Gender quotas and the status of women in the new Tunisia

The Democratic Modernist Pole. (Pôle Démocratique Moderniste – القطب الديمقراطي الحداثي) The only party in the upcoming election to have women lead half of their lists.

Bloomberg has a good article about some of the difficulties women are facing in Tunisia’s new political climate. I wanted to highlight a point made by one Tunisian candidate:

“We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Ahmed Brahim, who runs the PDM or Modernist Democratic Pole, the only party where women head half the lists. Women’s rights in Tunisia “are fragile because they are associated with an authoritarian state.”

I think this is an important point.  We (the development community) often push for gender quotas in less-than-democratic countries.  While I’m for these efforts, I think we need to do a better job of not just acknowledging their limitations, but potential drawbacks as well.  The main goal of more female representation in parliament is to obviously have women included in the decision-making process. This isn’t really relevant in non-democracies, however, as parliament isn’t deciding very much.  One of the justifications used then, is that the presence of female legislatures will provide positive images of women performing competently in important positions.  This should have a positive impact on the populations’ general image of women. I agree with this intention, but what if something else could happen as well?

Parliaments in authoritarian, or semi-authoritarian states aren’t viewed with much confidence. (Really, legislative bodies in democracies often suffer from low approval as well) Could it be possible then, that gender quotas actually decrease the perception of women’s capabilities?  If the average citizens sees parliament as corrupt of just part of the regime, I don’t see how women parliamentarians will bolster their standing in society.

Posted on October 22, 2011, in Electoral Systems, Middle East and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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