Application of Special Temporary Measures (Quotas) in Armenia in Support of Women in Armenia: Prehistory and Assessment of Effectiveness

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The application of special temporary measures (quotas) is a widely used and effective tool in ensuring the opportunities for women during elections, as well as overcoming the obstacles that they face. The need to apply this tool is widely discussed and stipulated in a number of international documents, as well as programs and laws adopted in Armenia. The Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia has stipulated this principle from as early as 2000, and from this perspective the issues of “being for or against the quotas” are no longer up for contention. Nevertheless, in public perception and in the political life some relics of the question still persist, even though it is being gradually transformed into a discussion on the size of quotas and their effectiveness.       

There are three types of quotas used throughout the world: 

-          Legally stipulated specific number of seats in the parliament. As a result of these kinds of quotas women constitute 58% of parliamentarians in Rwanda, 25% in Afghanistan, 27% in Iraq.        

-          Voluntary quotas, which are agreed upon within the parties in order to sustain gender parity. This is the broadly used quota type in the world. These kinds of norms were first introduced in the 70s in Western Europe by a number of social-democratic parties. In Scandinavian countries, where quotas were introduced due to the grass movements of women, witness the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world. Generally, voluntary party quotas are a fact of life in more than half of the EU member states.

-          Legally stipulated certain numbers of positions in the party lists during elections. This kind of quotas is used in a number of states, including Armenia.


Legal Foundations of Quotas

Normative legal base that de jure guarantees the full-fledged participation of women in the political life of Armenia, particularly in electoral processes, includes:

  • International documents concerning gender equality ratified by the Republic of Armenia and obligations stemming from the ratification of these documents; 
  • The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, State Gender Policy Concept Note and Strategic program of 2011-2015, national legislation, including the Law on ensuring the equal rights and opportunities of women and men of the Republic of Armenia and the Electoral Code.


International Obligations of Armenia Concerning the Application of Special Temporary Measures

The directive to apply special temporary measures (quotas) in order to ensure the appropriate participation of women is part and parcel of the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) adopted in 1979[1]. Article 4 of the convention requires that "adoption...of special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination."  In 2009, The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised its concerns upon the receipt of the third and fourth annual reports from Armenia, stating that 15% quota stipulated in the electoral code is not effective, suggesting discussing the possibility of raising the bar beyond 20%[2].

The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action introduced strategic goals, stipulating the participation of women in directive bodies and decision-making processes, identifying concrete and coordinated activities aimed at the improvement of political engagement of women. Although the UN principles of gender equality in decision-making bodies is based on 50/50 % representation of both genders, the Beijing Platform also mentioned the concept of  “critical mass”, which is defined as the minimal opportunity of women to affect decision-making, thus, requiring at least 30% representation, most particularly in parliaments.

The minimal 30% presence of women is the benchmark that would create the foundation for a 50/50 representation by 2030. This vision of gender equality was stipulated in the concluding session of Beijing+20, on March 5, 2015, in the political declaration[3] on behalf of heads of UN member states and was ratified on September 27, 2015, during the meeting[4] of World Leaders, finding its place in the Sustainable Development Goals[5].

Prior to that, the Millennium Development Goals (2000) through the adaption of Goal 3 on “promoting gender equality and empowering women” by the Government of Armenia, defined target indicators[6]  that by 2015, would ensure at least 25% representation of women MPs, ministers, deputy ministers and governors (marzpets), however, the 2015 National Report on the Progress of MDGs stated that this target was not met[7].

In European document, a particular importance is attached to the participation of women in electoral processes and particularly to the mechanisms that would help to enlarge it, which Armenia has ratified within its membership in CoE.

The CoE Ministerial Committee already in 2003 through its adopted Resolution No. 3 defined the benchmark of female representation in decision-making, which was no less than 40%[8]. In 2006, during the Sixth CoE Ministerial Conference on Gender Equality, Armenia voted for the set benchmark to be achieved by 2020[9].

