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J. Peschard



According to a study prepared by International IDEA in 2002 about parliamentary women in arab countries, 68% are not satisfied with women’s level of participation. This is a very high percentage considering the weight of tradition and confessions in this country.


Before looking at the most adequate electoral system to enhance women participation, one has to bear in mind that woman candidacies require three steps to be fulfilled:


1)      Women must be convinced that they want to run for an elective post (fight against subjective discrimination), that the want to become an applicant for a political position. Political culture has been dominated by men’s codes and values and women have to face such a barrier focusing on her professional background and personal skills, particularly in a country like Lebanon where women represent 53% of the people with higher education.  Having an important number of women organizations and movements in society is relevant because it helps train women to deal with public life, it provides them with the necessary expertise to become self-confident and to fight for better political representation. Women organizations give them a platform from where to launch their candidacies.


2)      Women have to be able to become party candidates and the party internal procedures for candidate selection are relevant, as they may be very centralized, leaving to party leaders the main decision on who to benefit with a candidacy, or they may allow for a wide participation of the rank and file (primaries or general assemblies with delegates). The best procedure to enhance women candidacies is one that is fully institutionalized, that is one that has very clear, detailed and standardized rules, which are respected by the different trends and fractions inside the party. Such rules allow women to develop proper and efficient strategies so as to be internally picked.



3)      Women have to be elected by voters and here the two factors that are essential are the dominant: 1) political culture and 2) the type of electoral system. Generally, dominant political cultures reject women representation, because they are not prepared for public jobs, they do not have the time to a full time dedication and their jobs are not their main priority, so it’s necessary to fight against such generalized perception.


As it is easier to change an electoral system than a deeply embedded political culture, it’s necessary to go over the different electoral systems to see how they favor or not women participation and representation.

According to a study in 1996 about “Candidate selection in Comparative Perspective” in consolidated democracies (Le Duc, Niemi and Norris (eds), 1996, Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, London, Sagel), turnout is higher in the case of party lists than in that of individual candidates in consolidated democracies.


Women representation in consolidated democracies has been systematically higher in proportional representation (the ten countries with the higher women representation

have PR systems)



Average Women Representation in 24 National Parliaments

Type of System










Proportional Representation





Matland, Richard, “Strategies to improve women participation of women in Parliament”, Women in Parliament. Beyond Numbers, 2002, Stockholm, IDEA.


What factors contribute to make PR systems more suitable to enhance women representation in Parliaments?


There are two main factors that are important: 1)district magnitude and 2) whether the list of candidates is open or not.


District magnitude means the number of seats allocated to each district and the bigger the district or constituency, the better chance for a woman to be incorporated in the list and to become a parliamentary without threatening the men’s positions. PR allows different political party ractions to get a seat and the party gets a chance to balance its lists and keep internal party cohesion.  This is why a single national district is the most proportional one, as it has the biggest district magnitude, however, a combination of a two-level representation system (national and local or regional) has proved properly in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand, as women tend to do better in urban than in rural districts or constituencies.


In an open list of candidates, where the voter may pick his best option, there is generally a more conservative vote and those will actively work to eliminate women. Political parties do not feel responsible for the final outcome of the election.

In a closed list, it’s the party that is responsible and it is easier for women organizations to influence such a decision. There is a contagion effect, because if a party nominates a number of women candidates, it will publicize it and push other parties to follow his idea.


Pros and Cons of Women Quotas.-


Quotas are an affirmative action mechanism that enhances women representation in Congress which mean a change in the concept of equality, as it moves from “equality of opportunities to equality of outcomes”

Quotas are being used all over the world to force women into Parliaments in a “fast track” way, but they have to be temporary and last enough to compensate for the historical marginalization of women


They avoid having women as a merely decorative figure.

They help them to become a “decisive minority” or a “critical mass” to make sure that they really get to have an impact on decision making processes.

They help push forward women’s interests and concerns and help to build a “women agenda”

They make women politically competent and that helps to change the perception of their role among other women.

They help show that women have the necessary skills to get representation seats and if they don’t have it it’s because they have been discriminated.

They have a contagion effect and are incentives for other women to participate and fight for a seat in Parliament.

Quotas do not discriminate, because they help to make up for the social, political and cultural barriers that avoid a fair distribution of public posts for women.


