First Look

Senator Duncan-Price motion for gender quotas in Parliament

| 2014-03-07 00:00:00

“When women and men lead together, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. Countries and companies with higher levels of gender equality have higher levels of growth and performance.” This quote by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Women, Executive Director 2010-2013 was how Senator Imani Duncan-Price began her presentation of her motion to the Senate for the ‘Advance Women’s Leadership in Politics and Decision Making’- suggesting a temporary special measure by way of instituting a temporary gender quota in Parliament.

Gender quotas to generate gender equality in political leadership

Rightly timed on the eve of International Women’s Day 2014, under the international theme ‘Inspiring Change’; Senator Duncan-Price thanked the many before her who contributed to the advancement of women; and lauded that 40 years after the first women’s desk was in the Prime Minister’s office; that it was now possible for her to make her motion in support of women in leadership.

She introduced her motion by speaking of the need for a shock to the current system in society and politics- due to the strong and persistent presence of patriarchy. “…Patriarchy is a reference to a kind of society in which men and women are in unequal relations of power which affects relationships in all spheres.  It encompasses the organization of social systems, practices and structures …in which men and women live and work, and have relations.”

Senator Duncan-Price continued that although Jamaica has a female Prime Minister and we have a high % of women in our universities- 62% women versus 38% men registered, and an additional 55% of the graduates of HEART in 2012 were women; women are leading certain arms of Government like the Judiciary with the Hon. Mrs. Justice Zalia McCalla, it still remains that patriarchal power ‘runs things’.  She added “The power dynamics of this are real and shape the relationships between women and men in all aspects of our lives.”

She expounded by saying women are not in equal numbers at the decision- making table – stating “Women are still twice as likely to be unemployed or employed in low-paying jobs compared to men in Jamaica. Statistics quoted from a 2010 IDB study revealed that on average women in Jamaica at all levels earn approximately 12.5%.”

According to the Senator, the Electoral Office of Jamaica also states that of the 835 persons elected to Parliament in the 70 years since 1944, only 67 have been females – 8%.  According to the current data for 2014, women now represent a mere 12.7% of the Members of Parliament, 20% of the Cabinet, and 28.6% of the Senate. The highest ever achieved for the Members of Parliament was 15% and that was in 1997.

The way forward

Senator Duncan-Price underlined that “given the slow speed by which the number of women in politics has grown, the time is therefore now for more efficient methods reach a gender balance in political institutions. Quotas, as a temporary special measure, present ONE such mechanism that has proved to be effective.” She stated that the time to make the change is now, as numerous countries have implemented gender quotas/ gender parity policy to address the resilience of the pervasive system of patriarchy. Some of these countries include Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Chile, Rwanda, Cameroon and Tunisia, who have been proactive in forging ahead with ensuring more equal representation of women in politics at the national and local government level. Closer to home, Guyana is the only CARICOM Caribbean country with a legislated Candidate Quota system, introduced as a Constitutional measure. On each political party list, one third of candidates must be women (they have 30% women in their National Assembly).

The Senator recommended that a Joint Select Committee be convened comprised of both Senators and members of the Lower House, 50:50 bi-partisan, and grounded in gender equality to: identify specific, practical recommendations for the political parties to activate in light of the barriers that women face in engaging the political sphere as leaders as identified in the National Policy on Gender Equality; and review and recommend the types of Temporary Special Measures such as gender quotas, that would work most effectively in our political culture given the objectives of gender equality in political leadership.

Duncan-Price recommended employing a Temporary Special Measure for two electoral terms (10 years) by way of instituting a Gender Neutral Quota system for the Senate and for the Candidate Slate of Political Parties which ultimately results in the gender composition of MPs in the Lower House. Within this frame, neither gender would fill more than 60% nor less than 40% of the appointed or elected positions. During this 10 year period, she recommended the implementation of the plans laid out in the National Policy on Gender Equality, which seek to change and improve the systemic problems which have prevented both men and women from achieving an enlightened understanding of the critical role of women in all spheres of decision-making.

For the Senate, she recommended a legislated Gender–Neutral Reserved Seat system of 60%/40% in terms of recommendations for appointments. This goes further than the 30% stated in the National Policy on Gender Equality given that women make up 51% of the population and bringing the numbers closer to true equality in representation. She continued, saying for the Lower House in order to maintain the efficacy of democracy – she does not recommend reserved seats. Instead, she suggested the institution of a minimum 40% Gender Neutral Candidate Quota System from each political Party’s slate- whether legislated or voluntary.

Senator Duncan-Price closed, saying “For if we do not both together – the game change and longer term programmes, when the recommended timeframe for the temporary special measures elapses – the society would not  have fundamentally shifted and provide a consistent flow of female leaders to be present in the Senate, in the Lower House, or on Public Boards.”


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