The optimal ratio of male and female representation of 40/60 was introduced to the PACE 2010 Resolution No. 1706 on Electoral Systems as Tools to Enhance the Representation of Women in Political Life[10], calling upon the CoE member states to discuss the legal issues related to quotas, not only touching upon the (ideal 40%) high proportion of female representation in electoral lists, but also the sequencing of male and female candidates. The document also discussed the application of sanctions against parties (preferably in a form of refusing candidates, instead of paying fines).

The 2012 CoE Resolution No. 1898 on Political Parties and Women’s Political Representation[11] highlighted the obligation of the parties to ensure gender balance in terms of engaging women and promoting their numbers and progress within their structures and throughout the society. The member states to CoE should transition from gender quotas to the principle of equality: this is the directive issued by PACE in its April 2016 session through the adopted Resolution No. 2111 on Assessment on the Activities aimed at the Improvement of Political Engagement of Women[12]. It states that the most effective means for the engagement of women in politics is the provision of quotas; especially where sanctions are applied in cases when legal provisions are not being upheld. For the long run, in order for the quotas to be effective, other support measures are required[13].The similar report that served as the basis for the resolution[14] highlights the importance of legal provisions regarding quotas in the member states.  The report states that recently quotas have been introduced in Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, etc. The share of women in the parliaments of these countries ranges from 41.1% in Spain to 10.7% in Armenia.

Although efforts are taken to improve the equality, non discrimination and representation of women in respective parliaments of member states, the PACE finds it not fully satisfied by the level of representation currently. Regardless of the fact that more than half of the population of the member states is female (according to the data provided in the report out of 826 mln total 426 mln are women in Europe), 1/3 of these countries have a female representation rate that is below 20%. This level of representation distorts the essence of a representative body. It is high time to act on it. Member states should revisit their electoral procedures, they are obliged to adopt effective measures that would improve women’s participation, which in the long run would ensure effectiveness and sustainability,” states the report.


The Introduction of Quotas in the National Legislation

The obligations assumed by Armenia under the above stated international documents related to the improvement of political engagement of women has made the country to take the initial steps in adopting the principles provided by those documents, including the introduction of gender quota.

Particularly, in 2010, the Government of Armenia adopted the Concept Note on Gender Policy, where it was stipulated that in executive and legislative bodies of the country at levels of decision-making the representation of women and men means the following:

…According to the obligations of the Republic of Armenia to introduce change to the Electoral Code, applying 30% gender quota, taking into account the 40/60% share directive provided by the CoE and take necessary steps for gradual improvement of representation of women in highest and senior positions at all levels of executive branch.

…To stimulate those parties that through their actions follow the continued democratization, when forming the governing bodies they take intro account the gender aspect and support the progress of women in electoral lists in order to ensure the gender balanced representation[15].”

According to the State Strategic Program (2011-2015) on Gender Policy it is yet again planned to increase the activities aimed at the application of special temporary measures:

Apply special measures in order to ensure 30% representation of women in legislature and decision making levels of the executive branch[16].”

The legal guarantees of special measures are stipulated in the Law on equal rights and opportunities of women and men (article 12):

“…In order to reach a balanced representation of women and men the state can define special temporary measures in elected bodies for the persons from the underrepresented gender (provision 3).

…In elections parties are to participate with candidates’ lists based on gender representation as defined by the quotas stipulated in the law (provision 4).”

The participation of women in elections is to some extent also ensured by the Electoral Code, moreover with a quite gender sensitive definition, i.e. through the provision of a certain proportion of representation based on gender in the list of candidates from the political parties. Nevertheless, if the quota guaranteeing the representation of women has increased four-fold (from 5% in 2003 to 15% in 2007 and 20% in 2012 elections), in the same period the representation of women in the National Assembly has increased only two-fold, from 5.3% to 10%.  

On May 25, of 2016, the newly adopted Electoral Code ensured number of provisions concerning gender sensitive formulation of candidates’ lists from the parties and establishment of committees responsible for the election process[17]. Particularly, the share of gender based representation of candidates in national and local elections has been set at 30/70[18].


Assessment of Effectiveness of Applied Quotas

In the Electoral Code the women’s NGOs have played an active role in pushing for the provision of gender quotas with their recommendations before the 2012 parliamentary elections and now, when the new code was being adopted. However, their recommendations have been incorporated only on a partial basis.

