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The Implementation of Quotas

The level of political representation of women in different legislative bodies around the world varies greatly, standing at 15 percent in lower houses of parliament in 2004 on average. The uneven political playing field on which women and men compete has led to a number of reforms to safeguard the presence of women in parliament, primarily quotas or other positive action strategies. Governments and political parties have experimented with different types of quotas, with mixed results. Electoral quotas may be constitutionally or legislatively mandated or they may come in the form of political party quotas. They usually set a target or minimum threshold for women, and may apply to the number of women candidates proposed by a party for election, or they may take the form of reserved seats in the legislature. Increasing women’s representation and participation in decision-making bodies requires well-developed strategies and information on which measures have worked successfully in different countries with different political contexts. Currently, there is limited comparative research and data on how quotas have been successfully implemented and enforced. As support for quotas gains momentum (as a tool to increase the political participation of women), IDEA is participating in a global research project – in collaboration with the Department of Political Science, Stockholm University – that will lead to the generation of comparative practical knowledge on electoral quotas for women. As a first step in this process, a ‘Global Database of Quotas for Women’ website has been created, providing an overview of the use of electoral quotas for women worldwide ( It provides information on the various types of quotas in existence today, detailing percentages and targets in countries where they are applicable. Data are presented for over 90 nations, including 74 where they have been specified in the constitution, regulations and laws or where political parties have implemented their own internal quotas. The website, however, does not draw conclusions about the connection between types of quota provisions and the representation of women globally. Hence, IDEA is convening a series of regional workshops. Researchers and practitioners are being brought together to allow country- and region-specific information on quota implementation and enforcement to be collated,
and a network of researchers and experts working in this field to be developed. The first workshop in the series examined Asian experiences of quotas, and was held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2002. The second workshop, on Latin American experiences of quotas, was held in Lima, Peru, in February 2003. The meeting on quotas in Africa, held in South Africa in November 2003, is the third in the series, and is to be followed by workshops in Europe and the Arab World in 2004. IDEA works in partnership with international, regional and local organizations. This workshop was organized in partnership with EISA and SADC PF. These partners, and others, are particularly important in light of the Southern African Development Community Declaration on Gender, obliging member states to achieve 30 percent representation of women by 2005. The countries represented in this meeting, however, were not only members of SADC. Experts also came from Central, East, North and West Africa, reflecting the diversity of the continent. Africa is an interesting region in regard to analyzing the successes and failures associated with quota implementation. The legislated quota system is employed in eight countries – Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia at the local level, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda (and previously in Egypt). Informal political party quotas exist in a further twelve nations. In a number of countries debates are taking place about the implementation of quotas, with women’s organizations at the local and regional levels actively lobbying for them. There are also important examples of quotas existing in decision-making bodies other than national parliaments, including the African Union (AU) and the SADC PF, as well as quotas that seek to include women in peace processes and negotiations, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While it is possibly too early to talk about a tradition of quota implementation on the continent, there are clear cases where quotas have been instrumental in ensuring women access to decision-making bodies.