Friday 23 October 2009

Do electoral systems influence women's representation in politics?

It is a fact that women are generally less represented in politics, and discussions around Mary Robinson are just one result of this deficit.

The Council of Europe has been dealing with questions of electoral systems at this year's Forum for the Future of Democracy (ending today), and one of the issues was the effect of electoral systems on women's representation in politics.

In a now declassified document from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe titled "Impact of electoral systems on women’s representation in politics" the rapporteur Lydie Err comes to the following conclusions:
  • women are still grievously underrepresented in politics in most Council of Europe member states;
  • the lack of equal representation of women and men in political and public decision-making is a threat to the legitimacy of democracies and a violation of the human right of gender equality which must be rectified as a priority;
  • the most important factor leading to the current underrepresentation of women in politics is linked to attitudes, customs and behaviours widespread in society which disempower women, discriminate against them, and hold them hostage to prescribed role-models and stereotypes according to which women are “not suited” to decision-making and politics;
  • these attitudes, customs and behaviours also influence a country’s institutional, party and electoral landscape; but conversely, a change in that landscape can also impact on society’s attitudes;
  • changing the electoral system to one more favourable to women’s representation in politics, including by introducing gender quotas, can lead to more gender balanced, and thus more legitimate, political and public decision-making;
  • in theory, the following electoral system should be most favourable to women’s representation in parliament: a proportional representation list system in a large constituency and/or a nation-wide district, with legal threshold, closed lists and a mandatory quota which provides not only for a high portion of female candidates, but also for strict rank-order rule (e.g. a zipper system), and effective sanctions (preferably not financial, but rather the non-acceptance of candidatures/ candidate lists) for non-compliance.
I think I agree with the conclusions, but I am not sure whether this is of any value...

I suppose that the study itself will not have a big impact, because all it does is to reflect the complexity with which general attitudes and institutional design are intertwined. I don't see any good argumentation on how one could put the measures proposed into practice, and I don't see the actors willing to do this.

What we have here is thus yet another account of inequalities in our societies - but what we learn again leaves us at loss how to actually change the situation.

But why not repeating it, here and elsewhere, as long as the situation is as it is?