A Quota System Does Not Ensure Participation

Linked to the earlier point is the issue of the quota system. Although this system is a regulatory change, it is discussed separately due to its significant relevance for participation in the public sphere. The quota system is not particular to political representation. In many countries there are regulatory requirements that require a certain percentage of women to be represented on corporate boards of private companies.14 In some Arab countries there has been increased campaigning for a voluntary business commitment to better female representation on corporate boards (e.g. 30% by the year 2025 in Lebanon as advocated by the Lebanese league of Women in Business).15

The issue of a quota system has been the subject of intense debates all over the Arab world. There are voices that support such a system and others that oppose it. Enforcing the quota system would ensure a guaranteed number of females to be present in the political and economic spheres. While this would not be the best way to ensure female participation, it is the best way—according to supporters—where a resisting society is pushed to accept the presence of women in decision-making roles. On the other hand, those who oppose the quota system assert that while it guarantees that women will be represented, it does not guarantee that they would be the best ones to serve in those positions. In the political arena, women chosen for representation have traditionally been relatives of connected males.16 This has implications on how the public perceives the appointment of those women, and how it evaluates their performance.

Women are often subjected to tougher standards when evaluating their performance. When it is perceived that a wrong woman is chosen for an executive position, the drawbacks of her experience are detrimental to the whole cause of women participation. In political representation the issue becomes even more visible. If a woman is elected just because she is a woman, her failures would not be attributed to her lack of leadership or executive skills, but because of her gender.17 Men are not subjected to those standards. Because women suffer from an a priori lack of proper preparation for participation in executive or leadership roles, they often kick off their leadership positions from a disadvantaged position. When wives, sisters, or daughters of exceptional male politicians are elected to office, they would be compared to their male kin. While their successes are judged positively in relation to their own personalities and groundings, their failures are often attributed to who they are as women. Accordingly, while the quota system is needed in many situations, the problems associated with it need to be carefully tackled. In an ideal world, any process ofparticipation and representation in the political and economic spheres would yield a gender-balanced group of decision-makers who are chosen or appointed because of their expertise and potential, not because of their genders.

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