‘There are gentlemen, but no seats’
Today, every 5th MP worldwide is female, while in Armenia it’s 1 in 10. However, even such a modest rate of female representation in the republic’s National Assembly has been achieved through party list gender quotas, enshrined in the Electoral Code. Another issue is how efficient they are. And this problem is particularly acute ahead of the upcoming April parliamentary elections.
According to the UN data, nearly half of the world countries apply a gender quota principle in one form or another. However, this doesn’t rule out the existence of opponents to this measure among both, men and women. The men, usually, wonder: ‘Whose fault is it that men come in first?’ And the ‘handicap’ proponents would answer: ‘And whose fault is it that men run on a straight racetrack, while women have to run hurdles?’
Among the female opponents to gender quota are mostly those, who have already achieved certain success in their political careers and therefore they deem it necessary to note that they managed to do it without any allowances and that a quota itself underlines female inferiority and is humiliating for them. In this case, the quota proponents suggest to think about how a struggle for equality and justice could be regarded as humiliating.
In the republic’s public sector, the following well-known joke is oftentimes used to illustrate the need for introducing quotas: ‘A woman got into the bus. She looked around-there were no vacant seats. Having noticed that many seats were occupied by the men who were not that old, the lady travelled a couple of stops, hoping that someone would finally cede a seat to her. And when that didn’t happen, she exclaimed: ‘How come that there are no true gentlemen here?!’ One of the passengers replied: ‘There are gentlemen, but no seats…’
The quota opponents’ favorite argument is that allocation of quotas is an artificial process, while they allegedly support the natural confluence of circumstances. In this regard, Armenian electorate is much more progressive than politicians. For example, according to nearly all opinion poll findings, since 2008, up to 60% of respondents have spoken in favor of using quotas for women. At the same time, an optimal quota size indicated by the majority of respondents ranges between 30-50%. In other words, the society wants to see more women in parliament than the country’s parties are actually ready to include in their lists. The youth are even more radical, demanding to make it 50/50.
All those debates resemble political bargaining. Public opinion polls on the need for quotas actually lost their topicality the moment this provision was legally enshrined in the state’s gender policy concept, as well as in the Electoral Code. Nevertheless, the problem with quota size and its efficient application is still a subject matter of fierce public debates in Armenia.
Why was 30% quota postponed till next election
A 30/70 gender ratio was set in the proportional party lists as a result of last year’s debates over a new Electoral Code. However, an attempt to insure against surprises, embodied by the women, made the initiators of the bill postpone implementation of this provision until 2021. Under the transitional provisions, a gender ratio of 25 to 75 will be in effect during the April 2, 2017 parliamentary elections.
No consistent explanations have been made for putting aside introduction of the 30% quota to the parties’ electoral lists till next election. Explanations like ‘slow and sure’ are unconvincing in this context, since over the past 20-odd years, since 1995, female representation in the National Assembly has increased only by 4%: from 6% in the parliament of 1st convocation to 10% in the incumbent 5th one.
References to the political parties’ alleged inability to handle a sharp hike in quotas aren’t quite substantiated either and they can’t ensure in the party lists a sufficient number of women, qualified to work in parliament. Local self-government elections, conducted through the proportional system in the republic’s 2 major cities -Gyumri and Vanadzor, in autumn last year, have proved that the majority of parties ‘went beyond’ the Electoral Code’s requirement with regard to 25/75 gender ratio and introduced 30% of women in their lists. Moreover, many parties included women in the top threes.
As far as parliamentary elections are concerned, nearly all political parties and blocs running for parliament have ‘over-fulfilled’ the legal requirements, having included 28-30% of women in their party lists. The total number of women introduced in 9 parties and blocs’ lists makes almost 30%.
This proves that there was no point postponing introduction of 30% quota. According to the party data, the number of female party members is ranging from 40 to 70%.
As for how many of those women are actually qualified to work in parliament, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to ask the same question with regard to the men, too. To say nothing of the fact that women in Armenia have higher educational level than men, in general. Thus, if educated and skilled women found themselves outside the parties, that’s not the women’s problem, but rather that of the parties themselves. On a side note, international best practice shows that quota is a perfect incentive for the parties to facilitate advancement of their HR potential, be it men or women.
A bit of background information
Quotas for women in the republican Electoral Code first appeared some 15 years ago, after the decade of denial of the very principle of quota allocation, as a vestige of the ‘soviet past’, had made it obvious that women would not be able to push their way through to parliament themselves.
Though, in 1995, there was an unsuccessful political experiment in the Armenian Parliament’s history, when women under the authorities’ uncovered patronage got 12 out of 190 mandates, i.e. 6,3% of seats in the National Assembly. It is noteworthy that 8 women out of that number were elected through the women’s party lists, which had been formed just before the election. The rest 4 women got MP seats through the majoritarian system.
Regrettably, their voters’ hopes were frustrated, given that the women’s faction in parliament turned out, as planned, to be an appendage of the ruling party. The female members of the faction lacked any political experience and could not pursue their independent policy and moreover, to talk about the women’s rights.
