Political Parties and Electoral Systems

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Political Parties and Electoral Systems

Below are a few questions to begin this conversation thread:

How do the design and structure of electoral systems impact the ability of women to be elected? What examples can be shared that counteract or change these systems?

How have government or party mandated quotas impacted women’s representation in politics? What examples can be shared regarding the benefits or downsides to quotas?

What can be done to breakthrough political party gatekeepers to increase representation of women within political parties and on election ballots? What examples can be shared?

What must political parties put in place to address inequalities between men and women?

What factors affect voter turnout of women? What is being done to increase the number of women voters (and obtaining their vote for women candidates)?

Is the high cost of politics and campaign preventing participation? How can women be better fundraisers for political activity? 

Going beyond the rhetoric of political parties

Most political party leaders will tell you that they support increased participation of women, but many won't do anything about it unless there is pressure from within.  Women in parties have to be specific with party leaders to "name and shame" behaviours and practices that exclude them from real decision-making.


creating political will among political parties

I agree! It really comes down to political will, as you say internally and through external demand, which the latter can come more in the form of making women as voters a commodity. Where I have seen a lot of movement in countries with low participation is when we move beyond just focusing on the parties attitudes toward women and their own candidates and push the conversation to women as members and voters. And there are a lot of models that could be used to help parties better target and figure out those advantages. 

The Canadian Parliamentary organizing efforts of women are an example, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/100-organizations-ask-federal-part... when ore than one hundred organizations across Canada came together to ask federal party leaders to commit to a debate on women in the upcoming 2015 election. Efforts like this have better success when repeated and sustained over time. 

In the US change in the internal rules for the Democratic Party convention and structures over 30 years ago influence today`s gender gap in politics. In 1976, women’s representation among the delegates at the convention declined significantly, as a result NGO’s pushed for 50-50 representation of women and men in Democratic Party Conventions. The charter now calls for all party structures to be equally divided between men and women, including the Democratic National Committee, the executive committee, regional caucuses and state central committees. State parties are similarly required to take “provable positive steps” to comply with the charter’s provisions. Most Democratic Party vice chairs have to be opposite sex of the chairperson and the current head of the DNC is a woman.  Rules are party structures are one thing, creating the political will to move parties to adapt these changes are another thing. And I think our international conversations are far too weak when it comes to the concept of organization and advocacy in a political context, not a partisan one, but a political one. 

Better engaging political parties to promote women

UNDP and NDI produced a excellent publication on "Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A guidebook to promote women's political participation" (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/womens-empowerment/empower-women-political-parties/) which contains excellent tips and guidance for women ad political parties to consider throughout the electoral cycle.

 In my experience, one major lesson learned is to engage political party leadership proactively and early on. It is important to encorage PPs to put forward more women candidates, and to promote tem into safe seats and/or by putting the high up on their candidate lists. These same PP leaders also need to be encouraged to put money behind women candidates, as this has been found to be a huge obstacle for many women candidates.

Speaking of money, the EMILY's list model used in the US and Australia (see www.emilyslist.org) are great nodels for trying to raise money to be used in support of liberal/pro-geder equality femal candidates. NGOs may also want to consider undertaking similar fund-rasing campaigns in support of  women candidates - though sometimes elecoral reglations do not allow such fund-raising.

Charmaine, you have hit on a

Charmaine, you have hit on a major obstacle - money! I'm a big fan of the EMILY's list model and speak about it to women political party activists around the world.  As you note, sometimes regulations are prohibitive (regulations usually developed by imcumbent male politicians, who benefit from keeping others raising money).  In  many countries, women are increasingly successful in business and have independent funds.  Although the link between business and politics can turn many off, I think women in parties and NGOs should encourage women in business to step up and create accountable and transparent funding. 

Interested to know if there are any successful examples out there of business women already doing this - particularly in new and emerging democracies? 

Fundraising for women

A quick example - back in 2006, the Fiji Womens Rights Movement engaged in fundraising with local bsinesses on behalf of women, It was a good idea - because it freed up women candidates to focus on campaigning, while FWRM could then systematicaly chase businesses. There were a few lessons learned though - in particular the fact that in the end FWRM decided to distribute the money equally to all women candidates, even those who were not necessarily committed to human rights or gender equality. This is somrthing to consider at the outset - in contrast, EMILY's List in the US and Australia only give money to liberal canddates (in the US they have to be pro-choice regarding abortion, and in Australia i think they need to be a member of the Autralian Labor Party).

