To Up Arab Female Political Participation, the Middle East Must Use Quota Systems

One year ago, I wrote on PolicyMic that women were in danger of being left behind as Egypt transitioned to democracy. Unfortunately, I was right. According to the 2012 United Nations “Women in Parliament Report,” women have gone from holding a required 64 seats to only 10 seats out of the 508 total seats in Egyptian parliament. The Arab world remains the only region in which no country has over 30% women in its parliament. In fact, it is the region with the lowest percentage of women’s political participation in the world, at just 10.7%.

The quota system presents many pros and cons. Proponents, like UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, argue that quota systems undeniably accelerate women’s participation in government. However, critics often point out that there is no guarantee that the women elected will support a women’s rights agenda, and often they wind up voting for laws that hinder, not help, women. 

While both sides of the debate are equally valid, the Arab world, particularly countries in transition like Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, would undoubtedly benefit from the quota system, which has had success in other countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. In these situations, the pros seem to outweigh the cons. Quota systems allow for women to receive their fair share of political seats in societies where there may be cultural or other obstacles preventing their election or nomination in a regular ballot system. Additionally, women’s ideas and experiences are invaluable assets to political life, and to producing change.

To reiterate my point from last year, according to USAID, “Countries where women’s share of the seats in political bodies is greater than 30% are more inclusive, egalitarian, and democratic.” Isn’t that what the Arab Spring was all about? Overthrowing oppression in order to create more open, democratic societies. So let’s make sure women are not prevented from being a part of the changes they worked just as hard to create.  

Photo Credit: Mike Cogh

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Alexandra Zimmerman

Alexandra works as a Program Coordinator on women's business leadership at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She previously worked at the Wilson Center, a leading non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC and at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where she was taught courses entitled "20th Century Political History of the Middle East" and "Religion and Identity." She received an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Religion concentrating in Islamic studies from the George Washington University. She loves to cook and travel and is a huge fan of the NY Giants and NY Mets.

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