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Who Cares How Many Women Are in Parliament - Foust and Haring

Who Cares How Many Women Are in Parliament - Foust and Haring

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Foreign Policy

Last month The Economist published its annual infographic about the dearth of women in parliaments around the world. Not surprisingly, some of the most-developed countries -- Sweden, Germany, New Zealand -- top the charts. (Also present are two African countries, Rwanda and South Africa, that have mandated parliamentary quotas for women.)
Foreign Policy

Last month The Economist published its annual infographic about the dearth of women in parliaments around the world. Not surprisingly, some of the most-developed countries -- Sweden, Germany, New Zealand -- top the charts. (Also present are two African countries, Rwanda and South Africa, that have mandated parliamentary quotas for women.)

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Published by: The American Security Project on Sep 21, 2012
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10/30/2013

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There are plenty of good yardsticks for the state of women’s rights around theworld. Parliamentary representation isn’t one of them.
BY JOSHUA FOUST, MELINDA HARING | JUNE 25, 2012
Last month
The Economist 
published its annual infographic about the dearth of women in parliaments around the world. Not surprisingly, some of the most-developed countries --Sweden, Germany, New Zealand -- top the charts. (Also present are two African countries,Rwanda and South Africa, that have mandated parliamentary quotas for women.)Equitable representation of women in politics and government is an ideal promoted by everydevelopment organization and to which every Western government aspires. Though womencomprise over 50 percent of the world's population, they are underrepresented as political leadersand elected officials. The National Democratic Institute puts it plainly: "Democracy cannot truly deliver for all of its citizens if half of the population remains underrepresented in the politicalarena."There's a problem with this argument, though: There's no evidence to support it. In Cuba, womenMPs comprise 45 percent of the parliament. Yet, in a country where women make up nearly half of the parliament, democracy is not "truly delivering for all of its citizens." And so it goes inmany repressive states. They may have plenty of women in power but lag far behind on everymeaningful index of democracy.The Eurasia region illustrates this uncomfortable reality all too well. In Azerbaijan, 16 percent of MPs are female, but every single female MP is a member of the ruling New
 Azerbaijan
Party,which loyally rubber-stamps every decree issued by strongman Ilham Aliyev. In fact, theparliament of Azerbaijan is entirely dominated by one party; there are zero opposition parties inparliament. In other words, there isn't any
 party
parity. Does the number of women matter in afake parliament?It is simplistic to assume that the mere presence of women in a parliament corresponds to greaterpolitical representation.What's missing from the focus on women's political participation -- in Azerbaijan and elsewhere-- is political party affiliation. The point of getting women into parliament is to increase
 
representation and, in theory at least, fairness. If a woman is in parliament but she votes howeverher leader tells her to (as do the male MPs), what difference does gender make?Western governments and NGOs spend millions of dollars annually trying to increase thenumber of women in elected legislatures. But counting the number of women in a parliamentdoes not actually tell you how free, fair, or representative that political system is; it just tells youhow many women are in parliament. It says nothing about their freedom to think and vote as theychoose without fear of reprisal, which should be the primary measurement of parliamentaryhealth.Women's participation in government matters, of course, but that value comes only
after 
acertain degree of freedom is established. Women can be just as venal, corrupt, and self-interestedas men.(Imelda Marcos comes to mind, though pop star and dictator's daughter Gulnara Karimova of Uzbekistan could give her a run for the money).In the end, party, not gender, is where the focus should be. Yet the NGO community, includingdonor governments, wrongly focuses almost exclusively on increasing the number of women inparliament regardless of their party affiliation. That focus doesn't make sense if the goal is toimprove democratic governance around the world.As an example of this tunnel vision, the global listing of  gender breakdown in parliaments by the International Parliamentary Union fails to capture party affiliation (data from the South Caucasuswas drawn from the Caucasus Research Resource Centers). Let's take a look at the relevant gender data for these places:Belarus leads the pack for gender representation. Similarly, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have arelatively high number of women in parliament -- outdoing the United States in raw percentages

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