The two-day international forum named “Pledge for Equal Representation in Decision-Making” was organized on April 10 and 11 to discuss two main topics. In specific, globally-renowned experts and researchers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Latvia, the USA, Nepal and Spain as well as representatives of political parties, civil society and media, discussed political party leadership for gender equality and legal reforms to ensure gender equality at the decision-making level. In the context of increasing women’s representation at all levels, they mainly exchanged views on improving the legal environment, strengthening support mechanisms, and especially increasing the role and leadership of political parties. Within this framework, regional electoral policy specialist of the Global Election Project of UNDP Najia Hashmi delved into gender quota regulation in Mongolian elections, women’s political participation and electoral system in the following interview.
Najia has been working at the UNDP Regional Office for Arab States since 2014. She has a master’s degree in political science from the University of California, and has more than 20 years of work experience in this field in organizations such as UNDP and the National Democratic Institute. During the international forum, she delivered a keynote presentation on the crucial role of political parties as “gatekeepers” in ensuring gender equality at the decision-making level.
Could you please start off by giving an introduction about your specialities? What is needed in Mongolia related to your knowledge and education?
I have worked on elections and women’s political participation for 18 years in numerous countries around the world. This is my first time in Mongolia, so I am quite excited to commend the Mongolian leaders and politicians for taking this first step with a pledge of equal representation. It’s not easy to promote this sort of issue. I work with electoral authorities, parties and governments to create systems and structures for elections. Before the UN, I worked at the National Democratic Institute, which works exclusively on political party issues. My major is promoting inclusivity for not only women but also people with disabilities and other marginal groups.
This international forum aims to obtain commitments from influential political parties. What do you think they should pledge, agree and implement? Are there any crucial commitments they need to make? What action do you expect from pledge?
First and foremost, making a pledge is an important step because a lot of barriers to women’s vision have to do with negative attitudes and mindsets. When you have a room full of male leaders pledging to do something about this issue, it sends a message to the country that this is an important issue for the country’s leaders. Of course, this pledge alone won’t change all things, but it will send a message to the country’s leaders that they should consider this issue crucial. I think that’s why the pledge is so essential. There’s been discussions in Mongolia about gender quota, candidate lists and electoral systems. Moreover, there’s a lot of debate about which electoral system is good for Mongolia. The country had various systems adopted and changed and there is a continuous dialogue. I think that is very healthy as the country is discussing these issues. It’s not off the table like in some countries, so this is very positive.
It is necessary to consider which electoral system is suitable or workable for the characteristics of the country. I can say 50 percent quota is gender parity but we know that getting it to 50 percent is very difficult to achieve because of political and other obstacles. Its percentage is dependent on what the consensus is in the country. Mongolians have had various percentages being discussed. The general trend is around 50 percent. Currently, Mongolia has a 30 percent quota under the law. However, the important step is to have a great percentage in law. More importantly, it must be enforceable. In other words, it must not only exist on paper, but also be able to be enforced through various mechanisms.
I would like to see an equal number of women and men taking part in discussions like this among the political parties. I want to see equal representation within the party itself because what we see globally is the number of women in political party leadership positions resembles the percentage of women in politics. Because that’s where women leaders come from. When you have equality within the party, you will see that in the government.
I think a lot of Mongolian women are quite strong and have power. Unfortunately, most of them consider politics to be “dirty” and do not want to get involved with it. What would you say to women and how would you convince them that this is an important issue?
One of the reasons that we push for equality between the sexes is the governance structures and systems that have to represent the needs of everyone. If only men talk about social issues and policies, those policies are not going to speak to the needs of the women that are behind. I think that is the primary reason why it’s so essential for women to participate in the discussion that is on the table and decide which debate should be held, which policy should be adopted, and what laws must be approved. This is because those are going to govern how your society runs. If those strong women want to see Mongolia develop and prosper economically in all fields, such as health and education, they have a responsibility to be part of that process. They may be strong at home but they also have a role to play within society. Politics is where they need to show their strength.
Setting quotas too high can cause problems. It should also consider whether there are many prepared women at the decision-making level. What are the consequences of insufficient resources for women?
Some political parties say that there are not enough women to compete in politics. However, a total of 84 countries have adopted gender quotas. In other words, the world trend is the quota systems because they work and it’s quite effective. Both men and women need to meet specific needs and requirements. Do men have the capacity to run all things? No. Politics is not rocket science. It is to decide how resources are managed in a community. For instance, one should be the agenda items for the government in that local council. This is politics so it does not need more skill than women have because they manage households. You said they’re quite strong so they’re able to prioritize and debate issues within home. They don’t need any special skills but some tools and resources. That is why political parties’ participation is important because in addition to quotas in the law, there are soft measures to build capacities of women to campaign, find money and build a constituency. Women have a natural constituency because they’re usually closer to their communities and civil society organizations. If they are able to utilize those networks, they have a strong base to be able to start competing in politics.
The newly-submitted bill on political parties proposes a mixed electoral system. How do you see and evaluate this step?
Electoral system is a very fundamental step that a country takes because it really shapes how your governance system operates. The UNDP helps countries think through the different options that they have. There is no perfect model and each model has its pros and cons. Like Mongolia, many countries try to experiment with electoral systems and different options. We find that the PR system encourages the participation of more segments of society, so it enables more inclusiveness. However, I cannot say that this is better than other systems but the evidence does suggest that if you want to increase the representation of different segments of your society, PR is the way to go.
In addition, the role of money is becoming a huge problem. Countries are moving the wrong direction. Therefore, politics has to change.