Despite Mandatory Quotas, Women are Exceedingly Underrepresented among 2015 Electoral Candidates

No matter how many times you count it, the numbers just don’t add up. Out of 1809 candidates registered for the legislative elections, as of the 29th of May, there are only 151 women. That is just over 8% of all standing candidates. Out of 70 candidates for the presidential elections, only 6 of them are women; that is approximately 9%.  However, both the Haitian Constitution (Article 17.1) and the Electoral Decree (Article 100.1) set a quota of female participation at 30%. The clash between legislative directives and the political reality could not be any more indicative: the existing legislative framework is not enough to combat female underrepresentation in the political sphere.

Female Participation: Statistics Across Departments

In order to better comprehend the extent of this underrepresentation and women’s unequal participation in political life across the country it is important to look closely at the electoral lists. According to the information on CEP’s homepage, the number of female candidates, across the two published lists, is 151 out of all 1809 (8.3%) registered and accepted candidates across ten departments. This is even more striking when we take into consideration that the majority of those candidates are for the lower house (Chambre des Députés) of the National Assembly. There is a great disparity in women representation across the country.  The comparative graph (see below) illustrates this dissonance highlighting the visible disparity between individual departments and the numbers of female candidates put forward for the senatorial positions. Although, there is still a big variation across the regions for deputy positions, at least all of the ten departments have female candidates.

Moreover, it is important to note that the average proportion of female candidates is lower for the Chambre de Députés (see below)  than it is for the Senate with Grand-Anse having the highest percentage (11.4%) and the Nord department having the lowest with only 6.4% of all deputy candidates being female. For the senatorial elections, Artibonite (16%) and Ouest (15.4%) departments have the highest proportion with Centre (4.2%) and Sud (0%) regions having the lowest. Although a slight improvement, this is, of course,  nowhere near the recommended 30% of female representation.

Figure 1: Female Candidates for both Houses per Department

Female Participation: Statistics Across Parties

The spread of candidates across the 45 parties that have at least one female politician on their list is equally uneven (see tables below) and here it is important to consider variation across the two Houses in terms of the percentage of female candidates to the total number of candidates. For the Chambre de Députés only four parties managed to reach the recommended 30% quota. These are: MRA, PPAN, PDCH, and Plateforme Politique Solution, all small parties with fewer than five total Deputy candidates each. Another seven- also mostly small parties-- have at least 20% of female candidates. Among them are: ADEBHA, REKLAM, Tet Ansanm Pour Le Sauvetage Haitien, PPFF, DELIVRANS, Force Démocratique Haitien Integré, and KONA. The other thirty-four parties have significantly lower proportion of female candidates on their lists. It becomes clear that the 30% threshold is not being met by the registered parties, regardless of their size.

Women’s participation is much worse for the larger parties. Verite with 100 total candidates, Fusion with 85, Fanmi Lavalas  and OPL with 83 have a much lower level of female representation with, respectively 11%, 16.5% and 4.8%  (for both Lavalas and OPL) of female candidates for the Chambre.

For the Senate, there are sixteen parties out of fifty-four (still just under 30%) that have at least one female candidate on their lists with, similarly to the Chambre, smaller parties leading the way in terms of proportion of female candidates. FUSION with eleven total candidates and four female (36.4%) is the biggest party that met the 30% benchmark. The other parties meeting the mark are: Adebha, PPRA, FUN, UPAN, and CANAAN.  Adebha, PPRA, and FUN all achieved a 100% female representation. In real terms, however, this translates to four female candidates in total across these parties. Again, the bigger and arguably more influential parties, such as Fanmi Lavalas, Renmen Ayiti, Verite, Platfòm Pitit Dessalines, and PHTK (all have more than 10 candidates for the Senate), performing less well in terms of female participation. Although not reaching the 30% benchmark, these parties at least have put forward female candidates from their lists creating opportunities for a greater female presence in the electoral process. The other thirty-eight failed to include a single woman senate candidate. The overall proportion of female candidates (10.3% for the Chambre, 18.5 % for the Senate) in these elections clearly demonstrates the overall lack of compliance with the guidelines for female participation set out by the Constitution and the Electoral Decree. So what specific measures are there to ensure real female political participation and how effective are they in assuring the minimum levels of representation?