Although, already in 2008, the women’s NGOs suggested the 30/70 share of gender quotas for party lists[19] with male and female candidates taking at most every third position consecutively, in 2012, before the parliamentary elections, only 20/80 share was introduced in the code. 

As the results of the 2012 elections show, on average in party lists women stood at 23%, however, in the end when in the parliament their overall share amounted to only 10.7% (now down to 10%). This fact already shows the ineffectiveness of the applied gender quota.

According to expert evaluations[21], “gender quota lost its intended impact power when the parties after the elections shifted positions and used withdrawals that remained unclear to the public.” According to the data of the Central Electoral Commission, 25% of MPs that used their right to withdraw were women. The male MPs took their places, even though the women’s NGOs, in trying to keep the effect of the quota in place, had suggested reserving those places only for female candidates, so that if they withdraw, the female MP next on the party list takes the place[22].

OSCE/ODIHR elections observation mission of 2012, in its final report on parliamentary elections negatively evaluated the process of withdrawal, stating that “the large number of elected candidates that had taken the option of withdrawal is concerning from the perspective of respecting the voters’ choice.” In addition, concerning the effectiveness of quotas they have made the following statement:

“…The effectiveness of quotas as a special temporary measure for candidates needs to be revised in order to reach the de facto equality of rights and opportunities in their role of candidates.

…The parties need to be encouraged to have gender policies and publicly provide the gender sensitive data on membership. It would be conducive to discuss the engagement of women in their governing bodies, as well as adopt more transparent and democratic means of development of party lists[23].”

The discriminatory definition of quotas in the Electoral Code also played a role in generating the negative impact, more particularly it concerned the section on “from the second position in within each five-step intervals 2-6, 2-11, 2-16 and so on,” which gave the possibility to the parties participating in the elections to include female candidates starting from only the sixth position, this is in a situation, when the minimum requirement for the party to enter the parliament is to ensure the first five seats. As a result of this, a reversal from 2007 results was registered, when within the first five positions the number of women included in party lists had declined four-fold and two-fold within the first ten seats.

The non-satisfactory nature of the applied quota in Armenia is further seen within the context of the joint 2012 report on Women in Politics developed by Interparliamentary Union and UN-Women. It becomes clear that out of 59 countries, where in 2011 elections have been held; only 17 had quotas in place. In those countries, women have taken 27% of seats in the parliaments, whereas the countries without quotas have seen a 16% share of female MPs[24].


Gender Quota in the New Electoral Code

The Constitutional referendum of 2015 transformed Armenia into a parliamentary republic, which increased the weight of parliamentary elections that now are only going to have proportional system with both open and closed lists being introduced[25]. The recommnedations of women’s NGOs were based on the results of the previous elections, opinion polls, as well as obligations of Armenia stemming from the international documents and national legislation.

The recommendations provided by women’s NGOs are based on the following arguments[26]

  • Regarding women’s representation in the national Assembly and at decision-making levels, Armenia is significantly behind the world indicators. Interparliamentray Union’s data[27] suggests that the average representation rate of women globally through their parliaments stands at 22.7%, which means that out of every five parliamentarians in the world at least one is a woman. The highest rates are in Northern Europe with a share of 41.1%, in OSCE member states the rate of female representation stands at 25.7%. The lowest rate of participation of women is registered in countries of Arab World (18.3%) and Pacific region (13.5%). Meanwhile, the level of representation of women in the parliament of Armenia is 10.7%, which clearly shows the existence of discriminatory practices, incomplete utilization of political rights and absolutely inefficient application of human capital in public administration and management, particularly, when taking into consideration that fact that women in Armenia comprise 52% of the population, while among persons with higher education qualifications their share is 60%.

  • The surveys have shown that political parties in Armenia are more conservative in their approach to quotas and issues of female representation in the parliament than the general public, which are ready to see more women in the legislature that the parties put on their lists. 57% of the respondents support the application of gender quotas in different levels of political leadership and public administration. Specifically, quotas for legislature have to fall within the range of 30-40%.

