Thursday, October 13, 2016


The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and especially Goal 3 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, entail a commitment by States to promote mechanisms that give women a voice in politics and governance institutions. Reviews of the progress achieved on the Goals show that women are slowly gaining political power, mainly thanks to quotas and special measures. Regional variations remain, however

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s general recommendation No. 25 (2004) clarifies that the term “special measures” can encompass a wide variety of legislative, executive, administrative and other regulatory instruments, policies and practices, such as outreach or support programmes, allocation and/or reallocation of resources, preferential treatment, targeted recruitment, hiring and promotion, numerical goals connected with time frames, and quota systems. They should be adopted with a view to achieving substantive gender equality, which is required by the Convention.

States have adopted different forms of quota systems. The most common are political party quotas, legislative quotas and reserved seats. Political party quotas are usually voluntary, party-specific and put in place to increase the number of women party candidates or elected representatives, through setting a percentage of women. Legislative quotas are binding national policies that are enforced through legislation, requiring all political parties to include a certain number of women in their lists of candidates for elections. Another method is to reserve seats for women in parliament through a national policy, which ensures a certain number of female legislators. Since the Beijing World Conference, States have increasingly adopted quotas to boost women’s participation, counter discrimination and accelerate the slow pace at which the number of women in politics is rising. These measures are meant to correct some of the obstacles, especially institutional and systemic barriers, that still prevent women’s equal access to politics.

However, if adopted in isolation, these measures are usually not enough to ensure equality. Moreover, they require adaptation to the local context. Quotas for women have often been criticized for various reasons, e.g., if the women are chosen by political parties or leaders to serve political interests which may be contrary to ensuring equality or because quotas put too little emphasis on actual merits.29 Quotas for women need to be coupled with other measures to create an enabling environment for women to participate. Particularly, the positive impact of increasing women’s representation in public and political life will not be felt if the women who gain access are not also empowered to actively participate in the discussions and exercise influence in decision-making.

Participation in public life is, however, much broader than elections or being elected to public office. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has explained that the Convention’s article 7 extends to all areas of public and political life and is thus not limited to those specified in the article itself. According to the Committee, the political and public life of a country is a broad concept, and can refer to the exercise of political power, in particular legislative, judicial, executive and administrative powers, all aspects of public administration and the formulation and implementation of policy at the international, national, regional and local levels. Women’s right to participation also includes participating in civil society, public boards, local councils and the activities of political parties, trade unions, professional or industry associations, women’s organizations, community-based organizations and other organizations concerned with public and political life. The Committee’s general recommendation No. 23 (1997) on women in political and public life emphasizes States’ responsibility to appoint women to senior leadership positions, at all levels (local, national, international) of government, all government bodies, the judiciary, and to encourage political parties to do the same. States should ensure women’s access to information and take measures to overcome barriers such as illiteracy, language, poverty and barriers to women’s freedom of movement.

Women’s participation specifically in peacebuilding and peacemaking processes is particularly important if post-conflict societies are to be rebuilt based on respect for human rights and democratic values. United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and its follow-up resolutions and reports on women, peace and security, recognize women’s important contribution to peace and call for increased representation of women at all levels of decision-making, in all mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts

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