Women’s right to participate in public life on an equal basis with men is inscribed in numerous human rights documents, including art. 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and art. 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Given that equal treatment laws have generally failed to address the manifest inequality of outcome in relation to men and women’s political participation rates, affirmative action strategies in the form of gender quotas have emerged as a central mechanism for securing this right, with advocates arguing that a recognition of the special needs of women as a group may be a ‘precondition to the realization of the “universal” human rights of that group’ (Lacey 2004:49). However, while art. 4 of CEDAW specifies that ‘temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination’, much of the controversy surrounding the adoption of gender quotas relates to their perceived repudiation of the principle of equal treatment with respect to equal merit.
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