Quota is a dirty word in New Zealand politics, with its overtones of political correctness and the nanny state. But visiting International Council of Women President Dr. Anamah Tan said affirmative action was needed to bring women into parity in the political process – and a surprising number of countries already legislate to achieve this.
New Zealand’s relatively high number of women in top leadership roles tends to mask the fact that women at the grassroots level are failing to gain entry into politics, Dr Tan said in her October 3rd speech to the Human Rights Commission’s Speakers’ Forum.
Female leaders did not automatically cause a “ripple effect” empowering other women, she said. “If they are not aligned with the interests and concerns of the grassroots movement of the women, there is the real risk of the empowerment resting with them at the top."
She cited the Shadow Report of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, which said that women’s representation in local government had been decreasing or had remained static, and the number of women mayors had fallen.
“Governments need to consider very seriously the use of special temporary affirmative action to bring women to the same starting point as men. This is a mechanism that the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women advocates very strongly to ‘jumpstart’ equality between men and women.
“Research demonstrates that if women's participation reaches a critical mass of 30 to 35 per cent, there will be a real impact on political style and the content of decisions.”
New Zealand had not legislated towards any electoral or party quota system, yet such quotas are not unusual. About 30 countries are using constitutional or legislative quotas for sub-national levels, including France, Brazil, Argentina, India, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, and 14 countries are using constitutional quotas. “As for political party quotas for electoral candidates, they are used by 163 political parties, in 73 countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Germany and Netherlands.”
Worldwide, the last decade has seen women’s involvement in parliament grow faster than ever before, rising to 16.6 percent. However at current rates, it will not be until 2025 that an average of 30 percent is reached, and women will not achieve parity until 2040.
Read the full speech.
Women and political power - time for affirmative action?