Political Gender Quotas: Key debates and values for Myanmar | Voting System

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Women are increasingly visible in politics around the world but there is still a yawning gap in their political representation compared with men. In Myanmar, gender inequality and women’s rights are major challenges across economic, social and political spheres. Myanmar’s historic election in November 2015 saw a big increase in the numbers of women candidates and women MPs elected to parliament: the new government has nearly three times the number of women MPs than the previous one. But with close to 10 percent of elected parliamentary seats held by women, Myanmar is still the worst performer in the region for representation of women in parliament. This paper takes a snapshot of women’s rights and political representation in Myanmar today, looks at the experience of countries around the world in increasing women’s political representation, and examines the potential of a quota system for a country at a true turning point in its history. 
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  DISCUSSION PAPER MAY 2016 This discussion paper has been written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy issues. It is a ’work in progress’ document based on research and does not necessarily reflect the policy positions of Oxfam and Bridge. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam and Bridge. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email jburnley@oxfam.org.uk or poeeiphyu@oxfam.org.uk www.oxfam.org POLITICAL GENDER QUOTAS Key debates and values for Myanmar Photo: Pann Ei Phway Phyu Sin/Oxfam Despite the increased global visibility of women in politics, there is still a yawning gap in women’s political representation when compared with men. Myanmar is no exception: gender inequality and women’s rights are major challenge s across economic, social and political spheres . Myanmar’s historic election in November 2015 saw a big increase in the numbers of both women candidates and women MPs elected to parliament: the new government has nearly three times the number of women MPs than the previous one. But even with close to 10 percent of elected parliamentary seats held by women, Myanmar is still the worst performer in the region for representation of women in parliament. This paper takes a snapshot of women’s rights and political representation in Myanmar today and examines the potential value of a quota system for a country at a true turning point in its history.  2 Political Gender Quotas: Key debates and values for Myanmar FOREWORD Myanmar saw a historic election result in 2015. It brought great optimism to many who hope that the establishment of a democratically elected government will herald a new era of accountable governance and equal opportunity for all citizens. Organizations and networks working for wome n’s rights in Myanmar hope that women too will be given an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to the architecture of a new Myanmar. The last few years have seen advancements in understanding the dimensions and scale of women’s lack of part icipation in governance and public life in Myanmar. Qualitative studies have thrown light on the deeply entrenched norms that dictate different roles for men and women and how such norms permeate all areas of life: family, community, institutions and governance systems. The low status accorded to women is also manifested in the lack of pace in implementing policies and strategies that can help to advance women’s rights. While Myanmar has launched a landmark document  –  the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW) 2013  – 2022  –  there has been very little effort in the last two years to make the plan a reality, either through implementation or financial commitments. There have been efforts to involve civil society and women’s groups in draftin g progressive laws that will protect women’s rights; however systemic barriers remain in adopting provisions that comply with internationally accepted conventions and best practice. In such a context, in which there are institutional blockages to women being able to claim their rightful place, one key strategy could be the implementation of a quota system across all areas of governance. This review from Oxfam is therefore timely and could be a useful resource for organizations to work with the new government to ensure that women are represented in all areas of governance. A quota system, combined with investment in women’s leadership development could help build a cadre of women leaders who can and must play an instrumental role in establishing long-term peace and lasting development for Myanmar. The positive impact would be seen in economic and social development, in on-going peace negotiations, and in framing inclusive and protective legal frameworks. While the implementation of a quota system could be a special temporary mechanism, it could also bring about the necessary shift in perception and political will to make women’s participation a national priority. And the time has come to translate intentions into action. This is not just a need, but a basic right that should not be denied the women of Myanmar any longer. May Sabe Phyu, Director, Gender Equality, Network, Myanmar  Political Gender Quotas: Key debates and values for Myanmar 3 1 INTRODUCTION Despite the increased global visibility of women in politics, including at the highest levels, there is still a yawning gap in their level of political representation, compared with men. In October 2013 only one-fifth of all seats in national legislatures around the world were occupied by women, and today the vast majority of high-level decision making positions are still dominated by men. This gender imbalance is starker in Myanmar than in many other countries . Myanmar’s recent historic election  –  the first largely free and fair election ever to take place in the country  –  saw a big increase in the numbers of both women candidates and women MPs elected to government: the new parliament has nearly three times the number of women MPs than the previous parliament. But with fewer than 10 