Support affirmative action policies and Temporary Special Measures (TSMs), such as quota systems

Affirmative action policies and Temporary Special Measures (TSMs), such as quota systems, can play a crucial role in dismantling systemic inequalities and promoting more inclusive and diverse societies. They can influence structural, social and cultural changes necessary to correct past and current forms and effects of discrimination against women.

As such, they are concrete and well-proven actions to reduce the gaps between men and women in economic, social, and political spheres and are vital for sustainable human development by accelerating progress towards gender equality and challenging deeply ingrained biases. Well-designed TSMs in election processes can effectively promote the exercise and enjoyment of political rights of women.



Although enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), requesting State Parties that have ratified CEDAW are required to adopt and implement TSMs to accelerate the equal participation of women in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field, TSMs are still met with skepticism in some contexts. We know today that although TSMs create the opportunity to increase the numbers of women elected to office, they can, if not sustained

with ongoing advocacy on the importance of women’s active role in political life and with sustained funding and programming be met with backlash.  This programmatic option outlines concrete steps on key consideration when supporting the adoption and implementation of TSMs. It also includes practical advice on how to address backlash against the TSMs.


In situations and contexts with growing pushback against gender equality the introduction of TSMs can be a powerful to turn the discourse around and address stereotypes and biases hindering women’s full engagement in political life. For instance, in 2023 UNDP’s Gender Social Norm Index report showed that nearly half the world’s population believe that men make better political leaders than women do, pointing towards global biases against women’s political participation which can either lead to, or feed into, backsliding and pushback. 

To target potential backlash a strategic, multifaceted and inclusive approach, combining different areas of education, advocacy, and collaboration, is needed for it’s acceptance. Some key elements to consider when developing TSMs are:

  1. Awareness-raising:
    • Develop comprehensive educational campaigns to raise awareness about the importance and benefits of gender equality.
    • Highlight the purpose and positive impact of temporary special measures in addressing inequalities.
  1. Engage different stakeholders:
    • Identify and engage key stakeholders, including government officials, community leaders, and influential figures, to build support for gender equality initiatives.
    • Collaborate with NGOs, advocacy groups, and other relevant actors to create a united front and strengthen collaboration.
  1. Communicate success stories:
    • Share success stories of societies or organizations that have successfully implemented gender equality measures.
    • Highlight the positive outcomes and benefits of gender equality and inclusion, for both men and women.
  1. Advocate policies:
    • Emphasize the legality and legitimacy of gender equality measures, including temporary special measures, within existing national and international legal frameworks.
    • Advocate for the development and enforcement of laws and policies that promote gender equality.
  1. Promote inclusivity:
    • Advocacy efforts stressing that gender equality benefits everyone by creating a more inclusive and diverse society is critical. 
    • Highlight how increased diversity leads to better decision-making and economic growth.
  1. Address concerns:
    • Actively listen to concerns and objections raised by individuals or groups opposed to gender equality measures.
    • Provide evidence-based responses to debunk myths or misconceptions.
  1. Engage men as allies:
    • Emphasize the importance of men as allies in the fight for gender equality by showcasing examples of men who support and actively promote gender equality.
  1. Promote dialogue:
    • Facilitate open and constructive dialogue between different groups to foster understanding and bridge gaps in perspectives.
    • Encourage a culture of respectful discussion on the importance of gender equality.
  1. Monitor and evaluation:
    • Implement a robust monitoring and evaluation system to track the effectiveness of gender equality measures.
    • Use data and results to continuously refine and improve strategies.


Enabling environment 

As mentioned, the effort to support the introduction of TSMs may be anchored in long-term women’s leadership and political participation programming, parliamentary support programmes or electoral assistance. Programmes aimed at overcoming obstacles to women’s political participation and leadership – both at the individual or structural levels – are important catalysts and enablers for efforts to introduce and maintain TSMs. While electoral assistance projects can prove to serve as a catalyst or entry point; it may form part of a broader governance programme and/or multipronged effort which involves a wide range of actors and activities such as; advocacy campaign to address discriminatory laws affecting women’s lives, policy reform against such discriminatory laws, awareness-raising of negative social and cultural norms hindering women’s full participation in political and electoral processes, to mention a few examples. 


A successful advocacy campaign to bring about a TSM can take time. This is also critical to note for post-conflict contexts, where it might be pivotal to negotiate early after in the aftermath of conflict or crisis.  

A campaign to build the momentum for the adoption of TSMs needs to be planned around the electoral cycle; pre, during and post-election periods. Different forms of TSMs will have different timing implications. 

To plan and execute a successful TSM campaign, it is critical to know when key decisions and actions need to take place., advocacy campaigns for the consideration of TSMs in the legal framework for elections should be planned as far in advance of an electoral event as they possible can be. 



