Quotas fall short of goals
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Quotas fall short of goals

The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) voted on Monday to include gender quotas in the new charter. It is commendable. But by restricting the one-third quota for women to only party-list candidates, the move is insufficient to address the longstanding problem of female under-representation in local and national politics.

The charter drafters voted 17-13 with two abstentions in a secret ballot to ensure that at least one-third of party-list candidates are women.

Political parties which fail to do so will not be qualified to run in the next poll.

Previous charters vaguely stipulated that the number of male and female politicians should be balanced. This has never become a reality.

CDC spokesperson Supatra Nakapiew said the one-third women quota for party-list candidates turned a new page in Thai history for women, as it is the first time that a specific quota is spelled out in the constitution.

This is an overstatement, especially when you consider the original gender quota proposals in comparison to what the CDC finally conceded.

Advocates of gender-balanced politics wanted the charter to ensure that women are not under-represented in all levels of politics, from local and provincial administrations to parliamentary politics. 

Fierce resistance against a gender quota system in politics and subsequent heated debates resulted in the high-profile resignation of well-known and respected women's rights activist Thicha Na Nakorn in February. 

The vote on Monday also rejected the gender quota for elections in local administrations and for constituency MPs.

As a compromise, CDC members approved the one-third quota system only for party-list candidates.

But if women candidates are still placed very low in the party list as they have been in the past, there is little chance that they will ever make it to parliament.

The draft charter has yet to receive approval from the National Legislative Assembly. It is not certain either if the NLA will give it the green light. Women's groups now plan to lobby the NLA for women to be represented at least at a certain minimum level at all levels of politics.

As for party-list candidates, in every batch of three candidates one of them must be a woman. They will no doubt face a fierce battle yet again.

Despite the widespread and successful practice of gender quotas in other countries to redress the problem of women's under-representation in politics, fierce resistance at home reveals the deep-rooted discrimination that exists against women in Thai society.

This discrimination explains why previous charters enshrining gender equality and balance in the political arena failed to turn words into reality. Without monitoring the system and punishing negligence, gender equality will remain merely a concept.

Attacks on the gender quota by critics, who say the quota counters meritocracy, are also wrong. Previous charters made it clear that affirmative action to redress systematic injustice is not discrimination. It is only a temporary measure which can be revoked when the gender balance goal is attained. 

New rules and laws are necessary to set new standards and shape fair societal behaviour. But if they are not backed by a supportive value system, new rules — however well-intentioned — will be not enforced. 

Women's groups cannot give up the fight to change the rules of the game. But the CDC resistance should inform them of the battle front they have long neglected — the patriarchal culture. If society's mindset does not change, the rules they are fighting for will end up only being ink on paper.

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