International Conference on Electoral Systems and Gender Equality in Democratic Transitions, March 2018, Geneva

28 Feb 2018

The choice of the electoral system is one of the most important political issues, in particular in countries emerging  from  conflicts  and/or  decades  of  authoritarian  regimes,  and  striving  towards a  democratic transition.  Crucial part of this choice is the representation of oppressed people, especially women who are structurally marginalized and excluded.  This choice could provide the possibility to have women’s voices finally heard, ensuring that the historical imbalance in their political participation as a candidates or voters is corrected in a fair manner.  The women’s actual participation is closely linked to the traditional social, political, economic, cultural and legal structures that either constrain and impede their participation in the public domain or unleash their energies to contribute to the building of a free society, democratic parties and a State of citizenship.

The electoral system that promotes women's political participation not only has a direct impact, but also reflects  on  the social structures  and  affects positively  the entire democratic process in the country, as such a process incorporates an effective strategy of transparency,  integrity and comprehensiveness of the elections in all stages;  starting with the electoral system  and management of the  electoral process, as well as ensuring   the electoral environment that guarantee civil peace, non-violence and participation.

Despite the state of repression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ongoing violations of human rights in Syria, human rights activists have been able to organize and play an important role in the struggle for freedom and democracy. Since 2012, the  Coalition of  Syrian  Women for  Democracy has  been working to prepare for the future  political  phase in Syria. It has worked to build gender-consistent constitutional principles and democratic values based on respect for and implementation of women's rights and gender equality. These efforts have been supported by the Euromed Feminist Initiative from the early stages.

The international conference “Electoral Systems and Gender Equality in Democratic Transitions” was held in Geneva on 27 – 28 February 2018. The conference was organized by Euromed Feminist Initiative in cooperation with the Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy in the framework of the program “Towards Sustainable Peace and Democracy in Syria Through Strengthening Civil Society and Women's Rights” funded by Sweden. The international conference gathered experts from all around the world, lawyers, human rights, women's rights advocates and activists in order to reflect the principles of a gender sensitive, thus democratic transformation and the environment conducive to this transformation in general, and in Syria in particular.

During the first day, Ms. Drude Dahlerup, Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University and Honorary Professor at Roskilde University, Sweden, and Dalia Zakhary, Lawyer and MENA Regional Expert, Egypt, held the session on enabling women’s participation and supporting democratization through institutional changes: constitution, electoral system and quota system.

Drude  Dahlerup - Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University and Honorary Professor at Roskilde University, Sweden – presenting How to empower women and support democratization through institutional changes (constitution, electoral system, quota system)

They were followed by Amanda Gouws, SARChi Chair in Gender Politics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Jinene Limam, Assistant professor at the Faculty of Legal, Political and Social Sciences in Tunis, Tunisia, and Fathia Benabbou, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Algiers, Algeria. Together, they opened a space on building the electoral system after the conflict and related challenges.

Second session on building the electoral system after the conflict and related challenges

For the third session, Ms. Nafissa Lahrèche, Founder and President of the Algerian Association for Women in Communication, Algeria and Ms. Cecilia Cordova, Coordinator for the Project INSPIRED+, Bolivia, shared their analysis on reforms of electoral system, political parties and the role of the civil society in the electoral process.

Ms. Cecilia Cordova Liendo - Coordinator for the Project INSPIRED+, Bolivia, presents "How civil society made Bolivia’s electoral system more inclusive"

On the second day, Ms. Rana Mitri, ESCWA - NAFS Team Leader for Governance, Institutions Building, Democratization, and  Ms. Lama Kannout, General Coordinator of CSWD, from Syria, focused on the Challenges to have a Democratic Electoral Process in Syria during the first session in order to give the tools for the working groups to elaborate an Electoral system that will favor women’s participation and gender equality in Syria.

Ms. Rana Mitri, Mr. Omar Alshaar and Ms. Lama Kannout focuses on the Challenges to have a Democratic Electoral Process in Syria

Working groups have also been organized to involve all participants to define the Electoral system favoring women’s participation and gender equality in Syria. The day ended with the analysis of the role of the Civil Society and the support given by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for gender sensitive electoral system.

This two-day International provided an interactive space for exchange of knowledge and lessons learned from good and bad practices and experiences of existing electoral systems. It enabled an open discussion on the optimal electoral system promoting the political participation of women in Syria as voters and candidates, supporting the efforts of Syrian human right, women’s rights activists to form alliances and advocate for best options, taking lessons from other countries.

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