Existing Legislative Measures

The 1987 Haitian Constitution (with Amendments through 2012) and the Electoral Decree set out a number of guidelines for female participation on all levels of political life.  The Preamble of the Constitution states the goal explicitly:  ‘The Haitian people proclaim this Constitution [...] to assure to women a representation in the instances of power and of decision which must conform to the equality of the sexes and to equity of gender.’ In even clearer terms, Article 17.1 sets a specific quota to assure female representation in the two chambers: ‘The principle of the quota of at least thirty percent (30%) of women is recognized at all levels of national life, notably in the public services.’ In addition, Article 92.1 of the Electoral Decree provides a very practical translation of this principle: ‘The party that registers 30% female candidates benefits from 40% reduction in registration fees.’ This is the highest possible reduction in registration costs from which a party can benefit.  Other reductions include a 30% reduction for 10% of disabled candidates[1] and a 30% break for university-level of education among at least 50% of party members.  Moreover, Article 129 of the Electoral Law provides another affirmative measure by offering a 25% increase of state funding in the following electoral campaign to a political party or group of parties (groupement politique) that has at least 50% female candidates and succeeds in having  half of them elected.’ Aimed to incentivise parties and encourage female representation in the elections, these articles tellingly reveal the extent of exclusion of women from political life and the ineffectiveness of earlier legislative framework.

However, even this seemingly generous financial incentive, which almost halves the registration costs (100 000 Gds (approx. $2083; 1USD=48Gds) for a candidature for the Senate and 50 000 Gds (approx. $1042) for the Chambre des Députés) and guarantees of an increase of state funding, is not enough to ensure the 30% quota, not to mention equal representation of women in the Senate and the Chambre. The Electoral Decree does not provide any penalties against parties which do not comply with the 30% quota, leaving a legislative loophole that is clearly being exploited. Aware of this gap, Yolette Mengual, the representative of the Women’s Sector on the CEP recently asked:  ‘What will the sanctions be for the parties that do not have female candidates on their list?’

Yet Article 100.1 of the Electoral Law appears to make the 30% quota mandatory:  “In conformity with this Decree, with the exception of the post of President of the Republic, the list of candidates submitted to the Provisional Electoral Council by the political parties or political groupings, for each post, must contain at least 30% women’ [italics added].

Article 100.1 appears to treat the women’s quota as a requirement for registering an electoral list, not a suggestion.  But the CEP did not appear to invoke the requirement with respect to any party’s registration.  Article 100.1 is in a section of the Electoral Law treating coalitions of parties and other organizations, and it is possible that the CEP interprets the Article’s requirement to only apply to the coalitions.  But there is little basis, in either the text of Article 100.1 or in common sense, to require coalitions, and not parties, to promote women’s participation.

Women’s participation has also been contested within the electoral apparatus. The CEP itself does comply with the 30% quota, as three of the nine Councillors are women. But the most prominent woman Councillor, Yolette Mengual, suffered a May 22 attack, when masked men threw rocks at her house and tried to light her vehicle on fire. Local and departmental electoral structures have likewise made efforts to comply with the quota, but there were protests after the removal of Joselle Alciné, a member of the BEC (Bureau électoral communal; Communal Electoral Office) in Ennery, left the office without a woman.

Discrimination against women in Haiti does, of course, predate the current electoral cycle. The CEP and the political parties are not to blame for the history of discrimination in education, employment opportunities, within families and in the social sphere that makes it difficult for women to rise to the top of candidate lists.  But a more sincere effort to include women would certainly have found more solid candidates than the 8% rate we have, and could have provided a stepping stone to full compliance with the 30% quota in the future.

By Kasia Mika, PhD Candidate at the University of Leeds, UK and Elections Intern at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. 

[1] At the time of writing the article, there were no statistic available as to the numbers of disabled candidates. 

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