Seen but Not Heard

A World Development Report 2012 titled “Overview, Gender Equality and Development” reveals that women have less voice than men in the society and at home

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Dec. 24, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

WOMEN generally have less voice than men both in society and in households, according to World Development Report 2012: Overview, Gender Equality and Development published recently. At societal level, income growth does little to reduce these gaps, said the report. It listed factors responsible for low income growth.” to include: “Norms that dictate that politics is for men; beliefs that women make worse leaders, which are fed in part by low participation of women in politics; norms around care and house, which limits the time available to women to participate in formal political institutions; and gendered networks within politics that work against women.”

It said that because these constraints resemble the ones that limit women’s prospect in labour markets, the policy solutions are similar. They include: quotas and other types of affirmative action that have promoted women’s political representation at various levels of politics. Such measures range from voluntary commitments by political parties to include women candidates on their electoral lists to specifying shares of legislative seats reserved for women.

The report added that whichever option is best for a country depends on its political system. For example, it noted that reserving individual seats for women will not work in a proportional representation system, whereas voluntary party quotas may work when parties have a strong leadership and internal discipline. Whatever the system, its design and enforcement are critical, it said. It citedSpain, where positions on the ballot for the Senate were in alphabetical order, and parties tended to choose women with last names that landed lower in the ballot and who were less likely to win a seat.

The World Development Report 2012 said that broader tensions also need to be acknowledged and taken into account if quotas are used to increase women’s political representation. “Mandatory quotas involve the state circumscribing part of the democratic process, so this distortion has to be balanced against the need to redress persistent inequalities. One option, taken by local governments in India, is to implement quotas on a rolling basis – with different sets of seats chosen for reservation in different elections over time. And as with all affirmative actions, it helps to specify a clear goal or time period up front. It said that the structure of reservation matters. “Designating particular seats for women runs the risk of creating “token” women’s seat. 

The report said that quotas have increased female representation. InMexico, candidate quotas increased the share of women in parliament from 16 to more than 22 percent. Reserved seats inMoroccoincreased the proportion of women in parliament from less than 1 percent to almost 11 percent. Quotas in local governments in India also showed that such measures can change underlying beliefs among voters about the efficacy of women politicians, even in a short period, and increase the proportion of women elected to these positions even after the quotas are no longer in place.

It said that affirmative action in the political realm needs to be complemented by measures that increase women’s voice in other societal institutions such as trade unions, corporations, judiciary and professional associations. This, it said, can be done through quotas as well as by mentoring schemes, women’s networks and skills development in these realms targeted to women.

Also, collective actions by women groups can be particularly effective in this as in the case of the Self Employed Women’s Association in India. The report said because women generally tend to be better represented in less formal organisations, laws and regulations should ensure a level playing field for such organisations.

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