Other avenues for increased women's participation

I think another important aspect to note on the point of women calling out practices that leave them on the sidelines of political discussions is having the structures in place for them to congregate and share their experiences and how to work through the political systems.  Specifically in developing nations I think this is drastically important.  While in the US there is the example given of the "old boys club," I believe in developing nations the separation and difficultly navigating is quite severe.  Women who enter the political sphere need support from other women - from any party, or within their own - to assist them in understanding how to wield their power and have proper representation of their contituents and, if it's a priorotiy for them, hopefully how to represent women as well.  This could be through women's caucuses, committees, other formal or informal discussion forums.  Being a woman in a position of power is just one aspect of addressing legislation or shifting stigmas within the system.  

Here is a link to a short article on women's caucuses http://www.diplomaticourier.com/news/opinion/2484-the-power-of-numbers-w...

Women's caucus and support for female politicians

Kelsey, I think you make a good point about support for women within the political sphere. We have found that women’s caucuses can be an effective mechanism for providing this structured support; both through training programs that make women more effective politicians and by making their own workplace more hospitable for women. Just a few examples: • The Ugandan Women’s Caucus does workshops for women delegates on speech making, constituency building, coalition building, parliamentary procedures and other related topics • In Morocco, the Women’s Parliamentary Network organized a conflict resolution workshop that trained the women participants in conflict resolution and negotiation skills• The South African Women’s Network established a daycare in parliament and made sure that parliament speeches are delivered in language that is gender sensitive. 

Breaking through political party gatekeepers

We have found that i​nternal party assessments can be a good path to convincing ​political party leaders of the gains they could make in the polls through strengthening the party's internal democracy. NDI ​developed a tool to help party leaders analyze their success in supporting women party members and candidates throughout the different levels of membership or leadership. A tool ​such as this assessment, used to examine party structures and existing mechanisms for gender equality, can also be used to foment a wider conversation within the party on the persisting gaps and the best entry points. It's ​also important to look beyond working with men purely as gatekeepers. Engaging male gatekeepers of parties or institutions and convincing them of the importance of women's equal participation is a vital part of the push to increase the number of women in politics, of course, but it's also about engaging male (and female) champions throughout a party and generating buy-in. This can be a way to push back on what francescabinda mentioned, about political party leaders paying mere lip-service to increasing women's political participation. It's easier to give empty promises when the base of the party isn't interested in the cause. Having champions at different levels of a party can be an effective way to convince others of the importance of gender equality in the party -- and can be an equally effective way to hold party leadership accountable to the promises they make. 

In addition to assessment tools, data is critical to create buy-in for gender equality and increasing the number of women in leadership positions and candidate lists -- for party leadership as well as the rank-and-file. There is an interesting example from Spain recently (http://qz.com/378064/forcing-spanish-political-parties-to-nominate-more-women-is-helping-them-win-votes/), where researchers found that Spain's mandatory quota (requiring parties to ensure 40% of their candidates for local elections were women) had measurable positive effects for parties. As measured over eight years, the quota not only led to more equitable participation in parties, but also made them more popular. It's the kind of case study we need more of, though there are a few other examples I can think of that help make the case for more inclusive parties: the UK's Conservative Party, for example, expanded their candidate selection process to be more inclusive of women and ethnic minorities after losses at the polls in 1997 and 2001, and saw gains in both the 2005 and 2010 elections. 

Using quotas / temporary special measures

I am realising that we skimmed over Brent's first couple of questions about electoral systems and electoral quotas: "How do the design and structure of electoral systems impact the ability of women to be elected? What examples can be shared that counteract or change these systems? How have government or party mandated quotas impacted women’s representation in politics? What examples can be shared regarding the benefits or downsides to quotas?"

