Submission from Lesley Abdela (SC-64)
I have campaigned, lobbied and worked as a professional
journalist and Consultant on equal representation of women in
politics in 40 countries, including the UK, over decades.
For a Democracy, the British House of Commons
currently rates very poorly, at 69th in the global league table
of women in politics.
Countries globally with over 30% women in their
Rwanda 56.3%, Sweden 47.0%, Wales 47%, Cuba
43.2%. Finland 41.5%, Netherlands 41.3%, Argentina 40.0%, Denmark
38%, Angola 37.3%, Costa Rica 36.8%, Spain 36.3%, Norway 36.1%,
Belgium 35.3%, Mozambique 34.8%, New Zealand 33.6%, Iceland 33.3%,
Scotland 33.3%, Nepal 33.2%, South Africa 33%, Germany 32.2%,
Belarus 31.*%, The FYR of Macedonia 31.7%, Uganda 30.7%, Burundi
30.5%,Tanzania 30.4%, Guyana 30.0%.
Countries with over 30% women in parliament
share three things in common:
All countries with over 30% women
in parliament have introduced equalising strategies such as gender-balanced
quotas as a "break-through" (ie short-term/temporary)
In all these countries, women (often
with supportive men) inside and outside political parties mobilised
and campaigned for quotas. Women's groups also provided training
for women in political participation.
The electoral system is some form of
* the exceptions are Scotland and Walessee
section on quotas
Governments and political parties have often
been reluctant to introduce quotas.
The obstacles break down broadly into two categories:
institutional obstacles, and obstacles caused by cultural stereotypes
and attitudes. Any person or commission seriously seeking to increase
women's participation will have to consider the extra challenges
faced by women from ethnic and religious minorities and women
with disabilities. Women are not a homogenous category. Issues
which impinge on women are cross-cut by other particular factors
affecting their status: marital/widowhood status, parental background,
religious grouping, ethnic minority/race, class and economic ranking
(millions of women are on low pay, no pay, or up to a third less
than men doing the same job), urban/rural. It is important to
discuss strategies and actions to enable them to have full participation
in politics. There are, nevertheless, common challenges
to overcome. (See annex 2).
As an asideParliamentarians on the Speaker's
Conference may be interested to note that violence in politics
and elections is a main challenge in a considerable number of
the countries where I have worked, including Nigeria, Iraq and
Afghanistan. Happily this is not a major issue in British politics.
2. What actions could be taken by the Government
to address disparities in representation?
2.1 Introduce Temporary Special Measures
From these many years campaigning and working
professionally to increase women's political participation I can
state that if the Speaker's Conference members were truly committed
to increasing the number of women in Parliament from a diverse
range of backgrounds (as I believe you are) there is only one
way to achieve it, full stopthat is by introduction of
Temporary Special Measures in the form of quotas for a period
of 4 elections. Everything else may be seen as a cynical
effort to avoid a real increase in women's numbers.
2.2 The most democratic choice of Quota
At least 122 political parties globally
use some form of quota for women when selecting their candidates
for elections. There are differing types of quota systemssome
are more democratic than others. The type I believe has the greater
merit for the United Kingdom are Gender-balanced quotas with equal
rules for both women and men and in which everyone has to stand
for election. Examples are "zipping" and "twinning".
(see Annex 1 for explanation of zipping and twinning).
Another example of a Gender Balance quota is
to stipulate that at least 40% candidates have to be men and at
least 40% candidates have to be women, with the remaining 20%
either. This means there can be no more than 60% representation
by the one sex.
A variety of different quota systems has been
used successfully for elections at all levels: regional, national,
local, district, provincial, and municipal.
Gender Balanced Quotas with equal rules for
women and men retains democratic credibility because once they
have been chosen to be candidates by their political party, both
female and male candidates still have to get elected by the voters.
A Gender Balance quota with equal rules for men and women cuts
down the risk of the "Quota Queens" syndrome in which
women elected on a quota system are somehow perceived by colleagues
and the media as "second class" representatives.
2.3 Rationale for introducing quotas as a Temporary
Introduction of quotas can be attacked on some
theoretical ground, but practice demonstrates their true worth.
