BLOG: Women in Politics: Montenegro's Silent Revolution

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 19:00
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In the small nation of Montenegro, men are in the minority. However, in the country's 81-member legislature, men occupy 67 seats. This leaves just 14 seats (17 percent) to women.

The good news? This is the greatest representation female candidates have achieved since 1992.

The outcome of the October 2012 snap parliamentary elections: Montenegro's 17 percent female representation falls short of the 30 percent critical mass—a target advocated by the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 1990.

The goal then was to achieve 30 percent female representation in world parliaments by 1995 and 50 percent parity by 2000.

Twenty-three years later, the global average stands at 20 percent.

Serbia, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have already hit the 30 percent mark, and the female representatives of Kosovo's* Parliament have organized into the most successful caucus in the region, offering valuable lessons on the transformational impact brought about by the concerted actions of elected female Members of Parliament (MPs).

Montenegro's bid to join the ranks of its neighbours is well underway. The October elections were the first national polls held under affirmative provisions introduced in September 2011, which pushed the number of female MPs from the pre-quota 12 to the current 17 percent.

The next step will be an ambitious leap to double this figure by addressing loopholes in quota provisions (downloads as pdf file). Amendments to the law on the Election of Councilors and Members of Parliament require 30 percent representation on party lists for the less represented gender.

However, the law is silent on the ranking and placement of women in winnable positions—a crucial provision needed to make quotas work.

You don't need to go too far to find good examples that address such loopholes. In Serbia, the law on Elected Representatives states that the lists of the political parties must contain at least 30 percent of each sex and every fourth place on electoral lists must be reserved for the less represented sex. Macedonian law requires that within every three places at least one is reserved for the less represented sex.

To channel these concerns into meaningful actions, UNDP in Montenegro held an international conference, “Women to Politics, Politics to Women,” in December, 2012 attended by politicians, media, academics, and NGOs.

The highlight of the conference was the survey on attitudes toward women in politics in Montenegro, which showed that the majority of Montenegrins believe that a greater representation of women—over 30 percent in Parliament—would result in a higher quality of political life.

The recommended course of action is to lobby for legal amendments that would introduce candidate ranking on party lists favourable for the less represented sex and to make greater advocacy efforts with political parties to adopt voluntary party quotas and transparent candidate selection procedures.

In their advocacy work, the political parties, and especially the NGO community, have unexploited resources that should be utilized.

The fact that major political parties in the country—the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Socialist People's Party (SNP)—are part of the Socialist Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe can help internalize gender equality mechanisms through inter-party cooperation and learning from socialist peers in Europe.

The DPS and SDP membership in Socialist International (SI) and their stated commitment to the SI Declaration of Principles can provide a framework for effective advocacy campaigns.

The key driver pushing the gender quota forward has been the Socialist People's Party, with the support of UNDP, academia, and civil society.

Sne�ana Jonica, the Party's political director, says that the starting point for introducing quotas is to adopt them at the party level.

“At the party level we have reached this goal. Unfortunately on the national level there was a lack of progress due to insufficient political support to amend the electoral law. Until now, women's political empowerment was not high on the political agenda. UNDP's intervention was crucial to coordinate and overcome personal and political conflicts and stimulate public support. It has been an indispensable mediator that brought together all stakeholders and offered a platform for unity and consensus.”

This alliance has already proven its ability to bring about concerted action and change through their famous campaign of June 2011, which saw 297 members of the academic community join women from all political parties to call for greater female representation in Montenegro's parliament.

Such mobilization will again be necessary to continue to transform the political scene in Montenegro.