The Future of Women’s Representation in the Bangsamoro Parliament

By Christine Bernadette “Bea” Almoite
Executive Assistant, BARMM Cabinet Secretary
04 May 2021

 

During the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, delegates from 189 countries unanimously approved the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action that sets an agenda for women’s empowerment. The Platform established a 30%  target for women participation in decision-making to be attained through a diverse variety of approaches, including positive action, civic discussion, and leadership preparation. Over the past two decades, countries worldwide have made significant strides to achieve this goal. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), women only constitute 25% of all national parliaments worldwide, up from 11% in 1995 (2021). While this is a significant increase in women’s participation and has opened up political space for women in decision-making processes, the pace of progress has been slow.

In the Philippines, following decades of struggle, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) created a new political entity – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) – following its ratification on 25 January 2019. On 22 February 2019, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim regional parliament took their oath of office, swearing in the new government’s chief minister, cabinet, and parliament.

In the newly created BARMM, women make up 16.2% or 13 out of 80 members in the Parliament. Women’s representation in the Bangsamoro Parliament has yet to reach the 30% ‘critical mass’ that scholars define as the bare minimum percentage needed for a minority group to exert control over decision-making. However, it is essential to note that the 80 members of the BTA were appointed by the national government – the first of its kind in the country. With the end of the transition period in 2022 nearing and calls for extension still yet to see the light of day, the future of women’s meaningful participation in the Bangsamoro Parliament is politically uncertain.

 

Party Politics

In the Bangsamoro, the party system is a hybrid of traditional local notable and clientelistic parties. Traditional local notable parties emerge from pre-existing, often generational, power structures. They are more rural than urban in nature but may form alliances with urban parties or groups when their interests intersect. Local notables often secure office through their conventional status or personal connections with their few and socially homogeneous constituents. Meanwhile, the rise of clientelistic parties was a direct reaction by local leaders to the threats faced by previously ‘subject’ communities’ political mobilization. As conventional deference to ruling classes waned, electoral mobilization gradually relied on favors traded or blatant intimidation. Their campaign efforts, in particular, are built on hierarchical networks of quasi-feudal personal relations in which comparatively stable patterns of allegiance are tied to the exchange of obligations and/or services.

As society modernizes and deference to traditional authority weakens, prominent local groups often morph into clientelistic parties. While most parties in the region can be labelled as cadre and electoral parties, they are still deeply ingrained in and affected by clan structure and familial allegiances. Hence, the widespread and increasing dissatisfaction with the system.

 

Electoral Reform

The underlying premise in the future set up of the electoral and political system in the BARMM, focusing mainly on the electoral code, as provided in the BOL is a mixed electoral system that utilizes two different types of electoral systems: Proportional Representation (PR) and Majoritarian. Under this system, majority of the parliament members are elected using the PR system. Its objective is to provide a legislative body that represents the general public support for each political party. This means that when elections take place, 50% or 40 out of the 80-parliament seat will be elected through the PR system. On the other hand, the remaining members are chosen based on majoritarian or plurality voting. 40% or 32 out of 80 members shall be elected from single-member districts, and the remaining 10% or 8 out of 80 are reserved for sectoral representatives: two (2) reserved seats each for non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities and one (1) each for the traditional leaders, youth, women, and the Ulama.

 

Gendered impact

There are no limitations in the BOL or draft election code concerning women’s participation as voters or candidates at the outset. However, the BOL does include a position of principle wherein “The Bangsamoro Government shall ensure the inclusion of women’s agenda and the involvement of women and the youth in the electoral nominating process of the political parties” (Republic Act [RA] 11054, art.7). However, this is somewhat vague. The only accurate and concrete measure that exists in the legislation is the special allocation of a reserved seat for women in the future Bangsamoro Parliament. While it bolsters a gendered effort, it is but a perfunctory term. Simply put, it is not a representative component. A seat does not only refer to women’s representation; it is a far broader concept than this. As Mark Stevens mentioned during the 2021 Bangsamoro Women Summit, “It is not only about seeing X number of female faces. It is also about the quality and content of politics in the [region] as well.” This single-reserved seat reflects hope and struggle between women and women’s rights groups seeking recognition in the parliament. This begs the question: how meaningful is ‘women’s meaningful participation’ in the future Bangsamoro Parliament?

 

Descriptive Participation

The reality of applying the term ‘meaningful participation’ and adopting it in existing political systems in BARMM remains unclear. In Indonesia, for instance, a quota system requiring political parties to be made up of 30% women has been put in place to aid gender equality. On the other hand, South Korea has had a 50% candidate gender quota for national-level seats since 2004. Before the election, each party ranks its national-level candidates, and the two main parties alternate female and male candidates on the list. This system illustrates why women account for more than half of newly elected national-level representatives in South Korea.

