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Pushing Quotas for Women in Politics

While the number of women holding political office around the world has certainly improved over the last few decades, legislative chambers around the world are still very much male-dominated. The Inter-Parliamentary Union recently reported that the number of female members in national parliaments is 23.6%. [1] Excluding Nordic countries, no region of the world has an average of 30% female parliamentarians. [2] In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). [3] CEDAW is described as an international bill of rights for women and provides an agenda for national action to end gender-based discrimination. Article 7 mandates State Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure equality with regard to the political process, namely to vote, hold public office, and participate in non-governmental organizations. [4]

The Committee on CEDAW, a panel of 23 independent experts who are tasked with monitoring the implementation of women’s rights, has stated that quotas are one of the “special measures” that a State Party may use to abolish de facto discrimination against women. [5] As such, CEDAW provides a legal framework for State Parties to adopt a quota system. However, it has been argued that quotas are undemocratic, as it should be fully within the voter’s discretion to decide who gets elected. [6] One might also make the argument that qualifications or skill, rather than gender, should be the primary factor for holding office. [7]

On the question of reverse discrimination, State Parties who are willing to adopt quotas may refer to Article 4 of CEDAW, which states:

“. . . temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.” [8]

As Crowley Scholars at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, we have examined the lack of legal protections for women and the strong paternalistic culture that rules in Myanmar. Although the historic 2015 elections saw Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman, rise to the position of State Counsellor and de facto head of government, the amount of women in the legislature is still at a meager 10%. [10] Adopting quotas for female candidates or parliament members would help to speed up the democratic reforms that the country is undertaking. Having ratified CEDAW in 1997, [11] Myanmar, along with any other State Party, possesses the legal framework to increase women’s political participation. All actors, including civil society, UN Member States, and international Non-Governmental Organizations, should use this opportunity to promote gender parity in politics.

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.