Advocating for Quotas



Advocating for Quotas

What strategies have been used by women and grassroots organizations to promote the adoption and implementation of quotas? What are the main obstacles encountered by these organizations in their advocacy work?

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Erika Brockmann Quiroga's picture

In the nine years that have elapsed since Bolivia passed the Quotas Law (minimum of 30% women) there has been uninterrupted progress in terms of access to lists of candidates for positions of popular representation. In 1999, the same system was introduced for lists of mayoral and municipal council candidates. In addition, a law was introduced that applies to the internal structures of political parties requiring them to ensure a female presence of at least 30% in all territorial and operational organic structures.

In 2004, after the constitutional reform which made the system of representation accessible to citizen groups and indigenous peoples, the principle of parity (50%) for women in the candidate lists of organizations of this type was adopted. In a final revolutionary breakthrough without precedent anywhere else in the world, the Special Law Convening the Constituent Assembly was promulgated in March of this year, instituting a parliamentary electoral system guided by strict principles of parity and non-reelection.

Quota systems are not an end in themselves, but instruments of a transitory nature whose aim is to strengthen and hasten the time taken to reach equity and reduce disparities between men and women in political representation. They are based on the principle that “unequal measures are needed to combat inequality.” Being of an instrumental nature, quotas are not the only way or sufficient to ensure quality of representation or to develop sustained processes for legitimizing female leadership. Rather, they are merely a window of opportunity to advance and secure a presence for women as legitimate political actors and leading players as candidates to and holders of office, thereby neutralizing the idea of acting exclusively within and from the masses.

Although the aim here is not to analyze the quantitative and qualitative impact of quotas on the exercise of political rights or in terms of developing civic-mindedness in thousands of women who have taken part in elections since 1997, I believe that quotas were introduced in Bolivia ‘back to front’ and have failed to have a significant impact on the deep-seated exclusion found at the heart of political organizations, or a substantial effect on highly discriminatory civic-political tradition that tends to recognizes greater legitimacy to male leaders

If I may explain: minimum quota systems for participation in government are nothing new; in Europe and other countries with representative democratic systems they were first introduced in the statutes of political organizations, which then led to the adoption of measures applied to lists of candidates to representative bodies. In Bolivia and in several other Latin American countries, for strategic and circumstantial reasons the introduction of quotas took a different route and were first imposed as compulsory requirements for lists of candidates as opposed to being adopted within the organic structures and statutes of political organizations, which structurally and conceptually ought to be the seedbeds or quarries where aspiring natural female leaders are formed in order to emerge and take up representative public office. This cart-before-the horse route was not only disadvantageous, it was also the victim of interference inasmuch as the system of parties in the first democratic period betrayed the intention of the Political Parties Act in order to collapse, operate less institutionally and secure political support through handouts before being displaced by other, rising political actors.

Erika Brockmann
Head of the International Affairs Committee of the Women’s Political Forum- BOLIVIA

This comment was originally posted on the Spanish E-Discussion Forum at

Florence Hamil's picture

Recently I attended a "Women in Safe Cities International" Safe Audit training. There we were exposed to the strategies they utilized for gaining adoption of policies which led to safer cities for women. While it does not directly address the topic under discussion, there are some interesting parallels which give insight into how obstacles to adopting and implementing policies affecting women can be overcome.

They convened meetings with government officials and advocated for change.

When the change was negotiated and accepted in principle they followed up in terms of reviewing documents which summarized the discussions and agreements arisng from the discussions.

In some instances, the agreements were omitted. Their role was then to follow-up to ensure that the agreements made were included and subsequently implemented.

In other cases the cost of changing existing infrastructure was prohibitive; however, where possible they kept abreast of new developments and tried to influence changes which resulted in an improvement in the safety of public spaces just by changing elements in the design.

The lessons learned are as follows:
1. Respectful discussion on the part of all parties can lead to a compromise or acceptance of the quota system.
2. If an agreement is forged, this should be followed up to ensure that the agreements reached are clearly documented.
3. Make suggestions for implementing the policies by keeping abreast of legislation or discussion forums, participating in the forums and assisting in developing strategies for implementing the policies to pave the way for success.

