June 22, 2006 · Posted in: Congress Watch
AN ambitious measure has been filed today at the House of Representatives seeking to establish a quota for the proportion of women occupying elective and appointive positions in government beginning in 2007.
House Bill 5496, or the Gender Balance Act of 2006, wants 30 percent of all positions in the bureaucracy, military, police, government-owned and controlled corporations and other agencies, alloted to women starting next year. Political parties shall also reserve for women 30 percent of their official candidates for national and local posts.
The proportion will increase to 40 percent by 2010, and further to one-half in 2013.
The proposal was filed by Akbayan representatives, Ana Theresa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Loretta Ann Rosales, and Mario Aguja. The lawmakers hope to steer the country the way of an increasing number of nations that have, in the past many years, established gender quotas in their bureaucracies.
“The goal,” the three lawmakers said in their explanatory note to the measure, “is not simply to give flesh to the country’s commitments to various women and human-rights-related international agreements, but to have a critical mass of women in political decision-making institutions that will significantly strengthen the push for women’s agenda.” (Read those agreements here and here.)
“If enacted, this measure will be a significant step toward strengthening the empowerment of women,” Grace Bernabe, of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) told PCIJ.
Bernabe said she hopes HB 5496 will be able to hurdle this 13th Congress, and not suffer the fate of similar measures that have been repeatedly filed, in the preceding three other congressional terms.
At the same time, Bernabe said, it is important to develop the “quality” of women who sit in government. “We should not stop with the numbers. Will they in fact strengthen the women’s agenda?”
Rep. Baraquel and her co-authors regard having a gender quota in government as a significant step “to fast track meaningful and relevant political participation for women.”
At present, according to an analysis done by the NCRFW, Filipino women have what the Commission calls “dismal” participation as decision-makers in the public sector. In 2004, the NCRFW says, the average proportion of women in key elected posts was no more than 17 percent.
Overall, according to the NCRFW, while women make up the bulk of the bureaucracy, “they seem unable to break the glass ceiling,” and continue to occupy the lower technical or secondary-level positions; they remain excluded from the top managerial and decision-making seats.
HB 5496 draws inspiration from countries that have taken steps to widen the representation of women in power structures in the public sphere.
For example, the bill’s authors note, Finland has a law requiring that at least 40 percent of each sex can be appointed in public decision-making bodies. This led to an increase in women’s membership in those bodies, from a quarter in 1980 to almost half by 1996. South Africa’s African National Congress, meanwhile, reserves a third of parliamentary and half of local government candidacies to women. And in India, 33 percent of the three-tiered panchayats (villages) are for women.
Advocates of women’s political representation note that while the Nordic states, for a long time, dominated the field of nations with gender quotas, an increasing number of countries are now legislating their own. Today, countries as diverse as those in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Latin America are instituting quota systems for their bureaucracies.
In the Philippines, women comprise only 13 percent of the current Senate, and 16 percent of the House of Representatives. At the local level, the proportions of seats occupied by women are similarly low: for example, only 19 percent of provincial governors, and 15 percent of mayors, are women. In the judiciary, three-fourths of all judges are men.
“This lack of gender balance means that major policies that affect the nation in general, and even those that affect women in particular, are mostly decided by men,” Baraquel, et al., note.
They say policy reforms must be introduced “to correct the uneven representation of men and women in politics and governance.”
In 1998, recognizing the difficulty in passing legislation for a quota, the Civil Service Commission issued a memorandum “encouraging” the appointment of women to government posts.
Read HB 5496.