IDEA has done a lot of work on electoral systems and their impact on women's representation (see http://www.idea.int/gender/). While in the pacific, i co-authored a guidebook on using quotas to promote women's participation, which specifically looked at each Pacific country's electoral system and then identified possible options for quotas. The book also included a more general chapter which might be of interest, which explained how different quotas work and which electoral systems they work best with - http://www.pacwip.org/resources/uploads/attachments/documents/TSM%20Book.... This might be of interest to others in different regions. Our Pacific Women in Politics website has a number of general resources and publcations which might also be of interest to those workig on this issue - see http://www.pacwip.org/resources/publications/. Note for example: 

Notably, it is generaly found that multi-member constituencies encourage more women to be elected, bc they mean that women dont necessarly need to be elected "first" (which can be difficult when runing against chiefly, senior men). Multi-member systems usually use some form of proprtional reepresentation system - when used with a zipper list system (which requires the list to alternate between men and women) this electoral system can have good returns for women's representation. 


Gaining parity

Charmaine and everyone participating - thanks for your great comments.

I'm wondering if you and others would have any comments regarding the success of laws that push for parity between women and men.

I saw a terrific article from AWID interviewing Khadija Cherif, one-time contender for the position of Minister of Women, Family and Children in Tunisia. The article is specifically about gains and challenges to women’s political participation in Tunisia.  Here is a link to the full article: Political Marginalization of Women Hinders Tunisian Democracy, 27 May 2015, By Mégane Ghorbani

I wanted to highlight for this conversation a particular question and response regarding the struggle to move political parties forward on parity. Are there any examples that can be shared where gains on reaching parity - through laws or other means - are making gains?

AWID: Article 46 of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution calls for equal representation for women and men, however the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections resulted in only 31.3% women in the Assembly of People's Representatives and 19% in the new government in February 2015. How can this be explained?

Khadija Cherif: Article 46 of the Constitution stipulates that “The State seek to achieve parity between men and women in elected assemblies” and although a parity rule has been taken into account within electoral lists, this rule has not been enforced for heads of lists[7 see below].  Most political parties reproduced the experience of 2011 and didn’t have the willingness and the courage to interpret article 46 correctly to ensure better presence of women in the Assembly. This behavior clearly demonstrates resistance to this issue.  An appeal to the Administrative Court for non-compliance with the Constitution was rejected. In the future the Constitutional Court (which is not yet in place) will have to rule on this kind of issue. Today, the struggle led by women consists of the harmonization of laws with the Constitution to guarantee its implementation with respect for human rights and an effective presence in political and public field. [this emphasis here is mine]

[7] This relates to the difference of « horizontal »  and « vertical » parity. The horizontal parity refers to the heads of electoral lists whereas the vertical applies only within the list.

Kenyan example on Laws...

In response to Nancy's comment, i would like to cite the Kenyan Constitution 2010 which makes provisions for more women representation. Howver in my interaction with some of the Kenya women activists the women are challenged by cultural practices, financing, division based on ethnic lines. this to me is an indication that the Consitution is a necessity but the necessary structures and orientation to make the implementation possible must go together. Nothwithstanding , some progress have been made as a result of the constitutional provision on women's political participation.  Also read:  http://theglobalobservatory.org/2013/03/new-constitution-helps-kenyan-wo...

Constitutional mandates and national laws

Hi Mufuliat,

Thank you for your reply. The article you shared is very interesting. I was particularly struck my the educational barrier in Kenya - where degress and certificates are required to run for public office positions.

It was great to see Charmaine's reply regarding the example of the voluntary 40:40:20 representation in Australia as well.

I wanted to share an article from a couple of years ago that I stumbled upon. Others have likely seen this already, but I thought it was worth sharing here. Gender Parity: A Case for Fair Voting and Party Rules by Patricia Hart, Published February 28, 2013

The article highlights a number of ways in which quotas have been successfully instituted:

  1. National Gender Quotas

    "The most certain way to get women into office is through national gender quotas."

    Examples from the article: Of the top twenty counties for women's representation, two use gender quotas: Rwanda, ranking first, and Timor-Leste, ranking sixteenth.

  2. Constitutional Gender Quotas

"Constitutional gender quotas are certainly an effective way to reach gender parity in politics but there are less severe policy alternatives."

The examples of Kenya and Tunisia are certainly among these.

The article provides an excellent explanation of Fair Voting Systems advancing gender parity:
"Fair voting describes a wide range of approaches that translate votes into representation...Fair voting systems rely on multi-seat districts, which create more incentives for parties to nominate women and for individual women to choose to run. Of the top twenty counties for women's representation, nineteen  use a fair voting system."