Florence A. Wellington

alessandra.pellizzeri's picture

The joint UNDP/ UNFPA and UNICEF women and election project promoting female participation into politics has been based on 3 main components:

• Advocacy and sensitization campaigns at the national level to promote electoral female participation
• A specific advocacy on the adoption of a voluntarily gender quota law
• Empowerment of women and civic education campaigns, aiming at strengthening the capacities of female leaders as well as women organisations, including the grass root level

Concerning the first two aspects, a quota study has been produced, as a base for advocacy of the quota law. The advocacy campaigns have targeted national and local decision-makers as well as the media and the religious leaders, the Oulemas. Following these campaigns, political parties were successfully sensitized to the opportunity of placing women in their lists.

At the grass root level, Civil Society Organisations(SCO) have been trained in the capital Nouakchott and in 4 main regions of intervention on advocacy and communication techniques to encourage female candidates. Secondly, a series of ToT courses have been conducted with selected SCO to train the new candidates in the four regions.

It was only thanks to such massive campaigns including men and women, decision-makers, the media and reaching out to the most remote parts of the country, that the message was clearly explained and accepted by the population.

Submitted by Alessandra Pellizzeri

Governance Programme Officer, UNDP Mauritania

Carmen Colazo's picture

In Paraguay, women politicians used various partisan strategies for getting quotas for participation in decision-making position into the parties’ by-laws.

Grassroots partisan organizations (party women’s secretariats, women’s commissions of the parties or Governing Boards, and neighborhood party groups or committees) were very active in this process.

So far, the only ones who have not won the inclusion of quotas, despite their many efforts, are the women of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico.

The first to approve a quota (30 percent) was the Partido Colorado, thanks to the leadership of Cristina Muñoz, the country’s first Women’s Minister, in conjunction with women from the Governing Board who were very committed to this political cause.

The only party that achieved internal parity was País Solidario, a social democrat party within Paraguay’s political system.

Multiple strategies were used: First, the strength provided by the formation of the Multi-Sector Women’s Group of Paraguay and later the Network of Women Politicians. Also the creation of the Network of Municipal Government Women, which includes council members and intendants. In all cases, raising awareness among the women party members was decisive, so that they could lobby men, especially those who held positions within the party or in the country’s government, mainly representative positions in the executive branch or national legislature.

Media strategies were also important for explaining what quotas are; how they are an affirmative action mechanism like any other (which were offered as examples); their political advantages; public policy issues that should be on the political agenda, but that were not priorities for men; the importance of these issues for making the system more democratic (as an indicator of democracy and development); an explanation of the number of women in parties and how many had reached positions of power without being provided equal opportunity with men.

It was also important to have material provided by the Center for Electoral Promotion and Guidance (Centro de Asesoría y Promoción Electoral, CAPEL) and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos, IIDH) on positive actions and comparative information about quotas in European countries, including Spain and Germany.

One thing that had a great political effect was for women from one party in the multi-sector group to attend another party’s debate on quotas, supporting and accompanying their colleagues from the group and demonstrating that this was an issue for all women politicians in the parties, and not just one sector. This also made it clear that the goal was modification of national electoral legislation, which was achieved.

In Paraguay, however, the draft bill presented by the multi-sector group (under my responsibility and that of Perla Yore), was not approved. The bill called for reform of the Electoral Code with the modification of Art. 34 to state that neither sex could obtain more than 60 percent representation, and that they had to appear in alternating positions and in electable places. After a historic debate in which, for the first time in the country, many male legislators voted in favor, and the Chamber of Deputies later went against its rules and reviewed the vote, overriding the original result and rejecting the quotas, the only thing that Paraguayan women won was a 20 percent quota, with no specifications, in the Electoral Code that is still in effect. For that reason, many parties’ by-laws include a higher quota than the overall electoral system, which makes compliance difficult in both cases.

Carmen Colazo

This comment was originally posted on the Spanish E-Discussion Forum at

Hemanthi Goonasekera's picture

Women representation in Sri Lankan governance structures is less than 5%, while women make up around 51% of the total population. Lobbying for a quota was not suceessful in the past. Is there any other strategy that had been used in other parts of the world that made an impact?

Best Regards,

Hemanthi Goonasekera