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Searching for the Panacea of Long-Term Equality: On the Art of Combining Quick-fix Solutions and Structural Measures to Increase the Presence of Women in Parliament

Maria Mercedes Mateo-Berganza Diaz ()

No 7, EUI-RSCAS Working Papers from European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS)

Abstract: The issue of equality is at the centre of theoretical and practical discussions in modern democracies. Most political actors agree that the State should treat its citizens equally, in the sense that it should not discriminate against individuals due to certain physical characteristics, such as race or sex. Political controversy arises over what is to be done to bring existing inequalities to an end and to prevent others from developing. At issue is the extent to which governments should promote, say, political, social and economic equality through policies of redistribution and positive actions in order to reach de facto equality. In practice, political inequality, as related to the right to vote and to stand for election, together with broader socio-economic inequalities, have resulted in a disproportionate composition (with regard to certain characteristics) of the legislative assemblies. Discussion of the arguments and theoretical basis for and against proportional descriptive representation in parliamentary assemblies will not be undertaken here. The aim is, rather, to provide a stronger empirical basis for some of those theoretical and political arguments and tools that are aimed at giving rise to some degree of proportionality. The paper will therefore focus on one major empirical question, namely What affects women's presence in parliaments? Answers to this question could be linked to the length of time that women have had the right to vote and to stand for election, or the socio-economic, cultural and political context in which this has occurred. The paper will, however, examine a third possible answer, that is, specific institutional reforms such as quotas. It will first discuss under which conditions institutional arrangements are efficient. It is argued that, for a mechanism to be effective in bringing about de facto equality, it should be given both a hard content and form. That is to say, the mechanism should be far-reaching in its scope, while being legally binding and thus subject to sanction. Then it will focus on one case study: Belgium. Belgium introduced a first reform in its electoral law, enforcing sex-quotas in the political parties' composition of electoral lists of candidates. However, these quotas prioritised the number, leaving to one side the question of how male and female candidates were positioned on the parties' lists. Thus, the law had a soft content with a hard form, and, as a consequence, the increased number of female legislators after the elections was due more to other factors than to the reform itself. Instead, the new electoral legislation introduced in Belgium in 2002, and applied for the first time in the May 2003 elections, had both a hard form and a hard content, thereby ensuring de facto proportionality given that female candidates were granted a number of eligible positions in all the party lists. The last section addresses the last electoral and constitutional revisions in Belgium and briefly refers to other EU Member States as counterpoints.

Keywords: gender policy; European Parliament (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004-07-15
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