Quotas are agains the principle of “equality of opportunities” because they reserved certain positions for a certain gender

They are anti-democratic because voters are not free to decide and polititians are elected because of gender and not because of skills or knowledge, or even public efficiency.

They generate conflicts inside the parties.

Political leaders may profit from them, by selecting women who are dependent upon them.



 How to make quotas more effective?

Quotas are more effective in PR systems because that allows them to be incorporated as party candidates, allowing for a better gender balance. They work better in closed lists of candidates as the parties become responsible for enhancing their representation instead of leaving the decision to separate, individual voters. They are more efficient mechanisms if women candidates are placed in specific places of the list (what is called “double quotas”-having women and placing them in places where they can really be elected) and if the law establishes specific sanctions for the parties that do not abide by the law –there are financial sanctions (as in France), but the most effective are the legal ones that state that the list that doesn’t comply with the women quota will not be allowed to register and participate in the election (as in Mexico)




The Mexican Experience with Quotas.


In 1994, for the first time in Mexico, the leftist political party (PRD) established in its internal statutes that 30% of the candidates in the PR lists should be reserved to women. That year, women representation in the Chamber of Deputies rose from 8.4% to 14% As the electoral system became more competitive, the demand for women quotas rose and by 1996, the electoral reform on that year included a transitory article that stated that parties’ PR lists should not have more than 70% of candidates belonging to a single gender. In 2000, women representation in the Lower Chamber rose to 16.8%, however, those women parliamentarians began to work to design a quota reform to raise women’s representation in Congress so as to build up a “critical mass” in order to be able to push forward the women agenda. As a result of that, in 2003, a reform was passed with the support of all the different political parties so as to turn the quota law from indicative to compulsory, by compelling parties to place women at least in 1/3 of the majoritarian districts, as well as in the PR lists, making sure that there was a ranking in the first 9 places (there should be at least one woman out of every three places). The parties that did not comply with the law would not have their lists registered and would loose their chance to compete. In 2003 which was the first election to be held under this quota law, all the parties abided by the law and women representation rose to 24.1%



After making my presentation to the two members of the Commission who attended the meeting where I pointed out the different barriers that women have to overcome nowadays if they want to improve their presence in Parliament, because that is necessary to build up a “critical mass” and have a “decisive minority” capable of focusing on women’s agenda, I understood that, although they felt that they were going to propose some sort of quota mechanism, not all of them agreed that such a reform was convenient.

Although Lebanon signed the CEDAW International Convention against all forms of women discrimination and public opinion in the country is very sensitive towards this topic, Lebanese women only represent 4% of the MP’s, which is it’s one of the lowest proportions in the world.


It’s true, there is a sort of social expectation regarding this matter, however not all of the Commission members agreed on whether such a legal norm was convenient, particularly because they felt that it is anti-constitutional, as it means going against the principle of “equality of opportunities”, of treating everybody in the same way.


That is, establishing a number of reserved spaces for women in the party candidate lists means favoring them, not allowing the voters to be the ones to decide who to push forward to get a seat in Parliament, therefore it would not be enough to change the electoral law, but to amend the Constitution and a greater consensus is needed to do so.


Although there are a number of countries that have incorporated the quota in the electoral law without having to carry out a Constitutional amendment, that is, quotas may be established simply in the electoral law, without saying that a certain percentage of the places will be reserved for women candidacies. Instead, it could be said that none of the party lists should include more than a certain amount of candidates (70%?) belonging to the same gender. In this case, what you are doing is making sure that none of the genders gets discriminated. As it has happened in other countries, if there is a wide consensus about women quotas, nobody would claim a constitutional flaw in the law.


Another way of having the quotas without the law at risk due to the appeals eventually submitted by men candidates is by regulating them in the party statutes, that is by pushing them to be the ones to take such a first step. This might help socialize Lebanese people on the topic as well as legitimize women candidacies for elective posts and profit from the “contagion effect”.


It’s clear that if there are not enough women organizations focusing on the subject, and there isn’t a real party system in Lebanon, the quota regulation may be seen as an international claim rather than as a national one and that may support the idea that there won’t be any political impact if it is left behind in the electoral reform proposal.

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