A wide range of actors can be involved in the implementation. The introduction of TSMs is a decision made by policymakers, legislators, and relevant authorities, including government authorities, judicial bodies or legislative bodies, such as parliament, that are mandated to pass laws that introduce temporary special measures to promote equal representation. As highlighted in the UN Policy Directive “Promoting women’s electoral and political participation through UN electoral assistance”, in line with the principle of national ownership, the UN may recommend implementing TSMs to national authorities, leaving it up to their decision to adopt them. Convening spaces where the various options can be discussed, or providing an independent expert that can advise on the various options and their applicability to the national context, may be amongst the options for UN/UNDP engagement. 

Arriving to a point where TSMs are introduced into law, civil society organization and advocacy groups can play a key role in awareness-raising efforts, especially by showcasing success stories and underlining its added value, while creating a demand and buy-in for TSMs at the grassroot level. Essentially any organization with a mandate or goal to strengthening the inclusiveness and representativeness of institutions and processes can play an important part in creating an enabling environment for the successful introduction of TSMs; involving activities such as awareness-raising activities, capacity-building efforts to overcoming obstacles to women’s political participation, and communication and advocacy efforts addressing discriminatory laws. 

It is important to note here that the specific factors involved may vary depending on the context, the nature of the measures, and the legal and political systems in place. Additionally, international standards and conventions may provide guidance with regards to the decision to implement temporary special measures in certain situations.



TSMs can send a powerful message that diversity is not only valued but essential for building equitable societal development. They create pathways for individuals who may have been traditionally excluded or marginalized, fostering a culture of inclusivity, and breaking down barriers that perpetuate discrimination. By promoting the active participation of underrepresented groups, these policies contribute to the creation of more representative and responsive institutions, reflecting the diversity of the broader population and ultimately strengthening social cohesion.

The greater the attention drawn to the relevance of TSMs, the higher is the likelihood of its acceptance by societies. A thorough communications plan is therefore vital for those wishing to implement any form of TSMs to seek wider public attention and support. Getting key influencers and champions on board can be beneficial and investing in training of the media to ensure a clear understanding of the proposed TSMs will counter any potential backlash  and/or misinforming of the public. 

In light of that, an effective TSMs campaign makes the following considerations: 

  • The campaign should be led by a robust (set of) national organization(s). Such organizations should be inclusive, have a stellar reputation, and boast a mix of skills and influential networks;
  • The campaign’s objective should be attainable;
  • A deep understanding of the political context should underpin the campaign to inform contextualized messaging;
  • Advocacy messaging should be impactful, and the selection of messengers should be strategic;
  • The campaign may consider rolling out different types of messages depending on the varying target audiences in a particular country ranging from rural communities to urban elites. 








Obstacles to the adoption of TSMs in the election process vary according to country contexts. Yet, 

backsliding and pushback against gender equality and women’s rights are common globally. They can sometimes take place in the context of a broader democratic backsliding, or, in other contexts, take place in the context of general backsliding on gender equality and women’s rights. 

Media and information contexts that are increasingly marked with high levels of gendered misinformation and hate speech fuel backlash on gender equality. It is therefore critical to keep thorough monitoring as well as engaging media and other involved to tackle disinformation and hate speech online.

Introducing TSMs can pose various challenges that warrant consideration. One primary challenge lies in the complexity of determining the criteria for identifying groups eligible for special measures if there is consideration beyond gender quotas, but also involving measures for women from marginalized communities, such as, for example, indigenous populations .. This process can be subjective and politically sensitive, raising questions about the fairness and objectivity of such categorizations. Additionally, defining the appropriate duration for implementing TSM presents a challenge, as finding a consensus on when the objectives of enhanced representation or reduced discrimination have been sufficiently met may prove difficult.

Another challenge is related to the potential creation of divisions among different social groups. Despite the intended goal of promoting inclusivity, the perception of preferential treatment for specific groups can foster resentment among others. This poses a risk of social tension and undermines the overarching objective of fostering a united and cohesive society. Striking a delicate balance that ensures the effectiveness of TSM without exacerbating social divisions requires thorough consideration of the specific context and potential repercussions. 





Why do TSMs matter? 

Although many formal barriers to women holding political office have been removed in many countries, gender gaps in political representation still persists and, in some countries, continues to remain high. Such obstacles often include entrenched social norms, stereotypes and gender bias. The positive effects of women’s representation in national parliament and gender equality in decision-making processes are well-documented. The International Parliamentary Union (IPU) showed in a survey in 2022 conducted in 65 countries that women’s presence in politics restores trust in government. It is also evident that it increases political attention to issues on social welfare and issues related to inclusive economies, care policies, legal protections, amongst other issues. TSMs can help overcome persistent biases and mitigate existing gender gaps. This is particularly important as women may not only experience discrimination based on gender, but they can also be based on intersecting forms of discrimination based on age, ethnicity, class and other. 

For more information about the concept of “intersectionality” and how to use an intersectional approach in programming, please refer to the programmatic option on “Support to the creation of intersectional spaces where women can engage among themselves and with other key partners”. 


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