In BARMM, the draft electoral code does not foresee this in building in the political party list system. Further, the current Bangsamoro Parliament does not have enough women members to meet the required 30% participation quota stipulated under the BOL. Introducing potentially controversial measures such as gender quota will provide opportunities for putting women’s rights on the political agenda. However, it is not without its challenges. One of the concerns confronting quota is women’s descriptive representation. This particular argument represents women as a single group with very little to no regard for their cultural, social, and economic background. This assertion of homogeneity among women may also result in representational accomplishment, which unwittingly excludes women belonging to society’s lower strata. Paffenholz et al. (2015) argue that women’s presence does not automatically translate to signifying other women’s needs and priorities. Hence, such processes may continually represent and privilege only a few groups of women.

However, gender quotas are a tool to advance and improve gender equality. Remaining silent and hoping for a gradual phenomenon that increases the number of women would not succeed. The adoption and implementation of quotas will help increase female leaders’ visibility, and women are speaking up influences other women to see themselves in these positions. It also allows women’s political participation to be guaranteed. However, quotas are only a first step. It is far from perfect. While this is an issue that merits scholarly discussion, it contradicts the dominant narrative that politics is a man’s domain while removing social obstacles that have restricted women’s access to political roles. Falch (2010) stresses that quotas and reserved seats may be essential for women’s formal political participation.

Conversely, the Bangsamoro draft electoral code includes a very detailed prescriptive list of what political parties need to do to achieve registration. It also includes how committees should be formed and how they should function but fails to integrate women into the fabric of political parties to be part of the decision-making process.

Nepal created an enabling, gender-equal ecosystem for women’s effective and meaningful by imposing a criterion in the political party leadership requiring a minimum requirement of the number of women in leadership positions. In Bolivia, South Africa, and Tunisia, they coordinated action among women’s groups, allowing women to exert pressure on male party leaders. This guaranteed women’s presence in the bodies designing electoral and party rules and furthered their capacity and influence. These best practices can be replicated in BARMM to build a supportive environment for women’s leadership in governance. The existence of unified and broad-based women’s movements can play a critical role in pressuring political parties to adhere to gender equality. This is essential so women can be part of the decision-making process and not just recipients of those decisions.

More significant social reform is needed in BARMM to combat existing gender stereotypes and ensure women’s meaningful participation in increasing women’s participation. Additionally, a more profound understanding in making it possible for women to substantially and broadly participate in the political arena is needed. Transition mechanisms in BARMM must seek to radically restructure current political orders — through a new electoral code or new foundational laws — and make them more gender inclusive, as this will allow women in political parties and civil society to join alliances and advocate for substantial legal changes and political commitments, including national or party-level quotas.

 

Ways Forward

While it is complex to find the most useful operationalization of ‘meaningful participation’, women’s meaningful participation should go much further than a headcount. This essay offers strategies intended to serve as a preliminary step and supplemented by empirical contextual analysis.

  • Putting gender in political economy analysis: Adequate knowledge of gender contexts and their structures is crucial for locating suitable gender supporting points. Analyses such as this should look at the reasons for and severity of a change in power and social and political landscapes to socioeconomic context. Such studies should be concerned with gender’s influence on power and wealth and employ a broad range of women’s experiences.
  • Gender and political party surveying: BARMM transition will result in the creation of parties from diverse backgrounds. As a consequence, conventional methods and interventions would be ineffective. Assistance providers should finance and perform gender and inclusion surveys to ascertain the effect of preparty organizations’ formal and informal profiles on early party development, assuming such an entity operates in a given context.
  • Guarantee support for gender-transformative transition: International actors should encourage female leaders to actively participate in transitional bodies discussing new governance systems during transition times. All technical assistance given to the transition period, such as assistance with the electoral code, should provide directions on gender-sensitive organization building.
  • Provide tailored support for gender equality during the early stages of a political party’s development: Party assistance can also assist party leaders in designing strategies for attracting a diverse field of female candidates. However, it is critical to address the implications of patriarchal gender roles on individual behavior and internal decision-making mechanisms and party structures.

Women’s representation in the future Bangsamoro Parliament means that women’s myriad aspirations are fairly valued for and empowering other women to promote gender mainstreaming at the heart of public policymaking, while creating a better landscape for women’s participation in gender-responsive governance. As women’s representation in the Bangsamoro Parliament evolves, so will the Bangsamoro people’s story and the region’s future.

 


Christine Bernadette “Bea” Almoite is a 2019 Australia Awards Scholarship Recipient and a graduate of Monash University. She is currently working as the Executive Assistant to the BARMM Cabinet Secretary and Gender Consultant within various ministries of the Bangsamoro Government. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates.


 

REFERENCES

Falch, A 2010, Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Post-Conflict Burundi and Nepal, viewed 5 April 2021, https://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/partpol_postconburundinepal_falch_2010_0.pdf

Paffenholz, T 2015, Results on Women and Gender from the ‘Broader Participation’ and ‘Civil Society and Peacebuilding’ Projects, The Graduate Institute, Geneva.

UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWOMEN) 2021, Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation, viewed 3 April 2021, https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/factsand-figures