When the Beijing Process was initiated in 1995, 30 per cent women’s representation in national legislatures was set as the critical mass needed to help ‘the fairer sex’ overcome obstacles in entering politics on equal grounds with male counterparts, and play any significant role in a traditionally male domain.
But according to the latest figures from the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), only 19 countries in the world have achieved this goal.
On the other hand, as last year’s IDEA report on ‘Designing for Equality’ puts it, many countries around the world have recognised the under-representation of women in politics and have adopted measures to correct this problem.
Even trouble-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have fixed parliamentary quotas resulting in 27.3 and 25.5 per cent being women representatives. And in Pakistan, since a quota system was introduced in 2002, 33 per cent of the local level representatives and 17 per cent of those in the Provincial Assemblies and the Parliament are women. Similar measures in Latin America have seen the average number of women cabinet ministers rise from 9 per cent to 24 per cent since 1990, and their portfolios now include defence, internal security and external affairs.
In India, the 15-year-long struggle to allow 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament does not look like ending any time soon, and the last Lok Sabha elections saw only 9 per cent women representatives making it through. But reservation for women in the local self-governing institutions has resulted in no less than 10 lakh women in our Panchayats, according to a recent Ministry of Panchayati Raj appraisal. This amounts to more elected Indian women representatives than all other countries put together.
Why is this a good thing? Various studies by the World Bank and a 2007 survey by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society find that not only are women more difficult to corrupt than men, they are also more responsive to community needs and more apt to prioritise the local over the global. As a caveat, the ‘Achieving Gender Equality in Public Offices in Pakistan’ report released last year states: “While quotas are important in addressing the exclusion of women from the public sphere, they… need to be embedded within a democratic culture and a socio-economic context where women’s work in both public and private spheres is valued.”