Can law increase women’s political participation?

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At a time when Parliament is discussing major fiscal bills, the public wants women politicians and parliamentarians to show leadership in solving socio-economic problems in society. On the other hand, research has confirmed that the public believes that women are not suitable for decision-making.

According to “the Study on Public Perceptions of Women’s Participation in Decision-Making”, published last March, most respondents saw a woman as “unsuit- able for a managerial position”. Although they viewed that women are more meticulous and able to evaluate things from many aspects, they noted that women are “better suited for executive roles than management roles”. Researcher S.Tumendelger concluded that people have a stereotype that men are visionary, determined, courageous and straightforward and so, are given the power to rule and govern. This brings us to the question: Can the legal framework alone eliminate social stereotypes and support women’s political participation, activism and leadership? Researcher Dr. Ts.Bujidmaa presented the results of her research on this matter during a webinar on women’s political participation and international practices, organized by the Women’s Leadership Network last September.

RAISING QUOTA FOR FEMALE CANDIDATES TO 30% PROPOSED

First, researcher Ts.Bujidmaa pointed out that the most effective way to support women candidates is to establish a quota by law. Unfortunately, Mongolia legislated a low quota for female candidates, she said.

In specific, Article 10.1.1 of the Law on Promotion of Gender Quality stipulates that representation of one sex (female or male) among appointed public political officials should be not less than 15 percent in the government, provinces and the capital city, 20 percent in districts, 25 percent in soums and 30 percent in khoroos. Meanwhile, Article 10.1.2 states, “Among public administration officials, one gender should represent 15 percent of heads of ministries and government agencies, 20 percent of heads of other central organizations, 30 percent of governors of provinces, the capital city, soums and districts, and at least 40 percent of heads of province, capital city, soum and district governor’s offices.”

In the 2020 parliamentary election, 606 candidates ran for office, with 13 out of 151 women nominated securing seats in Parliament. Women hold 60 percent of executive state positions and 30 percent of mid-level executive officials in Mongolia, which indicates that the statutory quota is insufficient. In fact, during the discussion of the Law on Parliamentary Election, female lawmakers proposed to raise the minimum quota for women candidates from 20 percent to 30 percent, but it was rejected.

In other countries, this quota is set at up to 60 percent but our country cannot raise it to even 30 percent. As of 2021, 59 countries have legalized quotas on women candidates. While 14 countries set the quota at 50 percent, four countries legalized it at 20 to 25 percent. These countries are South Sudan, Armenia, Mongolia and Paraguay. However, Armenia announced plans to raise the gender quota to 33 percent in 2021 and managed to fulfill it recently. Meanwhile, there are 27 countries with a quota of 30 percent, including Portugal, Poland, Ireland, Brazil, Kazakhstan and South Africa.

There is a voluntary quota for political parties. On average, Sweden’s political parties have set a rule that 47 percent of their candidates must be women. Finland’s political parties have an internal quota of 46 percent, while Norway’s is 44.4 percent. All of these countries have the highest number of female politicians. Therefore, the Mongolian researcher shared that it is possible for Mongolia to include quotas for political parties within the framework of financing political parties in the law.

But quotas will not solve all problems either. For instance, Open Society Forum NGO conducted a survey on challenges faced by young people and women in politics in 2021. The participants of the study said that the fact that parties perceive quotas as ceilings is a hindrance. From this, it is clear that the quota incentive alone is not enough to support and increase the political participation of women in the future. Moreover, there are 67 countries without quotas. Among them, Vietnam is leading in Asia in terms of the participation of women politicians. Therefore, countries are taking other measures to increase women’s participation in decision-making.

‘PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION EMPOWERS WOMEN AND YOUTH’

As of June 2021, 82 countries have held elections using the proportional representation system. The average percentage of women in the legislative bodies of these countries is 27.6 percent. This electoral system is considered to be a system that gives opportunities to women and youth and empowers them, Ts.Bujidmaa highlighted.

On the contrary, our country recently held parliamentary elections using the majoritarian system. It was later used by 71 countries. However, these countries recorded an average of 18.5 percent in terms of women’s representation in their legislatures.

Of the eight parliamentary elections held over the past 30 years, seven were held with the majoritarian system. In particular, the 2020 version, which elected members from multi-member and enlarged constituencies, was a bad system that violated the principle of representation, lawyers viewed. Some of them believe that Mongolia needs to have a mixed system instead. Lawyer D.Uurtsaikh, for instance, expressed, “I have done a lot of research on constitutional laws and laws on political parties and elections. A mixed electoral system is compatible with Mongolia. If we can improve the political education of our citizens, a mixed system like the one Germany uses, in which a portion of parliamentarians are elected in single constituencies by plurality and another portion is elected from larger multi-member constituencies through some sort of proportional representation, is suitable for our country. But it is better to calculate the number of seats based on the percentage of votes cast for a political party. However, it will take time. In any case, if we can form Parliament with the 50:50 mixed system in the first place, it will become a big step forward.”

In general, researchers and experts say that the proportional system is suitable for Mongolia and during the recent amendments to the Constitution, lawmakers raised the issue of the electoral system and the number of members of Parliament.

Since the Constitution has been amended, it is clear that the relevant laws will reflect electoral system changes. This issue will probably be raised again before the 2024 elections.

STATE FUNDING FOR POLITICAL PARTIES

Internationally, if political parties do not nominate a certain number of female candidates, their governments reduce their funding. Moreover, some countries support women politicians by providing additional funding to parties that meet the criteria or by providing election funding to political parties based on a predetermined percentage of female candidates.

Currently, our country has not legislated this issue, but the draft revision of the Law on Political Parties stipulates that parties can receive additional funding from the state if they nominate more women and people with disabilities than the quota specified in the electoral law.

Researcher Ts.Bujidmaa is proposing the legalization of direct and indirect support for female politicians. For example, countries such as Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and the Solomon Islands have legislated financial grants to support female politicians for election campaigns.

In Mongolia, the same amount of money is given to male and female candidates for election expenses. But Ts.Bujidmaa suggests increasing the amount of money for women by 5 percent or 10 percent.

In addition to taking the above measures, some countries have achieved great results by implementing various programs. Particularly, in some countries, the central election body has a lot of responsibility and power. They have the right not to register parties for elections if they fail to reach the electoral quota or fulfill their legal obligations. For example, in 2013, Indonesia made additional changes to the rules of the central election organization, which increased the percentage of women in politics from 11.64 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2020.

These international experiences indicate that multifaceted measures are essential for bolstering women’s political leadership in our country.

On the other hand, the female participants who joined the webinar said that women should be strong, knowledgeable and capable of participating in politics, while Ts.Bujidmaa emphasized that women should have the courage to enter politics. 

They also expressed, “People criticize women in politics that they only talk about ‘small’ social issues. Therefore, there is a need for women to speak out at the policy level and lead other women. It is difficult for women to balance their work and life and enter politics. Secondary schools need to run Girls’ Clubs and Leadership Clubs to teach girls to be confident and speak up.”

Gender equality in political participation is a fundamental aspect of modern democratic governance. According to international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to participate in all aspects and at all levels of political processes. In practice, however, it is often more challenging for women to access and exercise these rights. Therefore, it is necessary for Mongolia to take comprehensive measures in addition to legislating the above-mentioned issues proposed by researchers and civil society organizations.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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