In the Spanish coastal town of Tossa de Mar on the Mediterranean,
women have long run the public administration while the men were off
at sea. But it's a rarity here in Spain, where less than a third of
municipal office-holders are women.
The new Law of Equality is expected to change all that, bringing
an estimated 7,000 women into local offices in Sunday's municipal
and regional elections.
Passed in April to rectify persistent gender inequalities, it
extends paternity leave to 15 days and requires large businesses to
increase the representation of women on their boards to 40 percent.
But what is perhaps its most controversial provision requires
political parties to present electoral lists in which neither sex
holds more than 60 percent of the slots.
The law makes Spain one of the most progressive countries on
gender representation. But as other countries have discovered, true
political equality may not be guaranteed: what looks good on paper
can be hard to implement in practice.
Nearly 100 countries impose some form of gender quota on
political representation. But only a few have achieved approximate
parity: Rwanda, Sweden, and Finland (see chart).
France's parity law has significantly improved representation at
the local level since it was passed in 2000: In towns with
populations of 3,500 or more, the percentage of women elected to
city council seats rose from 25.7 in 1995 to 46.4 by 2006.
But at the national level it's had little effect: the number of
female deputies rose from 10.9 percent before the law to just 12.3
percent in 2002, when parliamentary elections were last held.
French political parties, which fill allotted parliamentary seats
beginning with those at the top of party lists, have gotten around
the law by putting women at the bottom of their lists. Or they
simply accept the financial consequences of noncompliance.
In 2002, the Union for the Popular Movement (UMP), the party run
by newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy, gave up [currency] 4.2
million ($5.6 million) in state funding rather than run an equal
number of female candidates for parliamentary elections.
Only 20 percent of its candidates were women. The Socialist Party
gave up [currency] 1.6 million with 36 percent women.
But ahead of parliamentary elections in June, there is some
improvement. Nearly 48 percent of the Socialist candidates and 30
percent of UMP candidates are women.
"It's not an easy task because we have more than 350 incumbent
candidates," Alain Marleix, UMP's election director, told Le Monde
newspaper. "But we have made a place for women, and we ... have
reserved for them 'winnable' districts" - a departure from the past
when women were often put on lists in constituencies where they had
no chance of winning. …