What Governments Can Do to Increase Equality
Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, maintains that transitional measures are necessary to accelerate women’s representation in government. The 2012 World Bank report on gender in development and its Adolescent Girls Initiative gives the following examples of proactive government programs.[i] Governments can reform traditional family law, as in Kenya or in Ethiopia where the law requires both spouses to agree on administering family property. When the US eased divorce laws, domestic violence decreased. Morocco eliminated references to the husband as the head of the household. Countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile and South Africa have a Minister of Women’s Affairs and equal rights are included in the constitution in the Philippines.
The Scandinavian countries provide an excellent model of how to support both men and women in enjoying multiple roles at home and work. Juggling multiple roles and less access to funding sources discourage women from running for office. In Sweden, eight in 10 women work outside the home because they have long parental leave (480 days paid parental leave before the child is eight) and free childcare, although it’s not a perfect system.[ii] In the Netherlands families can take a day off each week and the government subsidizes daycare as a family benefit. In Canada, couples with a baby may take six months leaves of absence with 90% pay. In Australia, a mother on maternity leave can earn 18 weeks of pay at minimum wage and her partner can take two week of paid leave, as well as the right to request flexible work hours. As with every global problem, the model solutions exist.
Governments can increase girls’ school enrollment by giving families small payments or bags of grain as in Ecuador and Malawi and by teaching families about the return on girls’ education, as in Madagascar. “Second-chance” programs offering vocational skills, internships, and life-skills encourage girls to return to school in Senegal. Mexico’s 2012 federal budget set aside 15% for children’s programs including education and Oportunidas that pays poor families to send their children to school and get medical checkups.[iii] Most Latin American countries provide some incentive for school attendance and medical care for children. Mercedes, an Argentinean high school teacher, complained to me that although the government gives students lunch, a uniform, and a laptop and some of them get money to attend school, most of her students don’t value education or go on to university. Some of the girls get pregnant in order to collect welfare as their parents do: Most of their parents don’t have jobs and don’t provide models for their children. When I asked her how students are different than when she was in high school, she said they’re more hyperactive and less respectful. School-based programs, such as in South Africa and Canada, discuss gender roles and relationship skills with the intent of reducing violence against women.
Since the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and partner organizations began the Gender-Responsive Budgeting Initiative in the mid-1990s, the project has expanded to nearly 40 countries. A gender sensitive budget allows citizens to see how women’s issues are funded or underfunded. Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, put this type of budget in place in 2005, as did India. UNYouth points out that youth-serving development programs often benefit educated, urban and male youth, although educating girls cuts infant mortality, increases her earnings and investment in her family, and increases her country’s income.
Quotas for Female Legislators
Over 97 countries use gender quota systems resulting in women being nearly 33% of their legislatures, compared to 12% in countries without quotas, according to UN data.[iv] Quotas can be assigned by national legislation or the constitution or by political parties, as in the Nordic case. Sweden’s quota system resulted in women holding 45% of its parliamentary seats in 2012. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union established a 33% quota for party officials in 1996. In France, a 1998 law required political parties to nominate an equal number of male and female candidates for elections, but parties often choose to pay fines rather than comply. In Spain, parties may get around the quota by including women on their list whose last name puts them lower on the alphabetical Senate ballot. If women are put at the bottom of the lists for national elections, they have no chance of being elected. Colombia requires that 30% of all political appointees be female, including the cabinet.
After quotas were established in Albania the percent of women legislators doubled to over 16%, Nepal has almost one-third women legislators–the highest in Asia, and Rwanda has over half female legislators. Electoral Politics: Making Quotas Work for Women gives other examples of successful implementation of quotas.[v]
When the Indian government established quotas for women leaders in local government, public services such as sanitation and schools improved, girls had role models, and there were more arrests for crimes against women.[vi] In women-led councils the number of drinking water projects was more than 60% higher. However, a pharmacist I interviewed in Delhi said too often the wives of politicians are appointed, included an illiterate woman appointed to an education post in his area. A bill to reserve seats for women in the parliament is pending, as only 6.5% members of parliament are women. The upper house passed the Women’s Reservation bill in 2010, after 13 years of debate. It would amend the Constitution to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women, similar to the existing reservation in local government. The lower house tabled the bill again in 2012, perhaps because of unwillingness to give up some seats occupied by men.
Argentina passed a law in 1991 requiring that one in three candidates nominated for election to the legislature must be women. It also has a woman president, two female Supreme Court Judges, and legalized gay marriage. However, the living condition and opportunities of women in cities is very different than women in rural areas. A political party in Costa Rica alternates men and women candidates on electoral lists.
Some countries reserve seats for women, mostly in South Asia and Africa. In Iraq, 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved for women, but they don’t have much power. The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Nawal al-Samarraie, quit when the government cut her budget to $1,500 a month for the entire ministry. In Morocco reserved seats increased the percentage of women in parliament from 0.6 to 10.8%.
Although only 25% of EU national parliament members and senior ministers are female, Spain requires that women make up 50% of its cabinet and 50% of all company boards and quotas for women corporate board members are also required in Norway. Former Spanish Socialist Prime Minister José Zapatero appointed 31-year-old Bibiana Aído as head of a new Ministry for Equality. However, she was removed after three years due to budget cuts.
[ii] “Swedish Childcare System is Hardly a Utopian Model,” The Local: Sweden’s News in English, May 30, 2011. http://www.thelocal.se/discuss/index.php?showtopic=42013
[v] Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajali. Electoral Politics: Making Quotas Work for Women. Women Living Under Muslim Laws, 2012.
[vi] Lori Beaman, et al., “Political Reservation and Substantive Representation: Evidence from Indian Village Councils,” India Policy Forum, 2010.