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Equity, not Equality

Gender quotas are not efficiency in bridging gender gaps in politics.

As of 2021, almost 130 countries around the world have implemented gender quota systems in their parliament, and yet, only 23 countries have 40% or more women in their parliaments.

(“Facts and figures: Women's leadership and political participation”) The question is, if so many countries are taking action, why can't we see change? Why are women still fighting for a seat at the table? Why are women not in positions of power fighting for abortion rights, menstrual leaves, maternity leaves, equal pay, education, and the most fundamental human rights?

Shouldn’t our governments be able to tackle these issues if women are in Parliament?

The answer - gender quotas are not enough to bridge gender gaps in politics.

Gender gaps in politics refers to an unequal representation of the genders at various levels of decision making. It refers to the fact that fewer women take part in politics and fewer women are given positions of power than men. Women have already been oppressed for a very long time, and if there are more men in parliament, laws and policies in favor are less likely to be proposed, let alone passed. If we want our rights to be protected, if we want respect, if we want opportunities, and if we want progress, equal representation is crucial.

There are two problems with using gender quotas as a way to solve the issue of unequal gender representation in politics. The first issue is that the implementation of these quotas is an unreliable process.

Let's take the Women's Reservation Bill in India as an example. It was passed in 2023, but an article in the Hindu says that Home Minister Amit Shah said it will only be implemented after 2029 (Singh). Other newspapers including the Indian Express and The Wire share that no timeline has been provided for the bill, and no details regarding the reservation of the seats have been given either. The only thing we know is that the bill will be implemented after delimitation, so certainly not before 2026. What this means is that while initiative is being taken to ensure that we have at least a third of women in our parliament, we have nothing to hold the government accountable.

Once a bill has been passed, it needs the assent of the president, then a date from which the

law will be in effect, and a set of rules and regulations for the law to operate on (Roy). For the

women’s reservation bill, President Murmu gave her assent on 28th September 2023, but we

haven’t heard anything since then. The bill expires in 15 years, and while that’s a long

timeframe, we have no guarantee of execution.

Having said that, implementation covers only one part of the problem. The other significant part is the idea itself. Gender equality in politics doesn’t make sense. We need gender equity. The difference? Gender equality would be having 50% women in all parliaments. However, equitable representation in the parliament of a country varies with its sex ratio.

If the sex ratio of a country (men : women) is 2:1, i.e. there are twice as many men as women, a 50-50 representation may not be necessary since there are fewer women in the population.

However, for a country like India, the sex ratio is almost 1:1 (1000 males : 1020 females), a

50-50 representation is necessary. The current gender quota reserves 33% of the seats for

women. This means that in a country where there is one woman for every man, we are

promising one woman for every two men in parliament. This is what we mean by unequal

representation. In order for the situation to change and for there to be equal representation, the gender quotas proposed need to be according to the sex ratio of countries.

In countries like Saudi Arabia, where for every 100 women there are two hundred men, it makes sense to have a third of women in the parliament because the population is one third women. In other countries like Portugal, Latvia, and Russia, where there are fewer men per hundred women, a greater percentage of women representatives are required.

In a majority of the countries, the ratio is almost 1:1 and in these parliaments, the aim must be 50% representation.

As a future citizen of the country and the world, I want those making decisions on my behalf to be both men and women. I need women in the parliament that makes laws by which I live

because I am a woman, and my rights and necessities must also be addressed. But of course, it all comes down to context and situations, and so it’s not just about gender quotas. In the end, its equity, not equality. For which we fight.

Written by Nandana Thakershy

Nandana wrote this article as a participant of the Media-Makers Fellowship's April'24 cohort.

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