percent of elected parliamentary seats held by women, Myanmar is still the worst performer in the region for representation of women in parliament. The world over, these gender disparities in governance reflect the resistance of legislative (and other) systems to recognize their responsibility in reproducing male-dominated systems of patronage and power and presenting internal barriers to women’s progression within political parties. These barriers range from inflexible working hours that cannot be reconciled with the unpaid domestic care work often shouldered by women, exclusive ‘ boys ’  cultures of decision making often taking place after office hours; or the often blatant gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 1  In response to this lack of gender equity in governments and to the call for affirmative action in the Beijing Platform for Action, a growing number of countries have introduced quota systems for enhancing women’s representation. Currently more than 100 countries have quota systems, and in over 75 percent of cases these have been introduced in the last 20 years  –  particularly since 2000. Strikingly, the majority of nations that have adopted quota systems are low- or middle-income countries. Evidence indicates that quotas are playing an instrumental role in levelling the gender balance of political representation. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 2012, electoral quotas were used in 22 countries holding elections. With legislative quotas, women took 24 percent of seats and with voluntary quotas they gained 22 percent. Where no quotas were used, women took only 12 percent of seats. 2  However, the issue of quotas remains contentious and is the subject of much debate. This paper outlines some of those key debates and  –  with reference to case studies from a number of countries  –  sets out some of the conditions under which quota systems appear to be most successful. Taking a snapshot of women’s rights and political representation in Myanmar today, the paper considers the potential value of a quota system for Myanmar and sets out recommendations for pathways forward.  4 Political Gender Quotas: Key debates and values for Myanmar 2 WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND P OLITICAL REPRESENTATION IN MYANMAR Myanmar is currently undergoing a process of rapid economic and political change, with the potential for positive social outcomes which benefit the whole population. Underpinning this process is a desire for greater democracy and equality, and on the surface there has been a visible acknowledgement of the need to promote the empowerment and rights of women in Myanmar. In 1997, the Government of Myanmar ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and committed to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). More recently, the Myanmar government has approved a National Strategic Plan for the  Advancement of Women 2013  – 2022 (NSPAW) whose objective is to create enabling systems, structures and practices for women’s advancement, gender equality and women’s rights ; 3  and ‘improved systems, structures and practices to ensure women’s equal participation in decision  making and leadership at all lev els of society’ . 4  Unfortunately, and despite these national commitments, there is to date very little in the way of dedicated resources for taking forward affirmative action policies specifically targeted at tackling gender inequality. At the same time, the outward recognition of the need to improve the status of and opportunities for women in Myanmar is contradicted by a widely held perception that gender inequality is not a serious issue. For example, in 2013, U Soe Maung, Minister of the President's Office, stated that: ‘  In Myanmar society, there is traditionally little gender discrimination. It is better than other  Asian countries ... women have equal rights with men not only according to the constitution but also by tradition .’  5    In fact, gender inequality is a key challenge for Myanmar. Research shows that women are rarely in positions of power  –  whether in government or the private sector  6    –  and they often encounter multiple barriers to taking up positions of leadership at all levels of decision making. Women’s participation is held back by the limiting effects of negative social and cultural norms framing what are considered appropriate behaviours and roles. Investment in core social services, which global evidence suggests overwhelmingly benefits women, is significantly lower in Myanmar than other countries in Asia. 7  At the same time, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that discrimination and violence against women and gender inequalities are deep-seated and widespread. The misinformed view that gender inequality is not a serious challenge in Myanmar means there is a risk that women’s rights and gender equality will continue to be considered a very low priority by those who have the power to make a difference. This risk is compounded by the extremely low representation of women in government and other decision making bodies at all levels. The 2015 election in Myanmar resulted in a threefold increase in the number of women representatives in parliament (both upper and lowers houses of parliament in state and regional parliament combined)  –  including 25 percent of military representatives. But while this figure is higher than that of the previous parliament, women’s representation is still lower than in any other ASEAN country 8  and comparatively very low on the global scale. Historically , even when elected to national parliament, very few women have had ministerial roles. In state and regional government, the new percentage of women representatives is 9.45 percent; 9  a threefold increase. In 2015 only 0.25 percent of village heads were recorded as being female, while there were no female heads of townships; 10  a key administrative and local decision making tier in Myanmar. 11  The percentage of village heads may be higher in some non-government-controlled states in a selection of ethnic areas (where conflict persists), but it is
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