The principal feature in every country in the world where there
are at least 30% women in the primary legislature, starting in
Sweden, followed by other Nordics, and most recently Rwanda is
some sort of quota.
Back in 1980, I was totally opposed to any form
of quotas, but after some years working on the issue of women's
participation in politics in the UK and overseas I became convinced
that training, lobbying and similar activities on their own are
helpful but are not enough. Progress is too slow. I have seen
that in country after country in Europe, Africa, Asia, and it
has been documented elsewhere that other actions without some
form of quota will not succeed.
Introduction of these Temporary Special Measures
(endorsed and shortened in UN-speak to "TSMs") is designed
to introduce a level playing field enabling women to compete fairly
at the candidate selection stage. Women make up over 50% of every
nation, more in post-conflict regions, and yet, under current
political systems in which selection processes are controlled
by political parties, it is unlikely that women will be nominated
as candidates for winnable seats in sufficient numbers, let alone
reflecting their number in the population. Until hidden systemic
barriers to women are removed, or overcome by special if short-term
measures, women do not, in reality, have equal opportunity. Equalising
action is required to make the break-through.
In an ideal world Quotas/Equalising Action would
not be needed, but people opposed to quotas in politics endlessly
attack this remedy but never seem to have any answers on how to
change things, except the same old "slowly, slowly, patience,
patience" argument that has been used for centuries.
Lacking Equalising Action, it is like waiting for
fish to grow feet. More generations of excellent women will come
and go, as they have over the past 90 years.
In support of my recommendation I have attached
a Question and Answer briefing on using quotas in political candidate
selection as Annex 1.
The Q and A is excerpted from a Trainers Manual
for Women in Politics I wrote in 2005 titled "Communication
Skills for Women In Politics", sponsored by the Research
Centre for Gender Equality, funded by the EU. The manual was targeted
at Greece, Italy and the newly-emergent democracy Hungary. I was
Consultant to the project aimed at increasing women's representation
in politics. These three countries had some of the lowest representation
in the European Parliament.
2.4 Three Ways to legitimise quotas
There are 3 main ways to legitimise quotas:
In the UK we have "permissive" legislation
which allows political parties to use quotas if they wish to do
so. Other countries with "Permissive" legislation include
Norway, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
1. Other countries have passed legislation
to make quotas mandatory.
Belgium, France, Argentina, Armenia, Brazil,
Costa Rica, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Djibouti,
Dominican Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia,
Jordan, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay,
Peru, Philippines, Sudan, Serbia, Montenegro, Tanzania, Uganda,
Quotas enshrined in the Constitution
Some countries have enshrined quota procedures
at national or local level in their Constitutions.
France, China, Eritrea, Guyana, Kenya, Nepal,
Philippines, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, Argentina, India.
3. Further Issues impacting differentially
on womenAccess To Funding
In the Canadian Royal Commission study on Electoral
Reform and Party Financing, women said financial factors were
the biggest obstacle to electoral success.
At first sight it may look as though the funding
challenges are the same for women and men. The reality is that
women generally have far less access to funds than men for political
participation and seeking office. Election campaigns and building
a track record in politics can be expensive. In research for my
book "Women with 'X' Appeal" in which I interviewed
over 30 women in British politics I established that even
as far back as the 1980s that costs in extra personal expenses
incurred by being a political activist and prospective candidate
can easily amount to several thousand pounds per yearand
women historically have found it much harder to raise these sums
for personal political activism.
travelling to meetings and conferences.
the cost of participating in regular
Party social and political events
the cost of taking part in internal party
nomination and competitions as part of the political party candidate
clothes to wear in public life
child-care or elder-care if needed when
attending political meetings
membership fees to political party and
other political groups
3.2 Suggestions for Funding Reform
1. Make provision for childcare expenses
to be included in the personal expenses of a candidate in nomination
and election expenses.
2. Provide incentives through public funding:
the amount of funding a party receives could be linked or dependent
upon the number of women candidates it puts forward for election.
3. Provide "early money" to women
contestants. Establish networks for the financing of women's electoral
and nomination campaigns. This is particularly important for women
in systems where there is no access to public funding.
