Women's direct engagement in public decision-making has long been seen not just as a matter of democratic justice, but as a means of ensuring better government accountability to women. Quotas have been an effective vehicle for supporting women's political engagement, especially when they are backed by sanctions. But increasing the numbers of women in politics is in itself not sufficient to ensure better public sector responsiveness to women's needs. It must be linked to gender-sensitive good governance reforms – understood as inclusive, responsive, and accountable management of public affairs that increases state capacity to implement gender policies.
Political accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, but it cannot stop there. It requires governance reforms that equip public institutions with the incentives, skills, information and procedures to respond to women's needs.
- Today there are more women in government than ever before. The proportion of women in national assemblies has increased by 8% to the current global average of 18.4% in the decade from 1998 to 2008, compared to an increase of just 1% in the two decades after 1975. Yet even at the current rate of increase, developing countries will not reach the ‘parity zone' where neither sex holds more than 60% of seats until 2045.
- Political accountability to women requires:
- Strong mobilization: Women's movements have played an important role in challenging authoritarian regimes in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines; in building pressure for peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Burundi, Timor-Leste and the Balkans; in lobbying for legislative change to stop genital mutilation in Senegal and Burkina Faso, guarantee inheritance rights in Rwanda, and promote rights in marriage in Brazil and Turkey.
- Strong representation: Quotas and other temporary special measures, such as reserved seats, are a proven means for supporting women's engagement in political competition; they are currently used at national and sub-national levels in 95 countries.
– In elections held in 2007, the average representation of women was 19.3% in those countries that used some type of electoral quota, as opposed to 14.7% for those countries without quotas, regardless of electoral system.
- Strong legislation and policy: Higher numbers of women in parliament generally contribute to stronger attention to women's issues.
– A 2008 study of UK politics, for example, confirms that since the number of women in parliament doubled to 18.2% since the 1997 election, issues of particular importance to women – such as childcare and social protection – have received more attention.
- Strong implementation: Even when the political will does exist, many governments do not have the capacity, resources, or know-how to ensure that gender equality policies are carried out.
– In Afghanistan, the government recently committed to fast track the increase of women's participation in the civil service at all levels to 30% by 2013. Currently, only 22% of all regular government employees are women and only 9% of these are at the decision-making level.