Arab Women in the Legislative Process

April 26, 2017

Women continue to face challenges in accessing the higher echelons of political power, but also in playing a more substantive role in the policymaking process.

On May 4, Algeria will hold its second legislative election since the introduction of women’s quota system in 2012. Many are set to see whether female legislators will be able to play a more pivotal role in the political realm. Over the past decade, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has witnessed a consistent, though slow, increase in the presence of women in legislative bodies. While the introduction of quota mechanisms in many Arab countries—mainly Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia—has opened the door for increased levels of female representation, quota mechanisms do not appear to have a significant immediate impact on the appointment of female politicians to influential legislative committees in Arab parliaments. Even after gaining access to the political realm, women continue to be marginalized from the bodies where important policy deliberations and concessions occur.

Committee work involves the most significant law-making deliberations in the legislative body, and assignments to them are crucial for both male and female legislators in terms of career advancement and access to resources. Since women are often considered “newcomers” in the political arena, committee assignments are especially important because they can help build necessary reputations and political expertise. In developing democracies, legislative bodies are increasingly becoming an invaluable space for interaction between incumbents, legislators, and citizens; thus, prominent committee assignments also play a substantive role in facilitating access to resources and members of the ruling elite.