The second session of She Runs Government Dialogues: Women’s Reservation Bill was called The World Around and was held on 11th July, 2020. It brought women politicians from four different countries together to discuss how gender quotas function around the world, their efficacy, and the challenges that exist. The discussion was powered by Vital Voices. The media partner of the event was The Quint.
Manira Alva questioned the panelists about their experiences as female politicians. It is interesting to note how the quota system varied in these countries. However, the same problems of cultural background, the male chauvinistic tendency, and the glass ceiling stopped women from entering into the state level and national level decision making spaces.
In Mexico, there is now a 50-50 congressional law in all levels of government; national, congress, senate. They have a lot many women in decision making spaces, but the gender-based violence against women has been on a rise too.
Politics has been perceived as a “dirty place” for women. Women suffer a lot of resistance for wanting to stand in elections and making their way to the houses of the parliament. Jothimani shared how the concept of quotas was ridiculed when it was introduced at the local governments in India and many people even said “if we need a reservation for women, then maybe the kalyuga has arrived”.
Critical mass theory and the percentage of reservation
“We need to have a system that changes the dynamics and allows women to develop their capability and feel safe in their environment”
- Mayor Rachel Reese, New Zealand
Citing from the critical mass theory, Manira Alva recalls that back in the first half of the 20th century we were talking about 30-40% reservation, but it is 2020 now. She poses the question if we should increase the percentage. Rachel Reese believes that capabilities must be valued in communities. But we can’t steer away from the fact that capability can only be shown if they are part of the table. New Zealand, the first country to give women their voting rights in 1893, took 130 years to choose its first female mayor. The representations in the parliament must look like the communities we live in. Moreover, women are unfairly targeted. We all make mistakes, but more often, women are judged and criticized for it. Rachel Reese says “politics is not a dirty game; it’s a mischievous game that unfairly targets women”.
Women’s participation leads to a better democracy?
“We are not striving for better participation; we are striving for the right to live” - Adriana Hinojosa, Former MP, Mexico
This connection cannot be established unless we see more participation. Recalling the horrific data on increased femicide, increased gender-based violence as well as online violence, Adriana talks about the right to live. She says that- “women’s rights are human rights, is the main discussion always.” She brings out the importance of the male counterparts in important positions to come out in the support of women and their participation in politics. Given the high amount of women in politics already, she thinks they need to focus on their voices being heard.
Do we need women for progressive legislatures?
“I’m not going to start talking about men because I think they already talk a lot about themselves” - Oana Bizgan, Romanian MP
Men often complain that we do not need women to bring out progressive laws, we have a conscience too. Oana highlights her success in passing ten laws already on various important aspects of women’s’ lives and has twelve more on the table. She says if one woman can do this then “imagine how this would be if we have more women to think of everything else in between these falling agendas”. Politics is about bringing in changes in people’s lives and who better to do this other than the people who understand it.
Women across the aisle
“Your problem is my problem. This world’s problem is our problem. We are living on the same earth” - Jothimani, Indian MP
Manira Alva asks the importance of politicians being united given the rise of fascism and divisive politics in world politics. Jothimani personally believes that many issues would need an alliance with different partners. Bigger issues would need these conversations to be taken up with people who could make this happen.
Quotas within quotas, our allies and need for quotas
“We are smart enough, we are strong enough. We are resilient. So men at a certain point of time, either they choose or they have to be our partners in this because this is the right thing to do"
Talking around the possibility of intersectionality, Adriana said that we need to go step by step. Jothimani says, "India, under a 33% reservation system in Panchayati Raj has also reservations for Dalit women and tribal women. We need a reservation because there are various obstacles; if we could work on those obstacles then maybe women’s participation will go beyond 50% even without a reservation". Rachel says, “I think women’s representation isn’t a policy of division, it is a policy of inclusion.” We need to move beyond binary politics and work towards making it more holistic, more inclusive.
Since it is not just a gender issue, rather it’s a human rights issue; we would need more and more allies in our sons, friends, and colleagues, to work towards this. We could work towards other alternatives in the time to come but we surely need quotas right now. Quotas could kick start the long fight that we need to establish gender equity.
The session ended with all panelists agreeing that reservation is the first step.