• Political quotas for women: Myths & facts | Elizabeth Guerrero

    09 Dec 2013

    women politics
    Salvadorian parliamentarians celebrate the approval of the new law that addresses violence against women (Photo: El Salvador Legislative Assembly)

    Women still comprise only 21.4 percent of members of parliaments (MP) around the world. While Latin America has more than 24 percent of women MPs — one of the highest shares in the world — the region still has a long road to travel towards gender parity.

    The provision of quotas — an idea that began in Europe and has spread to other continents — has effectively been used to boost women’s political participation, adopted as a temporary measure to encourage political parties to nominate a minimum percentage of women. This may take place as a voluntary action by political parties or through law-driven measures which push parties to nominate a certain number of women candidates.

    Yet several myths remain:

    Myth 1: "Quotas contradict the principle of equality before the law"

    This argument is based on the assumption that men and women actually have the same opportunities to run for elections. But that simply does not reflect reality. In many countries women can vote, but they cannot be elected. Evidence shows that women and men do not share the same opportunities to be appointed candidates because women face a number of barriers to be nominated by political parties.

    Therefore, the idea behind quotas is to “prepare the field before the ball game” and ensure that both men and women have equal opportunities of being elected.

    Myth 2: "Quotas ‘give away’ public positions to women just because they are women"

    This argument mistakes quotas for reserved political positions for women. The fact is that quotas only oblige parties to nominate women, but they must still run for — and win — the elections (just like men) to own seats of political power.

    Myth 3: "Quotas are ineffective in boosting women’s political participation”

    Latin America’s experience proves the contrary. Quotas have been very efficient, and the existence of such laws marks the difference between countries which were able to boost the number of elected women and those still lagging behind.

    For example, after the law, the proportion of women in parliament jumped from 8.7 percent to 37.4 percent in Argentina; 15.8 percent to 38.6 percent in Costa Rica; 3.7 percent to 38.7 percent in Ecuador and from 18.4 percent to 40.2 percent in Nicaragua, which currently registers the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the region.

    No country in the world has reached a 30 percent participation of women in parliament without some form of affirmative action, whether voluntary or law-imposed quotas.

    It is crucial to boost the understanding of quotas for women and their crucial role in our long road towards gender parity.

    Talk to us: What steps can be taken to boost women’s political participation?