My IPU Speech on Female Equality in Politics and Business.

Women represent 50% of the world’s population –as such it follows they should have a 50% say in the decisions affecting them.

In 2016- women sought to be among the world’s most high-profile leaders. They demanded to be heard, and to ensure that women’s voices everywhere were included in decision-making processes. Not all of these attempts were successful. As in previous years, 2016 once again brought home the point that women’s political empowerment cannot be taken for granted. Gains can be lost and the road to gender balance in politics requires perseverance.

In general however, the global statistics reflect positive progress -The worldwide average of women in national parliaments rose from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 in 2016.

In 2006, women held 16.8 % of parliamentary seats in the world. That is a 6.5 percentage point gain over the last eleven years.

In parliaments that held elections in 2016 and used electoral gender quotas, women hold 25.6% of the seats in 35 chambers across 30 countries. That compares to just 16.1% of seats in 31 chambers across 23 countries where no quotas are used.

The greatest gains and the greatest setbacks were recorded in Small Island Developing States, where the relatively smaller size of parliaments has a bigger impact on women’s share of seats.

In the northern Pacific country of Palau, 2016 saw the highest number of women ever elected, up 12.5 percentage points in the lower house from the previous 2012 election. At the other end of the scale, women’s share of parliamentary seats dropped by more than 23 percentage points in the Indian Ocean State of the Seychelles.

Quotas are currently being used in countries around the world to create equal representation among genders within legislation and contribute to the promotion of gender equality. Gender quotas in the legislature are vital for the represented group and for the polity as a whole.

The implication of gender quotas relies on its effectiveness to be used within the political system by countries to legitimize equal representation by female and male legislators in government.

The insertion of political quotas is currently being used by a host of different nations to prove their commitment to gender equality in the political system- admittedly however- their legitimacy does spark some debate.

What is undisputed, however, is that gender quotas are the foremost influence in the election of women – and provide for an equal opportunity for women to hold legislative positions, depending on the criteria outlined within the gender quota.

In my view -the tendency to vote for members of government that are male even if female candidates have the same qualifications, has everything do with the expected societal role each play.

Gender quotas in the legislature promote women’s representation in politics by trying to eliminate surface and structural discrimination against women. Gender quotas also allow issues commonly related to females that would not otherwise be considered a topic to be placed at the forefront of public policy agendas.

 Effective Gender Quotas

Ineffective quota legislation is just not worth pursuing. The purpose of judging the efficacy of quotas in the legislature depends on whether or not a good portion of women were elected.] They include:

  • Placement mandates
  • A high minimum percentage of women candidates
  • Application to all legislative seats,
  • The employment of quotas within a context of moderate-to-large multimember electoral districts,
  • Adequate enforcement of compliance with the quota legislation.

Types of Gender Quota Policies

There are three dominant types of gender quota policies that are countries are currently using:

  • Reserved Seats- establish seats that only women are eligible to compete for.
  • Party Quotas-are pledges by individual parties to aim for a particular proportion of women among their candidates to political office
  • Legislative Quotas – these are mandatory provisions that apply to all political groupings that require a certain proportion of female candidates to address party selection. Soft quotas stimulate or encourage but not guarantee the election of women to various kinds of political bodies.
  • The policies which countries choose are determined by the political citizenship of that country and the extent to which gender quotas are pursued. Gender quotas are currently being adopted by international influence and inducements. International actors promote gender quotas in the legislature by using peace operations in post-conflict countries.
  • However, inducements and incentives that inspire gender quota adoption depend on a country’s current cultural climate which truly dictates whether or not they legitimately accept gender quotas. The United States is an example where the word quota implies the denial of individual worth, fair competition, and merit.
  • Several Latin American countries passed some legislation requiring between 20 and 40% of women candidates at the national elections in the years 1990. Currently in India- 33% of the seats in local municipal bodies have to be occupied by women. |In Tunisia: the running lists at the elections of the Constituent assembly have to represent both sexes equally. Women and men have to appear alternatively on the lists.
  • Meanwhile in my home country of Ireland – the first election under gender quotas last year yielded 35 female members of parliament (TD’s)
  •  At this point I would like to address the issue of female equality in business in Ireland and beyond. Throughout Irish history, women have held leadership roles which have shaped the country live in today – but despite this women have yet to gain a 50% share leadership roles.
  • The 30% Club was first launched as a campaign in the UK in 2010 with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards – currently in the UK the figure stand at 27% up from 12.5%.The answer is to this is yes. The 30% Club Canada reported on a global McKinsey study that identified that if gender parity was reached across all countries, it would amount to an additional $28trn (€26.5trn) to annual global GDP in 2025. The figures speak for themselves!
  • In order to identify a solution, the Irish Management Institute (IMI) has been undertaking a series of focus groups to identify the challenges faced by women in leadership. Many acknowledged they had experienced gender inequality, but they did take responsibility for not always putting themselves forward for an opportunity. Some stated that diversity programmes were in place as a box-ticking exercise and not supported in reality.Inequality business must be addressed and the first step is to gain the support of Government. As such I am delighted that the Irish Government is are actively looking at the issue of women’s empowerment in decision-making in all spheres in the context of the new National Women’s Strategy [2017 to 2020].


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