominate ranked lists of candidates, as opposed to the “winner take all” single-member district system in the U.S. that makes it harder to guarantee winners from the underrepresented population. Still, other countries with similar systems have succeeded in bolstering representation with quotas, says Dahlerup — for example: France, with gender quotas resulting in 39 percent women elected — by requiring political parties to put forth a proportional number of candidates from each group.
As of June 2018, women comprise 20.6% of the 342 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly, exceeding the country’s quota for the National Assembly to reserve 17.5% of their seats for women. Although the National Assembly in Pakistan narrowly surpasses this quota, the amount of power women hold while in office is meager: according to the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women: among the 26 government bills successfully passed in parliament in 2017, only 1 (4%) were proposed by women.
Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the 2018 elections mark the second time that a civilian government will transfer power to another civilian elected government after a full term. On July 26, 2018 Pakistan held elections for their National and Provincial Assemblies. 3,459 people ran for the 272 open seats in the National Assembly elections. A record-breaking number candidates were women of women running for National Assembly. Data shows that out of the 3,459 people that contested for open seats in the National Assembly, 171 of those candidates were women.
Yet more women are running for office than ever before, the ratio of men to women candidates leans heavily towards men, with women comprising only 5% of candidates. A political atmosphere dominated by men tells a familiar tale: women are less likely to run for office in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s perception of female leaders is largely negative. According to the World Value Survey 2010-2014, 73% of Pakistani citizens strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “on the whole, men make better political leaders than women do”.
There were so many interesting stories this week on gender quotas and gender targets - here is one from the New York Law Journal about quotas for boards of public companies by David A. Katz and Laura A. McIntosh - I am especially interested in talking more about gender targets in appointed and judicial offices:
California has made headlines this summer with legislative action toward instituting gender quotas for boards of directors of public companies headquartered in the state. The legislation has passed the state senate; to be enacted, it must be passed by the California state assembly and signed by the governor. In 2013, California became the first state to pass a precatory resolution promoting gender diversity on public company boards, and five other states have since followed suit. The current legislative effort has come under criticism for a variety of reasons, and, while it is not certain to become law, it could be a harbinger of a broader push for public company board gender quotas in the United States. It is worth considering whether quotas in this area would be beneficial or harmful to the larger goals of gender parity and board diversity....
The Big Picture
Progress toward gender diversity in the board room is accelerating. In the first fiscal quarter of 2018, nearly one-third of new directorships in the Russell 3000 went to women, and for the first time, fewer than 20 percent of companies in that index had all-male boards. Institutional investors, corporate governance activists, and many large companies have been at the forefront of this progress. State Street and BlackRock have been leaders on this issue in the United States. Similarly, in the UK—a country that has made significant efforts to improve gender diversity on boards while also resisting the imposition of quotas—the large investment funds Legal & General Investment Management and Standard Life Aberdeen Plc have said that they will vote against boards that are composed of less than 25 percent or 20 percent women, respectively. British institutional investor Hermes has said that it expects boards to include at minimum 30 percent women, and it led a failed opposition to the re-election of the chairman of mining group Rio Tinto Plc due to lack of diversity on the board. Given the effectiveness of recent efforts by the private sector, and in light of the intense resistance to quotas in the business community, government intervention to establish quotas may be unnecessary as well as undesirable.
Recent research shows that simply adding women to boards does not necessarily improve board performance. As common sense would suggest, it turns out that to be a positive factor, the gender composition of the board must be considered along with the skills and knowledge of the board as a whole in the context of the organization and its stakeholders. A 2017 academic study indicated that the “right” level of gender diversity may be proportionate to the number of female stakeholders—employees, clients, and suppliers, for example—and may vary across countries and cultures. In certain circumstances, the appropriate gender diversity ratio might well be over 50 percent women. The authors of the study caution against selecting directors based on quotas if, in so doing, gender diversity is prioritized over the expertise needs of the board.
Overall board diversity, including gender and ethnic minorities, has never been higher. According to a comprehensive 2018 study by James Drury Partners, overall board diversity is now at 34 percent for America’s 651 largest corporations, as measured by revenue and market capitalization. The level of board diversity is increasing, as 49 percent of the 449 newly elected directors at these companies represent diverse groups. Of particular note, the study revealed that the diversity distribution of the 6,225 directors currently serving on the boards of these companies corresponds very closely to the diversity of the population in the executive ranks of 222 companies studied by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org. While there clearly is more room for progress toward greater diversity at both the executive and board levels, this data point shows that boardrooms are indeed mirroring the increasingly diverse leadership of U.S. business.
The benefit of mandatory quotas, as the business community has seen through European examples, is that they compel companies and shareholders to focus on board composition and to establish more formal recruitment processes in order to find the necessary directors. Such developments are certainly beneficial. That said, boards can and should focus on composition and recruitment in the absence of quotas, and indeed they are doing so to a greater extent than ever before. Proponents of gender diversity can be heartened by recent developments in the United States, as organic and market-driven efforts have produced results that increase the business community’s enthusiasm for diverse boards. A real danger of legislation like the California bill is that context-free quotas may have the effect of destabilizing boards and undermining the business case for increased gender diversity. Were that to occur, then not only boards themselves, but stakeholders, the business community, and the larger societal goals of gender parity and board diversity would suffer as well.
Half of Colombia’s cabinet ministers will be women when the new government takes office next month in a first for the country and a boost for global gender equality.
Keeping to his campaign promise, conservative president-elect Ivan Duque, who takes over on August 7, has appointed equal numbers of men and women to his 16-strong cabinet.
“It is important that the Colombian woman assumes leadership positions. Colombia will have for the first time a female minister of the interior,” Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, tweeted earlier this month.
Women will also head other ministries with political clout, including the ministries of justice and energy, while Marta Lucia Ramirez will be Colombia’s first female vice president.
“This is very important in symbolic terms and it represents a cultural change. It will be difficult for future governments to go back on this and not continue with gender parity,” said Beatriz Quintero, who heads the National Women’s Network, which brings together more than a hundred rights groups in Colombia.
Women candidates have been responsible for some of this year’s biggest upsets, won historic governorship nominations, and played a key role in questioning establishment politics. On the Democratic side, especially, recent data from the Cook Political Report shows that women aren’t just running in record numbers — they’re also winning.
The prominence of women candidates in this year’s races has catapulted a host of fresh faces onto the national stage. Here’s a look at nine breakout stars from the midterms so far.