4. Conduct more research into the effects
of campaign financing on women, and explore more avenues for reform.
3.3 Funding. Case examples
1. The Canada Elections Act makes provision
for childcare expenses to be included in the personal expenses
of a candidate for election contest but not for the expenses incurred
in the initial campaigning to get the nomination by the party.
The Royal Commission in Canada noted that the cost of childcare
imposes an unequal burden on many women seeking elected office.
It proposed that childcare is a necessary expense in seeking nomination
by a candidate and should be considered a legitimate tax deduction.
2. In French elections, including those
to the Lower House, parties are required to put forward a gender-balanced
slate of candidates or pay a financial penalty. The balance does
not need to be mathematically exacta party putting forward
49% of candidates of one sex and 51% of the other sex pays no
penalty. If the discrepancy is any greater than this, the party's
State funding will be cut by an amount equaling half the percentage
difference. A party which puts forward 45% women and 55% mena
difference of 10%will lose 5% of its state funding.
3. EMILY's List in the UK (based on the
American EMILY's LIST) is a special fund which raises seed money
for prospective Labour Party women candidates at the time they
seek party nomination. This money can be put towards clothes,
petrol, telephone bills, training courses, or any other items
a woman feels will help her to win her seat.
4. Britain's Liberal Democrats set up a
diversity fighting fund to help more women and ethnic minority
4. Networks of women and campaigning groups
inside and outside parties need funding to be effective.
Politics has been a traditionally male domain.
Because of this history, in most countries women lack an understanding
of the political system. They may even perceive politics as "nothing
to do with us".
NGOs, Networks, and campaigning groups in the
UK and overseas have played a role in increasing women's participation
in politics. With sufficient funding women's NGOs (such as Fawcett)
and political parties can:
lobby for the introduction of gender-balanced
encourage more women to come forward
and take an active role in decision-making at all levels in politics
and public life
train women candidates and their campaign
create a market demand for women as a
new fresh force politics and public life at all levels of societyvillage,
province and national. At the same time, satisfy this new demand
with well-prepared and trained women, equipped with the necessary
skills for active leadership roles in political life
help to change the culture in public
life, politics and the media to become more inclusive and "woman-friendly"
raise awareness among the nation's women
about their rights and responsibilities as citizens
raise funds for women candidates
The all-party 300 GROUP UK
The 300 GROUP had over 40 branches
across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Members and Supporters
were from diverse ethnic backgrounds and across the political
spectrum. During the five years 1980-85 when I founded and
developed the all-Party 300 Group for Women in Politics,
we conducted useful activities, including debates on major subjects
in Committee Rooms of the House of Commons; familiarisation meetings
between prospective Party members and representatives/prospective
mentors of those Parties; skills-learning sessions, often in association
with entities such as the Industrial Society, Women's Institutes
or major magazines like Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan (of
which later I became their first Political Editor).
The all-party 300 GROUP formed from a grouping
of women from about 10 women's organisations plus the women's
wings of political parties. They met to confront the fact that
at that time, in the United Kingdom's Parliament men outnumbered
women 97% to 3%. The campaign developed a twin-track strategy.
In marketing terms, it created a market demand from the public
(ie voters) for women candidates; at the same time it prepared
and provided good products by training potential women
candidates and helping them to raise their public profile in the
The 300 GROUP pioneered a full range of
activities for its members, from debates in committee rooms of
the House of Commons, to annual workshop-conferences, "Town
Hall meetings", Saturday skills training throughout Britain
(sometimes sponsored by major women's magazines), and a quarterly
newsletter which went to 5000 people.
Through this activity, the 300 Group laid
the ground for several thousand women to participate fully in
Britain's political life. It pressured the political Parties to
encourage more and more women to seek candidacies rather than
only play a traditional supportive role. It also encouraged women
to lobby hard within their parties for a better gender balance.
