The Government’s Gender Quotas Proposal
// December 19th, 2011 // GE11
The proposal on electoral gender quotas are just the sort boneheaded solution to a problem that ends up giving the problem a bad name. Candidate Quotas will not attract the sort of women who are currently inclined to avoid contesting elections because of the well touted 4 C’s of Cash, Culture, Childcare and Confidence. Quotas do not provide childcare, and they will not fund-raise to pay for posters, election literature or the hiring of halls for public meetings, and it is hard to see what confidence a person can get from being added to the ticket in order to fulfil a quota rather than being nominated like any other candidate. Instead Candidate Quotas favour the usual sort of middle class, middle aged women who have the right sort of connections with the party hierarchy. Not that there is anything wrong with middle aged, middle class women being actively involved in electoral politics and there have been many fine examples of same down the years. And having to get nominated and win election against others irrespective of gender did them no harm at all.
The basic fact is that women are not excluded from standing either in elections or party conventions. The evidence as presented by the Yes side clearly shows that those women who make the decision to contest elections stand the same chances of being elected as men, and have even better odds than their male colleagues if they are members of political parties. There is no evidence either that women are less likely to win out at party conventions when they choose to contest them; quite the opposite.
The real problem is not that women as a group are excluded for standing for election; it is that individual women decide not to contest for entirely sensible reasons – none of which are addressed by the creation of quotas. In effect, we are saying to people who choose not to apply for a particular job, because of its nature, that we will not change the job description but instead will give them free pass on the first round of interviews. Why would anyone decide to apply for a job they weren’t previously interested in, simply because they would have to overcome one less hurdle in order to get it?
The recourse to charges of being conservative or backward simply because a person finds the case for the use of quotas to be unproven demonstrates the lack of substance underpinning these proposals. There is considerable disquiet across the political spectrum at the top down nature of the changes. This proposal was not part of Fine Gael New Politics document presented at the last party conference in 2010, nor have the ordinary membership ever had an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the broader issue of encouraging wider participation in elections beyond the narrow pool of family members of previous elected representatives, teachers, members of the legal profession and so on. It is worth highlighting that one direct consequences of this legislation at the next general election is to protect all sitting male Oireachtas members from any challenge from other men at party conventions.
It is time that local party organisations of all parties realise the practical impact of these measures and that the electorate more broadly realise that these measures will do nothing to assist the many women and men who decide elections are not for them. Many women and men, who actually know at first-hand what is involved in contesting elections, recognise that these misguided and misinformed proposals are transplanted from entirely different electoral systems. No other country with our electoral system has used gender quotas. No evidence has been produced that shows party conventions is where the core of the problem lies. Nor will the changes proposed be applied equally to all those who wish to contest an election, independents who receive state funding through the leaders allowance are exempt.
The most ludicrous aspect is that if enforcing a quota of 30% doesn’t work that it will, within 7 years, be increased to 40%. If that doesn’t work it will be doubtlessly increased further, until such time as the public conforms to the expectations of those who have the ear of the minister.
That the current situation in regard of the make up of the Oireachtas is unacceptable should not mean that any old notion not matter how badly thought out must be adopted. Surely that is a form of electoral correctness gone mad.