Fair Voting System Examples:

  1. Closed List System: Twelve of the top twenty countries for women's representation use closed-list systems. Closed-list describes systems where a voter selects a party, and that party fills its share of seats with candidates in the order presented to the voters on their list.
  2. Open List System: Seven of the top 20 nations for women's representation use open-list systems. An open list system is one that still has a party definition (that is, the vote for a party determines its share of seats), but voters can vote for candidates directly in a way that affects the order of candidates who fill the seats.

Example of an open list system: Sweden uses an open-list system. Even though Sweden has not adopted national gender quotas, it "is ranked fourth for women's representation with women filling forty-five percent of the seats in its nation legislature."

The article also mentions a terrific resource for tracking the use of quotas. The QuotaProject website states: An increasing number of countries are currently introducing various types of gender quotas for public elections: In fact, half of the countries of the world today use some type of electoral quota for their parliament.

Clearly the idea is gaining ground.

Members tagged in this comment: 
Quotas and gender parity - a case study from Australia

Apologies for using an example from Australia in response to your question about tunisia, but its an interesting case study regarding parity, for a number of reasons. First, Australua has no legisalation on gender parity in political life BUT the australian labor party (one of the two dominant parties) decided to implement a voluntary quota unilaterally, whch required a minimum of 30% of candidates to be women. I think i mentioned elsewhere - the quota was slow to have a impact bc initially party officials got around it by nominating women to marginal seats, which meant that there were more candidates, but stil not many women MPs getting elected. Subsequently, the rules were tightened to require women to get selected for "safe seats" and now the ALP boasts that federall and in the states, it has exceeeded the 30% quota. That said, there are still ad hoc cases of party branches ignoring the quota and nominating men where they should have selected women. Alas, tere is no overarching enforcement mechanism to restrain such acts,

What makes this an inreresing case study is that in recent years, the ALP went further and deciided that rather than have a 30% women's quota, they would now have a 40:40:20 rule, whereby they would aim to have 40% women candidates, 40% male candidates and then the last 20 would randomly be selected. This partly addresses the criticism we sometimes hear from men querying why the quota only works in one direction - to make it clear that while the TEMPORARY special measure might require a special quotaa for women, the long-term goal is gender equality. 

Are other measures than quotas impactful?

Legislated and voluntary quotas have no doubt worked as measures fast tracking women's political engagement and representation. Some of the countries have linked public funding for political parties to women’s participation. What are other measures that may be successful in addition or in place of quotas. Would be interested in some good practices.

Quotas and then what?

This discussion around quotas is really important because, as others have pointed out, they are an important tool for increasing women's political representation but are often difficult to translate from law to actual impact. NDI has worked with women in many countries to determine whether a quota is the right tool for them, identify what type of quota would be the best fit for the electoral system and political context and to create the advocacy strategies needed to get a desired quota passed. Some of the areas we find are critical to consider when working on quotas include: type of electoral system, entry-point of quota-constitution, electoral law, political party law, stand-alone legislation etc.-and what type of penalties and rewards can be included in the law to give it teeth. However, in addition to effective design and implementation of a desired quota law there is ensuring women have a voice and can fulfill their role once in elected office. Often, women enter office with limited or no experience and may not have ever been in politics before and lack knowledge of how things work, skills necessary to be successful  and confidence to speak up and navigate the elected body. Some strategies NDI uses to take women from quota to action include providing the necessary knowledge to perform their job through orientations and ongoing training sessions and supporting cross party coalitions or caucuses aimed at amplifying their ability to influence policy decisions. I would be interested in knowing if others have found good strategies for ensuring women have impact once they are in office-so that their numbers translate into real power and influence. 


