The Pros and Cons of Gender Quota in Politics

Women are excelling in each and every field of life. They occupy significant numbers and positions in multiple sectors of life. But, despite the significant advances in education and women empowerment, the participation of women in politics is not up to the mark.

Talking about politics, prior to 1890 female suffrage didn’t exist anywhere in the world. Currently, around 96% countries of the world had given women their right to vote. Similarly, multiple countries introduced the quota system to ensure women’s participation. The main reason for indoctrination of quota system is to recruit women in politics. Mainly following kinds of quotas are applied in politics;

  1. Legal Quotas (Constitutional or Legislative)
  2. Reserved Seats (Constitutional or Legislative)
  3. Political Parties Quotas (Voluntary)

The primary motive of quotas is to ensure that women comprises at least a “critical minority” of 30-40%. Quotas for women entail that women must constitute a certain percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, parliament, national or provincial assembly or a committee. Quota system is essential as women’s representation is not up to the mark. Since women are the underrepresented group in political institutions everywhere, most regulations aim at securing women a minimum of seats.

In case of Pakistan, prior to 2001 there were never more than 3% women in the parliament. Women have always been a small percentage of public life in Pakistan, but despite the scale and nature of barriers faced, have made an impact well beyond their numbers. During the era of General Pervaiz Musharaff women were introduced in almost every sector of the country. Through Legal Framework Ordinance of 2001, the reservation of seats for women in local government was increased to 33%, in National and Provincial Assembly and Senate it was increased to 17%.

Pros and Cons of Quota

Those in favour of quota system argue that:

  • Quotas provides better chances for women.
  • It may leads to higher level of women empowerment in the society.
  • Quotas for women do not discriminate, but compensate for actual barriers that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats.
  • Quotas imply that there are several women together in a committee or assembly, thus minimizing the stress often experienced by the token women.
  • Women have the right as citizens to equal representation.
  • Women’s experiences are needed in political life.
  • Election is about representation, not educational qualifications.
  • Women are just as qualified as men, but women’s qualifications are downgraded and minimized in a male-dominated political system.
  • It is in fact the political parties that control the nominations, not primarily the voters who decide who gets elected.
  • Introducing quotas may cause conflicts, but only temporarily.
  • Reduces discrimination.
  • A useful shack to the system.
  • Democratic in nature, as quotas address the gender democracy deficit of politics – women as citizens have the right to participate in politics and elections primarily aim for people’s representation, not male elite capture in terms of educational, political qualifications and capacities in political systems marked by androcentric and patriarchy.
  • No level playing field – quotas thus address gender-specific structural and institutional barriers, also those by Gatekeepers who control the candidacy pool.
  • Creating critical mass and avoiding stressful experience of women as tokens.
  • Inclusive – quotas allow for women’s experiences and needs to be addressed in otherwise androcentric politics

Those against the quota system argue that:

  • The quota system may not work efficiently as it is perceived as unjust and illegal by some. It is considered as undemocratic as it violates the principle of equal opportunity for all and other democratic principles e.g., voters decisions are prime.
  • The discrimination based on gender, violates the principle of meritocracy and qualifications.
  • Political quotas narrows women’s political representation to women constituencies and issues.
  • It may leads to conflicts within the political organisation or institution.
  • Women’s already have equal rights as that of men’s.
  • The best candidate for the best position must be selected, irrespective of “gender”.
  • It worsens allocations.
  • Quota system may leads to potential stigma or marginalization of women.
  • It may reduce employees engagement and interest in the job and negative attitude among male counterparts.
  • It reduces the support for diversity initiatives.
  • Gender discrimination is a deep-rooted problem and cannot be solely addressed by introducing quotas in the politics.
  • Quotas are against the principle of equal opportunity for all, since women are given preference.
  • Quotas imply that politicians are elected because of their gender, not because of their qualifications and that more qualified candidates are pushed aside.
  • Many women do not want to get elected just because they are women.
  • Introducing quotas creates significant conflicts within the party organization.

Concluding the debate, it is recommended that quotas do not necessarily guarantees women’s increased and effective participation in the political process. No doubt, quotas bring women’s voices into political systems where they are otherwise excluded, short-cutting a process that can naturally take generations. Quotas enables freedom of movement, and networks of support for women.