Gender Quotas and Representation
Gender quota law, a small step forward
Women comprise 51.7% of the total population of Burkina Faso. (Source: National Institute of Statistics and Demography, 2006). Despite that women make up a majority of the population, the established situation that women are not only underrepresented in political parties, but also in the spheres of political decision-making is accepted by all. Political parties are structured so that there are typically secretariats for women’s issues and women’s unions. However, the organization of political parties often gives the impression that the issue of women’s representation is addressed purely for electoral purposes. Within party organs, women are confined to secretariats where they generally have little say in the political parties. Either they are entrusted to the treasury knowing that the party actually has no financial resources or they are responsible for social issues. Among the plethora of political parties in Burkina Faso, very few are run by women. In light of the under-representation of women, a number of initiatives were implemented over the past decade which attempt to address this issue.
The Act No. 010-2009/AN of 16 April, 2009, set quotas for legislative elections and local elections. Undoubtedly, in the field of democratic governance, this law is one of the most notable legislative reforms adopted by the National Assembly in recent years. The process leading up to the implementation of this law is the result of efforts taken by various actors concerned with democratic governance, in particular civil society. Indeed, the idea of gender quotas was especially promoted by women’s associations and organizations during the 2000 and 2006 municipal elections and the 2002 parliamentary elections as part of their advocacy and lobbying activities focused on political parties and the National Assembly. These efforts led some political parties to pledge to adopt internal quotas of representation. Internal quotas were first employed during the 2000 municipal elections and resulted in a significant increase of the number of women elected as municipal councilors.
During the third term of the current regime (2002-2007), a revision was proposed in 2006 by the Gender Caucus of the parliament (established by Decree No. 2005/042/AN/PRES of 13 October 2005 by the President of National Assembly) with the aim of exploring the possibilities of establishing a quota for women in decision-making spheres. The Caucus launched a national forum involving representatives of the executive, technical and financial partners, political parties, and civil society around the theme of “The involvement and representation of women in politics.” The forum resulted in a draft law setting minimum quotas of 30% for the equitable participation of women and men in the life of the Parliament and the political life of the country.
During the fourth legislature an ad hoc parliamentary commission, established in 2008, further developed the issue of quotas regarding the adoption of the law. In light of their assigned duties members of the commission adopted a working methodology that included, the production of documents, collaborative works, and especially meeting and discussions with major components of society. Ministers, political party leaders, civil society, technical and financial partners who were interviewed by the commission supported the idea that the introduction of quotas for women would represent a qualitative leap towards governance characterized by goals that would be more equitable.
Quotas could be an effective way to generate a substantial increase in the representation of women within decision-making spheres. The adoption of the law for a 30% quota was made possible thanks to a combination of actions and concerted efforts of various governance actors, which allowed the advocates of quotas to win in a political environment characterized by conservatism. However, this is not the exclusive work of a single actor – even if tribute should be paid to the political will of the Parliament without which no law can be adopted. It is rather the result of a consensus between different political actors striving for fair representation and the participation of women in national politics.
The quota law was designed to enable either sex to take part in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination, through their elected representatives. It thus excludes representation through appointed positions, despite that there are a significant number of women working in the civil service that the government could promote to positions of responsibility. The law requires political parties to submit lists of candidates for legislative and municipal elections that include at least 30% of either sex. In other words, electoral lists must be comprised of at least 30% men or women.
The design of this law has been difficult due to the reluctance, or perhaps resistance, of Burkina Faso’s society both among men and women. Even supporters of gender quotas criticized the law for its numerous shortcomings. For example many criticized the fact that the quota is not related to the outcome of elections but rather a neutral quota of at least 30% of either sex, on non-alternating electoral lists. In other words, the law does not impose upon parties a gender-based order of candidates. Thus, party lists could be created so that women, or men, are listed at the end of the list and therefore will not be elected. Given that previously political parties tried a voluntary quota of 25% for women on electoral lists without much success, the current 30% gender quota on electoral lists represents only a little effort with no guarantee of results. The absence of incentives for political parties and lack of legal measures means there is no guarantee that even 20% of those elected in the next legislative or local elections will be women. Additionally, the current electoral redistricting may reduce the scope of the law for legislative elections in most constituencies. Indeed, 37 of the 45 provinces have only two seats. How can a 30% quota on lists of candidates be applied in constituencies with two seats? Therefore the quota principle only has the potential to produce effects in seven provinces and the national list (those electoral districts with lists that include more than two elected members).
A law with major shortcomings
The law has not resolved the question of alternating lists of candidates. At what point must lists begin to alternate between women and men? Also, the quota law in Burkina Faso provides a series of financial incentives and sanctions to ensure compliance, but does not explicitly state whether those incentive measures are cumulative when there are several elections in the same year. Furthermore, it remains unclear if a party with a list of 29% women will be penalized to the same degree as a party that has no women on its list. Similarly, it is not specified if there will be additional funding for political parties that exceed the 30% quota. During the December 2012 combined election, several parties that submitted lists that did not meet the quota were punished. They lost half of the public funding for campaign activities.
Proponents of the law on quotas were apparently dissatisfied at the end of the past combined legislative and municipal elections. The implementation of this law did not significantly improve the representation of women, despite advocacy efforts aimed at political parties. For parliamentary elections, the representation of women increased from 17 out of 111 in 2007 to 24 women out of 127 in 2012; a shift in percentage from 15.30% to 18.89%. Apart from the law, the political representation of women is an eminently sociological question which will likely be resolved as the level of education of women improves. It is also important to note that many Burkinabè view politics as an activity without much merit, where vices such as lying, deception, violence, and corruption prevail. Such a perception is not likely to encourage the involvement of women in politics. Moreover, it should be noted that very few men actually dare to engage in politics as members of the opposition in this country. This is especially noticeable during elections when, with the exception of the ruling party, many parties struggle to build their lists because of a lack of aspiring candidates. Under these conditions, it may not be reasonable to impose gender quotas upon them.
Useful links and documentary resources
- La loi n°010-2009/AN du 16 avril 2009 portant fixation de quotas aux élections législatives et aux élections municipales: http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.gov.bf/files/Testes%20Fondamentaux/La%20Jurisprudence/Decisions/2012/dcision_04.pdf
- Official website of the Centre de Recherche et d’Intervention en Genre et Développement (CRIGED) : http://www.criged.org
- Réseau des Organisations Féministes d’Afrique Francophone (ROFAF), 07 mai 2012. «Burkina Faso: Caucus genre – Consolidation des acquis de la loi sur le quota » : http://www.rofaf.org/actualites/761-burkina-faso-caucus-genre-consolidation-des-acquis-de-la-loi-sur-le-quota
- Le pays, 30 mai 2013. « Insuffler une dynamique féminine à la SCADD » : http://www.lepays.bf/?LE-CAUCUS-GENRE-DE-L-AN