Further practice proved that 4 out of 131 mandates (30%) was the maximum that men were ready to cede voluntarily. That’s what female representation was like in the Armenian Parliament in 1999. It is noteworthy that only 2 women got seats in parliament through the party lists.
It was that year that a 5%-quota for female representation in the party lists was introduced in the Electoral Code for the first time. As a result of that discriminative and even humiliating concession, the number of female MPs reached 7 (5, 3%) and only 1 women of that number was elected through the majoritarian system.
In 2007, as a result of the female organizations’ struggle, a 15% quota for women was introduced in the party lists at the parliamentary election. It is noteworthy that it was based on ‘no less than every 10th ‘ principle. Despite that, only 12 women (9, 2%) got MPs seats in parliament according to the results of 2007 election, making it obvious that those measures were insufficient. Immediately after the aforesaid election, the women’s organizations submitted to the parliament their proposals on updating the quotas.
“Gender quotas are not a goal in itself, they are the most recognized and effective mechanism to ensure fair representation of both genders in parliament,” said Jemma Hasratyan, the President of the Armenian Association of Women with University Education. She recalled that in 2008, they had sent an appeal of 23 women’s organizations to all parliament factions and commissions, pointing to the need for introduction of amendments to the republican Electoral Code.
In their appeal they suggested to introduce to the Electoral Code a gender-correct wording ‘the election list should contain no more than 70% of persons of one gender and the discrepancy in the order of priority of male and female candidates should not exceed three positions.’ It addition, it was suggested that ‘in case a woman is excluded from the party list or she renounces her MP mandate, her seat should be occupied by the next woman on the list.”
The international organizations and experts also expressed their opinion with regard to quotas. Namely, in 2009, the Committee on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) called for “acceleration of the process of introduction of amendments to the Electoral Code with the aim to raise 15%-quota and look into its possible increase up to the level higher than proposed 20%.”
As a result of the aforesaid efforts, the gender quota in the Electoral Code was raised to 20%. On a side note, a gender-correct wording that ‘representation of one gender should not exceed 80%’ in the electoral party lists was passed due to active lobbying of the republican female organizations.
Another issue is that this clause of the Electoral Code contained an inappropriate clarification that quota was applied “starting from the second position in each next group of five persons (2-6, 2-11, 2-16 and so on till the end of the list). This can be considered as discrimination of women, restricting their representation on the list’s first position.
Many parties, that ran for parliament in 2012, took that recommendation literally and didn’t put women on the positions upper than 6th one. Consequently, there were only 4 women in the first winning groups of five persons or, as the parties themselves termed them ‘the Holy of Holies’ of the party lists.
According to the results of 2012 parliamentary election, only 14 female MP or 10, 7% turned to be in the legislative body. It is noteworthy that 2 of them were elected through the majoritarian system with the ruling party’s support. We talked to some female politicians after the election. They are unanimous in the opinion that the result would have been worse if there had been no quota. They obviously have grounds to think so.
How will quota work in the upcoming parliamentary election?
The previous election showed that mere fixing of quota in the legislation was hardly enough and the mechanisms guaranteeing its efficiency need to be ensured. Why do we get the result that is twice lower than the quota-set threshold each time? In 2012, amidst 20% gender quota enshrined in the legislation, the parties running for parliament in Armenia put on their lists on average 23% of women, but only 10,7% of them de-factor got MP seats in parliament.
The matter is that stipulated quota was balanced by self-disqualification of the female MP candidates. The expulsion mechanism took its effect immediately after the election, when women, entering the parliament through the party lists, started giving up on their MP mandates for unclear reasons and their seats were taken by men. According to the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) data, 26 women filed applications for renouncement of the MP mandates.
In the new version of the Electoral Code this mechanism is neutralized by two provisions. One of them binds that: a seat of a woman who refused to accept nomination should be transferred to a woman who is next on the party list. This provision works in case the number of women in the faction is reduced to 20% as a result of candidates’ withdrawal. Another provision guarantees minimal female representation in the faction, in other words, from now on, there will be no factions without women in the parliament.
Nevertheless, the expectations about the upcoming parliamentary elections are far from being optimistic. The matter is that alongside the nationwide or closed lists, there are also territorial or the so-called open lists. Although in these lists women are represented in accordance with the relevant quota, but their chances to be elected here are almost the same as through the majoritarian system.
We shouldn’t expect any breakthrough with regard to territorial lists, especially given that only 2 out of 11 women, who were running for parliament through the majoritarian system in last election, got MP seats in the legislative body. It means that it’s rather questionable that quota-set 25% female representation in the parliament could be ensured, since MP mandates will be distributed with due account for both, closed and open lists.
Today, the number of female MPs in unicameral parliaments worldwide makes on average 23%; the countries of the Pacific have the lowest rate in the world – 13,1%. This gives grounds to a reasonable question: how much time will Armenia need to reach the world’s average rate, not to mention the UN-set 50/50 bar for 2030.
We will obviously have to wait for quite long, especially in view of the fact that gender quota was raised from 5% to 20% and the number of female MPs increased only from 6% to 10% over the past 15 years. Thus, at such a pace, it will take Armenia at least 200 years to achieve equal male and female representation in parliament.