Fewer women in parliaments after Arab Spring: study

Fri Mar 2, 2012 4:19pm EST
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By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Opportunities from the Arab Spring to boost the low number of women in parliaments are being missed, while globally the average number of female politicians inched up half a point last year to 19.5 percent, an organization of parliaments said on Friday.

Despite pro-democracy protests toppling leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Arab region was the only area in the world without a parliament of at least 30 percent women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union's "Women in Parliament 2011" study.

"Countries in transition can very effectively take advantage of reforms to guarantee strong participation of women in politics," Abdelwahad Radi, president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, told a news conference in New York.

But he said those opportunities were not being seized in the Arab regions, where women made up 10.7 percent of parliamentarians in 2011, unchanged from 2010.

"On the contrary, we can even see setbacks have occurred, particularly in Egypt where the percentage of women parliamentarians has fallen from 12 to 2 percent," Radi said.

The report found that more than a third of parliaments with about 30 percent female parliamentarians are in countries in transition or emerging from conflict. Radi cited Africa's youngest nation, South Sudan, where the implementation of quotas had led to a parliament with 26.5 percent women.

Parliamentary elections were held in Egypt over the past four months, the first since the overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, and voters headed to the polls in Tunisia - the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings - in October. No date has yet been set for elections in Libya.

While the study noted a "strong affirmative measure" by Tunisia that required parties to list women alternately with men on ballots, in practice because most of the more than 80 parties were competing for one seat in any one constituency it went to the man topping the list.   Continued...