  • The need for application of quotas becomes more obvious from the dynamics of female representation in the parliament, when observing the elections right from the moment of independence. From 1995 when the first National Assembly was elected up to 2015 with the fifth one being in power, the share of women has grown from initial 6% to 10%. If this rate of change is sustained, Armenia will not be able to reach parity by 2030. The simplest of calculations, shows that in upcoming elections a tangible change would be possible if the quota is set at 30% benchmark along with its effective application.

  • The raised bar would also force the parties to start seriously considering policies of party engagment and progress of women, as well as get rid of an approach of involving „non real candidates” in their party lists[28]

  • „The first two positions of electoral lists of parties, coalitions and each party included in the coalition to reserve for candidates of both genders and starting from the 3rd position for every 3 positions consecutively ensure that any of the genders takes maximum 70%.

  • In regional (local) electoral lists each participating party should ensure that each of both genders does not exceed the share of 70%.

  • In electoral lists of parties, in cases when less represented gendered person opts for withdrawal that place passes on to the next reprsentative of the same less represented gendered candidate.

  • In local elections in the big or agglomerated communities[29] it is needed to transition to proportional electoral systems such as in Yerevan[30].

  • The above stated measures that are changed in the Electoral Code need to be combined with the application of auxiliary measures that would imrpove the political participation of women, allowing them to be more competitive within their parties.”

These recommendations have been reflected partially in the Electoral Code. In 2016, the newly adopted Electoral Code for instance[31] has included the recommendation on cases of MPs resigning and as a result of that any of the genders becomes less representated than 25%, then the mandate is being passed to the representative of the same gender, who is on the party list. It is important that now through the proportional electoral system in Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor none of the genders can be less represented than 25%[32]. In essence, these provisions guarantee that in elected bodies there will be no factions without women. 

Apart from that, according to the Electoral Code[33] in the national and local party lists the ratio of genders is going to be 30 to 70. In the national electoral party lists, the gender representation is going to have a form of one female per triplet of candidates starting from the first place. The 30 to 70 proportion is applied to the party lists for proportional electoral system in the local elections, so that Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor councils are going to be elected through it. However, the transitional and concluding provisions[34] stipulate that the above stated changes are going to become effective only from 2022, and before that, 25 to 75 ratio is going to be operational.  

This approach has raised concerns among the Women’s NGOs, which put forward yet another recommendation, i. e. apply 30 to 70 ratio in 2017 elections[35]. It was rejected with the justification that it was not reasonable to introduce abrupt changes to quotas, as they can create internal problems for the parties. Whereas the distribution of mandates in the Electoral Code for the case of the national elections through the closed combination and for local elections through the open combination, is going to lead to the deviation from the 30 to 70 ratio for the party lists. Moreover, taking into consideration that women are going to be underrepresented in open local lists, which is being raised by the experts, including the Venice Commission observation[36], the de facto number of women in the elected bodies is going to be no more than 15%, and in the case of 25 to 75 ratio for the parliament is going to result in less than 12% of representation of women. From this perspective, the postponement is not justified, and abrupt increase of the number of women in the upcoming elections is not going to occur. 

Currently, when the new Electoral Code is adopted, the only issue is to ensure the effectiveness of the application of the stipulated quota in the upcoming elections of 2017. It is necessary to realise that the quota is a tool that works well if combined with other supportive measures and in a reality when there are certian preconditions fulfilled in a given society. The most important preconditions are the strong women’s movement, the support of the state and the responsibility of the parties. The fulfillment of those preconditions already requires concerted action and commitment in order not to be late.