The activities we conducted in the 300 GROUP
were very successfulindeed a number of women who started
out in the 300 GROUP went on to become MPs, Peers, Ministers,
Mayors, Local Councillors and front-bench spokespeople and to
hold other senior posts in public life. After 20 years the
300 GROUP ceased activities because of lack of funds.
Groups such as the all-party 300 GROUP
in the UK in the 1980s widely succeeded in mobilising and actively
encouraging women to step forward and participate in the political
arena. Women should have access to training in the skills and
understanding of democratic politics, their civic rights and responsibilities
as voters, activists and representatives. There are now a number
of new groups dedicated to increasing women's participation in
politics. They need and deserve proper funding.
A group of well-organised women activists within
a political party can make a difference. In the early 1990s, women's
networks inside the British Labour Party mobilised, lobbied, and
used their voting strength within the party to get a quota introduced.
The Labour women's networks analysed which seats their party expected
to win at the following election and groomed individual women
candidates to apply for each of those vacant winnable seats.
Women in the Labour Party formed the Labour
Women's Network. They persuaded the party to introduce all women
short-lists for half the winnable seats in which there was no
sitting incumbent. The leap forward in 1997 was mainly due
to the big swing to Labour combined with the fact that Labour
introduced their then-controversial all-women short-lists. This
was about the only type of quota system available in our first-
past-the-post electoral system.
The pressure from outside the parties and inside
the parties meant that within 4 elections the number of women
in the House of Commons went from 19 to 122.
But that was and is still only 18% of the British
House of Commons. There are 4 men to each woman MP (and as
bad a ratio in the Lords). The real break though came when Labour
introduced quotas for elections to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish
Women activists and supportive men in the Labour
Party seized the chance and lobbied hard for quotas to be introduced
into the Party candidate selection system for the new legislatures
in Wales and Scotland. Until recently 50% of the Welsh Assembly
Members were women and half the Ministers were women, but until
the late 1990s only one in 20 Welsh local councillors had
been a woman.
The British Liberal Democrat Party introduced
a zipper quota for their party lists in the 2000 elections
to the European Parliament with the result that five women and
five men were elected.
5. Future actions needed by British Political
Party Leaders have taken a few steps in the
right direction to increase women's representation at Westminster.
They need the courage to go all the way in both the Upper and
The big challenge (and my question) isdo
Party Leaders and the Speaker's Conference have the political
commitment and courage to deliver equality for women in Parliament
and a more democratic political system? There is only one way
most of us will live to see gender equality in the British Parliamentreform
of the electoral system to a more representative voting system
combined with a gender balance quota, or by introducing a gender
balance quota within the first-past-the-post system.
David Cameron's first promise when he became
Conservative Party Leader was to increase the number of Tory women
from the current 17 MPs out of 180 Conservative MPs.
Conservative Party Chair Teresa May has been touring the country
working hard to carry out her Leader's pledge but at the current
rate of candidate selection even a major swing to Conservatives
would most likely result in at the most a handful more Tory women
Lib Dems slammed the door on equal representation
of women and men MPs at a Party Conference a few years ago when
they voted against introducing gender-balanced quotas into their
candidate selection system, despite the open advocacy of almost
every senior Party member, including Shirley Williams and the
then-Leader. To try to compensate for this set-back a few Party
activists upped the amount of training and encouragement for women
budding politicians and targeted extra cash and resources at constituencies
with female candidates. The results have not been encouraging.
Out of the present 63 Lib Dem MPs, nine are women. At the
next General Election Liberal Democrats are likely to deliver
little or no increase in women given a fair wind they might
increase their number of female MPs by a couple to 10 or
6. Transform and Reform
Even beyond the quest for justice and fairness
for women, the purpose of increasing women's participation in
politics is not simply to increase numbers. It is also to support
the creation of a new democratic agenda in politics that changes
the lives of all people for the better.
UK and the world faces daunting challenges:
the Credit Crunch, climatic changes, terrorism, a resurgence of
racism, sex trafficking (now estimated to be the fourth-largest
"industry" in the world), growing unemployment, wars
and endless conflicts, many involving the UK directly. If we are
going to overcome these challenges, our future leaders need to
be chosen from the full pool of talentwomen as well as
See also Guardian Comment is Free http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/07/women
173 International IDEA and Stockholm University Global
Database of Quotas for Women. Back
Ballington paper on party Funding for International IDEA Back
Ballington Paper on Party Funding for International IDEA Back