Having seen a lot of Facebook status’s about the new 33% seats quota for women in the upcoming local council elections of Maldives and having to have debated about it with multiple people including both men and women, I would like to express my stand regarding it and say that I contend in full support for the quota. I see it as an imperative step towards increasing the women's representation in the political sphere.
An increasing number of nations are currently introducing different types of gender quotas for their public elections: in fact, 1/2 of the globe's 195 countries today uses some type of electoral quota in even their parliament. It is much more widespread than is commonly held. Given the current slow speed at which the number of women in politics is growing, more efficient steps need to be taken to ensure a gender balance in the government. The mechanism of using a quota system for women, provides a strong hope for a dramatic increase in women's representation.
This quota system ensures that women constitute at least a critical minority of 33% of the local governments and that women are not only a token few in political life. The previous notions of reserving seats for one or very few women, representing a vague way of embracing “women” or inclusivity are no longer considered enough.
As any given country, women constitute of almost half the Maldives population. While I commend the current government for appointing a record number of female cabinet members, I am weary to see only 4 women representatives out of a total 87 constituencies. Have a look at some of the facts collated by UNDP Maldives on the history of women's development in Maldives here. This quota, if correctly implemented, would be another milestone for the women of Maldives.
The quota for women in the local councils does not discriminate but compensates for the actual barriers in the Maldivian society that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats. No other women has to put up with the stress experienced as a token women (someone included in a group to make people think that the group is trying to be fair and includes all types of people in it, when this is not really true). Women, as citizens have the rights to equal representation in the political sphere and their experience is vital in political life. Women are just as qualified as men, or if you look at the stats, may be more Maldivian women are qualified than Maldivian men to hold a political leadership position, though their qualifications are downgraded and minimized in the male-dominated political sphere of Maldives. And all elections are any way about “representation” rather than qualifications.
Some people are unjustifiably offended, saying that the quota goes against the principle of “equal opportunity” for all, since women are given preference over men. Well, there are two concepts of equality. The classic liberal notion of equality was, as they mentioned, “equal opportunity” or “competitive equality”. However, only eliminating the formal barriers, such as providing women the right to vote, and leaving the rest up to the individual women does not work! And it does not even provide real equal opportunity!
Direct discrimination and a complex pattern of hidden/glass barriers prevent women from even being selected as candidates. This quota, as an affirmative action is thus a means towards “equality of outcomes” or “equality of results”. Or have you ever heard of “equity”? From the perspective of equity, the quota cannot be deemed as discrimination (against men), but compensation for the structural barriers for women in our local communities. Now, this quota itself does not remove all the other structural barriers, but as a condition, would lead to a historical leap in women’s political representation in Maldives.