Will Quotas Help Get More Women Into Australian Parliament?

18/08/2015 3:13 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Fairfax Media/Andrew Meares

The idea of concrete quotas for representation of women in Parliament has made its way back onto the agenda -- but how do quotas actually work in the countries where they have been instituted?

Both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian have floated frameworks to boost the numbers of women in Parliament. Just 26.7 percent, or 40 of the 150 members, of Federal Parliament are women. Abbott’s 19-strong Cabinet contains two women.

Berejiklian will call to boost the numbers of females in the halls of power at the Deutsche Bank Women in Banking and Finance Forum on Tuesday night, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to the Quota Project, which tracks tracks female representation in parliaments worldwide, found Rwanda to be a surprising and runaway world leader in women’s political representation, with 51 of their 80 members of Parliament being female.

Rwanda’s constitution mandates women make up “at least 30 percent of posts in decision-making organs,” meaning at least 24 seats are reserved for women. The remainder of seats are available for anyone, regardless of gender, to contest.

The World Bank reports Bolivia and Andorra as the only other two nations in the world with women making up 50 percent or higher of their nation’s Parliament, while Cuba and Sweden round out the top five with 49 and 45 percent respectively.

South American and African nations leave Western nations behind on women’s representation, with six of the top 10 best marks for seats held by women.

Andorra and Cuba do not have legislated quotas for women, while Bolivia and Senegal do have legally mandated numbers of women in their Parliament. Sweden’s political parties have adopted voluntary quotas.

The Inter-Paliamentary Union shows Australia ranks 43rd for women’s representation in parliament, between South Sudan and El Salvador. New Zealand ranks 26th, with women making up 32 percent of its Parliament.

“To be serious about winning elections, we must be more serious about engaging, pre-selecting and sending to Parliament the representatives of 50 per cent of the electorate,” Abbott said at a Liberal Party's Federal Women's Committee function on Saturday.

abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, during a cabinet room meeting in November 2014 (Fairfax Media/Alex Ellinghausen)

Of the top 10 nations, only Rwanda has reserved seats for women, and only Senegal has legislated candidate quotas.

Andorra and Cuba have no legal safeguards at all; nor do Seychelles or Finland. Sweden, South Africa, Nicaragua and Iceland only have voluntary quotas at the party level.

All these nations comfortably outstrip Australia in the number of women in Parliament.

“It would be entirely reasonable for our party to have, not a quota, but a target to increase the number of women,” Abbott said.

“The odds of getting pre-selected are well and truly stacked against women," she will tell the Deutsche Bank Women in Banking and Finance Forum.

Berejiklian will call for political parties to “set targets for the number of women preselected in winnable seats” with a view to seeing women represent “at least 50 percent” of Parliament.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten last month committed to equal representation in Parliament by 2025.

“I want to see a new goal of equal gender representation across parliaments, 50-50, by 2025, and I’m committed to working with all states and territories to ensure this change is implemented correctly,” he told the Weekend Australian.

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