[1] The UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) requires the member states to “guarantees women equality in political and public life with a focus on equality in voting, participation in government, and participation in "non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country,” (Article 7)

[2] The final recommendations of the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, 43rd session, 2009, 


[3] Political Declaration off the Fourth World Conference of Women’s Issues during 20th Anniversary (ECOSOC), March 5, 2015,,%202015_final%20and%20sent.pdf

[4]Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action 27 September 2015, New York, United Nations

[5] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

[6] The Adaptation and Progress Report of MDGs, National Report, Armenia, 2005

[7] Armenia: Progress Report on MDGs, 2015

[8] Recommendation Rec(2003)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making;

[9] 6th European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men ; Resolution Achieving gender equality

[10] Increasing women’s representation in politics through the electoral system Resolution 1706 (2010)

[11] Resolution 1898 (2012) Political parties and women’s political representation

[12] PACE Resolution No. 2111 (2016) Assessment on the Activities aimed at the Improvement of Political Engagement of Women

[13] The resolution suggests to solve the problem via application of universal means, which would include the ones aimed at supporting women, i. e. quotas, creation of possibilities for women to combine their personal lives with the engagement in politics, financing aimed at the encouragement of female participation and engagement in parties, as well as sanctions if these means are not being applied.

[14] PACE Report on Assessment on the Activities aimed at the Improvement of Political Engagement of Women

[16] State Strategic Program on Gender Policy (2011-2015)

[17] Provisions concerning the representation of women in Central Electoral Commission and other precinct committees were already stipulated in the previous Code. Due to those provisions already in 2012 elections, 3 out of 7 members of Central Electoral Commission were women, whereas in precinct ones the overall share are 30.5%.

[18] Electoral Code of RA, adopted on march 25, 2016, Articles  83.4; 83.10; 130.2

[19] The recommendations have been presented by the Association of women with university education and 23 other NGOs in 2008 and have been considered in 2012, when amending the Electoral Code

[20] Electoral Code of Ra, Article 108, adopted in 2011

[21] Political participation of women in 2012 parliamentary elections, Association of women with university education, Yerevan, 2012; Participation for Changes, Results for Qualitative Researches, Caucasus Sociological Research Center, Oxfam 2012

[22] This recommendation was only approved in 2016, when it got incorporated in the new Electoral Code through a separate article.

[23] OSCE/ODIHR mission's final report, June 26, 2012:

[24]Michelle Bachelet. Highlights Quotas to Accelerate Women’s Political Participation.

[25] According to the assessment of experts of Venice Commission, in case of closed lists, everything depends on parties, whereas the introduction of open lists could result in lower numbers of representation for women, as in case of open lists the voters are not required to make their selection based on gender, instead open lists are going to play into the hands of well known male candidates. Report on the impact of electoral systems on women’s representation in politics. European commission for democracy through law (Venice commission), June 2009

[26] The ratio of 30/70 representation in the parliament was the initiative of four different organizations, Gender thematic group that operates under the co-chairmanship of the UN, OSCE and the Government and unites representatives ands experts from 60 local and international organizations, the Association of Women with University Education that unites around 30 regional branches, the Association of Young Lawyers of Armenia with its 3 regional offices, as well as two committees of the Public Council.


[28] Suggestions on the improvement of women’s participation in politics provided by the Gender Thematic Group

[29] Achieving sustainable gender equality in local and regional political life / Resolution 303 (2010) / The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe 

[30]According to NSS data the presence of women in urban community councils is almost half of the required benchmark, i. e. 5.1% less than in rural communities. In all of the marz level urban community councils the overall number of women is 30. Only 18 out of 866 rural communities have female community heads (2%), in urban communities there were never female mayors registered.  

[32] Electoral Code, May 25, 2016 / article100.3; 141.6; 141.8;

[33] Electoral Code, May 25, 2016 / articles  83.4; 83.10; 130.2

[34] Electoral Code, May 25, 2016  / article 144 points 14, 15 and 16

[35] Suggestion of the Gender Thematic Group to be introduced in the Electoral Code

[36] In parliamentary elections the application of location based lists is not going to guarantee that the de facto number of women is going to be at the stipulated level of the quotas. The experts of Venice Commission have mentioned about it in their observation provided on May 10, 2016, see point 117 ( Armenia – preparation of the preliminary opinion on the draft electoral code ): Apart from that the Report on the Representation of Women through Electoral Systems of 2009 states that open or free list application can lead to lower numbers of women being represented (point 80), see the Report on the impact of electoral systems on women’s representation in politics . European commission for democracy through law (Venice commission), June 2009