Impact once in office?

in response to Caroline's last question regarding strategies for ensuring women have impact once they are in office, we have tried a few different things:

  • Women's caucuses are an obvious and increasingly common mechanism, whereby women from across the poltical spectrum can come together as a bloc - both to facilitate more targetted training but also to help them develop more joined up adocacy and proposals regarding gender equality reform and/or women's rights issues. That said - i have long had concerns that a women-only bloc tends to marginalise women MPs and take them away from the centres of power whic (alas) still predomiantly centre around male leaders (eg. Speakers, comittee chairs, party leaders); 
  • cross-party parliamentary groups on issues - for example, UNFPA has supported the establishment of National Parliamentary Assemblies on Population and Development, which enable like-minded MPs, including women MPs, to come together to learn more about and lobby in support of issues related to P&D. These have been quite successful at law reform, benefiting from UNFPA's financial and technical support 
  • Supporting women as parliamentary committee members - too many NGOs and developmet partners dont understand parliamentary processes, so they set up parallel groups (such as women's cacuses) rather than using parliamentary mechanisms to work with women (and men). Parliamentary comittees are the "workhorses" of parliaments, and should be targetted for specific training (for all members, not just women - but this is a good entry-point for ensuring that training given to such women can immediately be applied). 
Great quota impact example from India

Hi all - I wanted to share this terrific story regarding how powerful the quota mandated in India's 73rd constitutional amendment, which mandated 33 percent reservation for women in local governance. The story was reported in Women's Feature Service. http://www.wfsnews.org/current.php?startitem=1

Article title: Priyanka And Firoza Show What Governance Is All About by Aditi Bhaduri

Here are a couple of highlight quotes from the article sharing impact:

"While the reservation policy has received marked criticism, grassroots leaders like Priyanka Devi, Firoza Bibi and others are working hard to prove all the negative perceptions wrong. 'The advent of the new Panchayati Raj with women's mandatory participation sought to transform the governance paradigm in India. Truly, all areas of social life have been impacted – human development, women’s empowerment, gender budgeting, inclusion of the excluded.'"

“Priyanka got an opportunity to do all this good work because of the 73rd constitutional amendment, which mandated 33 per cent reservation for women in local governance. In most states it is now up to 50 per cent,” remarks Dr George Mathew, Chairman, Institute of Social Sciences. While there are critics of the reservations policy, Dr Mathew feels that in an under-developed and unequal society, it is the only way to bring women into public life. “Sustainable development is only possible if women are involved,” he says, “They think of building paved roads so that children can go to school, they think of ways to source drinking water with ease and proper sanitation and sewage to prevent diseases - all that requires local development. So, in a sense, reservation has played a critical role in eliminating backwardness.”

"If reservation has given women a voice, it has also created a competitive environment at the grassroots. Performance has become a deciding factor during panchayat elections. "Women's mandatory participation has certainly transformed the governance paradigm and led to a more productive panchayati raj system."

I think the final quote is particularly inspiring, that women are raising the performance bar for all elected officials. 

Kenyan Example on Laws...

Kenyan Example on Laws...


In response to Nancy's comment, i would like to cite the Kenyan Constitution 2010 which makes provisions for more women representation. Howver in my interaction with some of the Kenya women activists the women are challenged by cultural practices, financing, division based on ethnic lines. this to me is an indication that the Consitution is a necessity but the necessary structures and orientation to make the implementation possible must go together. Nothwithstanding , some progress have been made as a result of the constitutional provision on women's political participation.  Also read:  http://theglobalobservatory.org/2013/03/new-constitution-helps-kenyan-wo...

Cross-sector women's caucuses

As Caroline mentioned in a previous comment, at NDI we have found that women’s caucuses can be an effective mechanism for providing structured support to women that are already in the political system. They also help pass legislation that benefits and promotes women and can be effective at getting more women engaged in the political system.   

I want to specifically highlight the benefits of cross-sector caucuses and coalitions. Cross-sector caucuses include civil society organizations and allow parliamentarians to leverage civil society networks and access large numbers of community members, connecting legislatures to constituents so they can better address their issues and gain their support. These cross-sector partnerships between the caucus and CSOs (such as NGOs and media that support a women’s agenda) explore synergies on bringing attention to—and ideally build a campaign around—consensus issues.  

One example of a cross-sector caucus that NDI worked with is the Political Women’s Caucus (KPPI) in Indonesia. KPPI was founded in 2000 and includes representatives from 17 major political parties including women members of the national assembly (DPR), as well as non-partisan representatives from civil society groups and academic institutions. KPPI functions as an independent and politically moderate caucus that provides a forum for women activists from all political parties. One of their major achievements include the enactment of a 2003 law that 30 percent of candidates on a party list for the national, provincial and district legislatures should be women. They built on this in the next election cycle, where they trained 269 women candidates who were nominated by their parties, 28 of whom were ultimately elected.