Published on 07 Jun 2012 at 10:23
A worldwide problem regarding political representation is the unequal share of women and men in elected bodies, inluding but not limited to national Parliaments. The global average of women MPs is a saddening 19%, and while sub-Saharan Africa managed in January 2011 to (for the first time) reach a representation of women that exceeds the global average, the share of African women MPs is still below 20%.
There are many reasons why women find it difficult to gain elected office. Societal bias and outdated perception of gender roles, difference in education and unwillingness of political parties to field women candidates are some of the factors holing women with political ambitions back.
One factor that is almost always mentioned in discussions of the political gender gap is access to money for political campaigning. It is generally argued that women on average have less access to networks of wealthy benefactors and so have fewer chances to receive large campaign contributions. While such claims are often not supported by direct research, Teresa Sacchet has recently proven that this is the case at least in Brazil.
There are many potential ways of increasing the access of women candidates to necessary funds. EMILY’s List in the United States (which stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” (as it “raises the dough” (e.g. money)) is a well known example that has been copied in many countries around the world.
Another (complementary) approach can be to use government regulation to reduce the gender inequality. Normally such regulations aim to persuade political parties to field more women candidates, and a small but growing number of countries are using public funding of political parties and election campaigns to achieve this goal.
There are three main options used; (1) reducing the public funding (funds from government) to political parties that do not fulfil established criteria; (2) providing additional funding to political parties that meet such criteria (the difference between these two options may be small); and (3) earmarking parts of the funding for activities relating to gender equality.
As an early example of the first approach, a rule was put in place in Burkina Faso in 2009, meaning that political parties that did not meet the legal requirement of at least 30% of either sex on their candidates’ lists would be deprived of half their public funding. Similarly, legislation introduced in Ethiopia in 2008 partially ties the provision of campaign funding to the number of women candidates fielded by each political party. In Kenya, parties are not entitled to any public funding if more than two thirds of its elected officials are from one gender. Portugal and France use a similar systems of encouraging gender equality among candidates.
The second approach was adopted in Croatia in 1993 with an additional 10% of public funding to be provided to political parties for each elected Parliamentary candidate of the “underrepresented gender”. A similar system was introduced in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010, where apart from the 30% of public funding being distributed equally and 60% proportionally to the political parties, an additional 10% will be distributed in proportion to the number of women parliamentarians of each party. Mali, Niger, Haiti, Papa New Guinea, Romania and South Korea use similar provisions for public funding, making this the most common approach.
The third approach is to stipulate that a certain part of the provided funds should be used for activities favouring gender equality in one form or another. This has been used since 2002 in Panama, where 10% of the public funding provided is earmarked for women’s training workshops and related activities. Brazil and Ireland use similar regulations.
Have these efforts been effective?
Unfortunately it is not possible to give a categorical answer to that question since the introduction of these reforms are in most countries fairly recent, and they may take considerable time to take effect. In addition, if the introduction of a reform of this kind is followed by an increase in women candidates, we cannot say for sure that there was a connection. Detailed research is needed to prove the effect of political finance regulations. However, it is likely that in countries where public funding represents a considerable part of political party income, tying such funding to gender equality can change the incentive structures of political parties and be one tool in reducing the political gap between the genders.
What could work in Afghanistan?
Many of these options employed in other countries around the world may not be the best for Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, political parties do not yet play an influential role in politics or elections. Nor is public funding for candidates or political parties provided, and aruably public funding will not be feasible option for some time. So, how can Afghanistan ensure greater access to women through political finance regulation?
Very recently in Afghanistan, a working group of informed stakeholders put forth a set of recommendations for political finance reform for Afghanistan (see article here). One of the group’s recommendations is to waive the candidacy deposit for women candidates. The intention behind this is to increase the chances of women to seek elected office in Afghanistan, in recognition that women candidates face more economic constraints than do their men counterparts campaigning in the same elections.
However, this is only a recommendation at this point. Afghanistan’s National Assembly operates on a quota system whereby at least 68 members of the lower house will be women legislators. But there are no other measures in place to ensure that men and women operate on an equal playing field to run for office.
Dr Ohman is a Senior Political Finance Advisor with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems
 Sacchet, Teresa (2011) Political parties and the (under)representation of women in legislative spheres: a study on electoral recruitment and campaign finance. Paper presented at the IPSA-ECPR Joint Conference, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. February 16-19, 2011.
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