Quota necessary for a “critical mass” of Arab women parliamentarians

11 Dec 2013

image Credit: UNDP Algeria

Algiers  – Temporary special measures, including different forms of “quotas,” are still needed in the Arab region to guarantee women’s representation in major legislative and governance bodies, in enough numbers to influence decision making, agreed over 450 participants in the international Conference on “Effective and Sustainable Participation of Women in Elected Assemblies,” which concluded two days of deliberations in Algiers today.

Hosted by both chambers of the Algerian Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the conference examined the pioneering experience of Algeria in increasing women’s representation in elected assemblies, means to develop it further and lessons that the rest of the region and the world can learn from it.

Constitutional amendments introduced in 2008, followed by reforms in electoral laws have resulted in a 31.6 percent representation of women in Algeria’s People's National Assembly in the 2012 elections making it the first Arab country to surpass the 30 percent threshold for ensuring an effective “critical mass” of women parliamentarians and  propelling Algeria to the 26th rank internationally, up from 122. 

“Algeria has achieved the goal of 30 percent women’s representation in decision making positions set in the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995, ahead of the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals,” said Mohamed Larabi Ould Khleifa, Speaker of Algeria’s People's National Assembly.

Numbers do matter when it comes to women’s political participation, asserted Cristina Amaral, UN Resident Coordinator in Algeria. She added “A critical mass sets the minimum proportion of women in decision making bodies that is essential to help women overcome any sense of alienation in a male dominated world, to raise women’s voices and participation in governance institutions and committees, and to empower women to influence mainstream legislation in a gender-sensitive manner.”

“Algeria has established a very efficient quota mechanism, in conformity with its international commitments under Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW)”, said Ms. Sameera Al-Tuwaijri, UN Women Regional Director for Arab States. She elaborated that “Affirmative action measures, including quotas, are aimed at accelerating de facto equality, making it concrete and tangible in men and women’s lives.”

Beyond numbers, deliberations of the conference focused also on dimensions of effectiveness and sustainability of women’s parliamentary experience.

Effective parliamentary performance for women ensues from deliberate efforts to assist them break into a predominantly masculine institutional culture through equitable access and distribution of parliamentary functions, vertically –along the hierarchy—and horizontally—across all committees; focused training on parliamentary processes, procedures and tactics; and solid information support for informed decision making on all issues of concern to their electorate.

Sustainability requires maintaining quotas to achieve the critical mass where they exist –and instituting them where they don’t— and a persistent struggle towards full parity.  Current women parliamentarians shoulder the grave responsibility of demonstrating, not only to their fellow male parliamentarians but their constituents at large, their capability to advocate and legislate positive change in all issues that concern society and tangibly benefit all citizens.

“The time will come, when Arab citizens will wilfully go to the ballot box to elect to all their representative assemblies, and not only parliament, an equal number of women and men from among qualified candidate, said Sima Bahous, UN Assistant Secretary-General, Chair of the Arab States and Middle East and North Africa Regional United Nations Development Group, and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of Regional Bureau for Arab States. “I am confident that this time will be sooner rather than later.”

The conference brought together women elected to representative assemblies at national, sub-national and local levels to deliberate their experiences, challenges and aspirations for enhanced political participation for women with experts, parliamentarians and counterparts from around 20 countries, including Arab colleagues from Iraq, Morocco, the occupied Palestinian territory and Tunisia.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants committed to the “Algiers Declaration on Arab Women’s Political Participation,” which enlists 14 points of action necessary to increase and enhance women’s political participation across the Arab region, including constitutional and legal reforms to ensure equality of access for women, enacting temporary special measures to ensure higher representation in elected bodies, and public education awareness to change prevailing stereotype prejudicial towards women’s political participation.

They also committed to establishing active network of current Arab women parliamentarians at national and regional levels to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of women’s political participation, and to develop strategies and action plans to achieve this goal and realize all the action points in the Algiers declaration within a reasonable period of time.

Contact Information

Farida Kebri, Communication Associate, UNDP – Algeria
Tel: +213 21 92 01 01
Mobile: +213 661 922 405        
E-mail: farida.kebri@undp.org

Iman Hayef,  Country Programme Coordinator, UN Women – Algeria
Tel: + 213 21 92 72 44
Mobile: + 213 6 61 40 01 03     
E-mail: imane.hayef@unwomen.org 

Zineb Chebihi, Reporting & Communication Officer, UN Women - Multi-Country Office for the Maghreb
Tel: +212 5 37 71 23 02  
Mobile: +212 6 13 57 31 69       
E-mail: zineb.chebihi@unwomen.org

Noeman AlSayyad, Regional Communication Advisor, UNDP - Regional Centre in Cairo
Mobile (Cairo): +20 10 0181 1876 
E-mail: noeman.alsayyad@undp.org