Looking at both the domestic and international scenario for women in politics and going through some literature by various individuals and institutions. I have come to the conclusion that ‘Women’s Quota’ in Bhutan will be an important and necessary step to ensure minimal representation of women in Parliament.
The development argument
For some time now, the biggest argument against quota for women in Parliament has been that women are capable beings, and it is only a matter of time for the development process to take place to ensure for a larger number of women to enter politics.
However, the 2013 Elections saw a drastic drop in women MPs, in both houses from 13.9 percent to around 7 percent. The previous Cabinet saw no women minister and this Cabinet only saw one woman minister. Of the 1,407 local government posts in 2011, only 101 were occupied by women mainly as tshogpas while out of the 205 Gup posts, just one went to a woman. This is all well before the 30 percent target set by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1990 for all decision making bodies.
We would all agree that Bhutan saw unprecedented development in the last ten to five years, in the political, social and economic fronts. Therefore, the almost non-existent and falling women representation shows that it is not just about development, but there are deeper and more fundamental barriers that prevent women in Bhutan from entering politics, which has to be recognized and resolved.
The above data also ties in with international research to show that more economic development and women holding jobs does not lead to more women MPs.
Quotas and not economic development are the best way to increase women’s representation in Parliament.
Around half of the world’s 196 countries have women’s quotas of some sort. These could be voluntary party quotas, candidate quotas or legislative quotas. The countries with quotas have seen a dramatic overall improvement in women’s representation in politics.
Using data from 126 countries, we find that GDP per capita does not predict the share of female legislators in a country’s national assembly. On the other hand, candidate quotas and reserved seat quotas have a highly significant positive effect. Rather than being dependent on the level of economic development, the implementation of quotas has to do more with political reasons.
undemocratic and pre-selection
Let us examine one more argument, which is that quotas are undemocratic and that people should be free to choose their own representatives, be they all male or the occasional female. Democracy is essentially the principle of representation and so there is nothing more undemocratic when 51 percent of Bhutanese society is not adequately and fairly represented in Parliament.
In the absence of quotas, the political system is stacked against females. Studies have shown that male political leaders prefer to choose male candidates. Another disadvantage is the perception that politics is a masculine profession and that female leaders are not capable or incompetent.
Add to this are ages of mistaken social and cultural norms that assign women to domestic roles. So, when there are so many artificial and unfair barriers, most of them not based on fact for women to enter politics, then the quota assumes even more importance- as an important tool to break this glass ceiling.
It is the political parties that control the nominations of mainly male candidates, not the voters who decide who gets elected. Therefore, the quotas are not a violation of voters’ rights. In fact, male MPs, by virtue of being men, enjoy an invisible but strong gender quota enforced by outdated social stereotypes.
Women’s quota is about bypassing institutionalized and social discrimination against women and not creating discrimination in favor of women.
changing norms and role model
The next obvious argument made is to change these so-called social and cultural norms and attitudes through education, etc. Here again, while these are part of the solution, quota experiences have shown that the performance of women MPs holding quota seats have had a much stronger impact in removing misgivings about women leadership among men, and at the same time, it created role models of women encouraging more to enter the political arena. In short, these social and cultural norms can never be effectively changed without having examples of women leadership.
Women would also be more likely to invest further in the education, health, skills, etc., if they knew that leadership opportunities are available.
Women’s quotas also create a role model effect whereby more women can aspire to become political leaders.
It also improves women’s aspirations by breaking through various self- imposed stereotypes. An experiment by a researcher named Spencer found that women who were falsely told that some math problems were more difficult for women than males performed worse on them than males. Women not told the same, did equally as well as their male counterparts.
Women not interested in politics
One popular argument against women’s quota is that women are not interested in taking part in politics. Studies of the Indian Panchayat or local government system where one thirds of seats are
reserved for women show that women candidates in reserved seats show the same eagerness, interest and confidence in both their skills, and desire to re-run like their male counterparts once they have had a few years of experience. The study shows that once the invisible, but ever present ‘male only’ sign is removed from politics, women leaders can be as enthusiastic and interested in taking part in the political arena.
As an international example, most of the world’s progressive and democratic countries have women’s quota like, the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Germany, etc. It is Bhutan’s choice to be on the right side of a progressive international move supported by a host of international agencies, including the UN.
Policy and corruption impact
Women’s quota is also important because studies across the world have shown that women lawmakers lead to more balanced policies. They have been found to give more focus on issues like including girls’ education, clean water and sanitation, sustainable energy, decent work, healthcare, and looking after the needs of the elderly, among others
Studies of the quota system in India’s Panchayat System found that women representatives were also less corrupt than men representatives.
If women are there, in enough numbers, in the legislature, they can help remove some of the obstacles that prevent women from taking up a more active role in society and also being elected. Female legislators are more likely than male legislators to help formulate laws that will remove various obstacles to more women being elected.
One main argument held up by those who do not subscribe to quota for women is that importance should instead be given to advocacy,
policy interventions, laws and allocating more resources. As numerous international cases have shown, all of this would be much more likely and receive a much more sympathetic ear from a Parliament with adequate female MPs, which in turn would also mean a more women-friendly government.
Studies of the Indian Panchayat quota system show that many women reported seeing some backlash in the first term with men leaders creating gender barriers. This, however, went away with the second term. It is also interesting to note that even when women leaders delivered more services, there was a lesser degree of satisfaction compared to men representatives. Overtime, the backlash went away and there was acceptance.
Studies also showed that exposure of village men to reservation reduced gender discrimination and stereotypes in India.
Will it lead to other quotas?
One particular argument that some people make against women’s quota is that it can lead to a demand for quotas from other weaker sections in Bhutanese society or even minority groups.
The experience in India has been quite the opposite as some minority caste based parties have been the biggest opponents of women’s quota as they feel it will leave less space for minority or caste based quota.
In the 2013 general elections, PDP took the clearest and most direct stand on 20% women’s reservation in Parliament as one of its major promises. The DPT,on the other hand, was more circumspect with several of its top leaders having spoken out against women’s reservation in the past.
The 2013 victory of PDP, though due to several factors, also show that this government has both the mandate and the responsibility to introduce women’s quota.