Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gender Quotas

Last Friday there was an all-day conference held in Dublin Castle on the topic of how to get more women elected in Ireland. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend due to work commitments but from what I heard it was extremely well attended with good contributions from all participants. Of course, we won't mention the fact that less than 10% of those at the conference were male - so much for equality!
Anyway, the main strategy being pursued by this government is the introduction of gender quotas at candidate selection for political parties. The target is currently set to 30% at the next general election and this figure rises to 40% after a further seven years. The stick which which the parties will be hit is a 50% cut in funding from the public purse.
I am all for improving the representative nature of politics, not just women, but across income, education, age and ethnic divides, so I am generally in favour of the proposals. I certainly wouldn't go as far as Dan Sullivan's article in Friday's paper calling them boneheaded. However, there are a few items that I want to comment on.
No sunset clause
The use of gender quotas was sold during the last general election as a temporary measure to increase women's participation. Once a critical mass of women were elected there would be no further need for quotas as the number would be self-sustaining. Therefore rather than increase the target after seven years the measures should be rescinded.
Effect on small parties
The large parties (namely FG, Labour, FF and SF) should have no difficulty in reaching the mandated target. However, for smaller groups like the Socialists or a brand new party, who only have resources to run a few candidates and only a few people willing to stand, a cut in half their state funding could be fatal. There should be a minimum threshold of candidates below which the quota does not apply.
Only applying at General Elections
The quotas, and resultant cut in public funding, will only apply at general elections. Local elections are the training ground for new politicians and there are few candidates for larger parties in generals who have not already fought, if not won, a local election. If we were serious about increasing the number of women elected to the Dáil then the locals should have been included in the quota.
Selection convention chaos
There is going to be all out war at selection conventions across the country as local organizations have their decisions overturned and/or additional candidates imposed from Head Office as the party machine tries to ensure meeting the quota to ensure continued funding. This is going to be especially difficult for FG as they only managed to field about 15% women last time and have a lot of incumbents to accommodate.
One report I did hear from the meeting last Friday was repeated tales of women "being asked" to stand for election and of women not standing because "they weren't asked". This I don't understand, especially coming from the group of intelligent and capable women that spoke at the conference. Surely in this day and age you should just choose to stand and then build a campaign and a team around you. Not everything can be delivered on a plate you know!


  1. I have many issues with introducing discrimination policies into our political system - using Gender Quotas as an example, some of the issues I have in particular with them are:

    1. It's demeaning to women who already got in under the current system - tarring them with the brush of "here we'll help you get in because you can't get in any other way"
    2. Any man trying to get into politics now can pretty much forget about trying to run in FG - assuming they run 100 candidates at the next election (they ran 104 at the last one, and there's little to no chance that they'll run that many again at the next one!), and every one of the current TDs want to run for their seat again, there is a grand total of 5 seats available for new men trying to run (and 19 for women). I haven't worked out the numbers for other parties, but when it gets down to it, that's blatantly discriminatory against new men trying to run.
    3. If a woman is runs now, not only will she have to prove that she's suitable for the job (which she'd have to do anyway), she now will have a stigma associated with her of 'did she get selected because they had to find a woman, or was she genuinely the best candidate for the job' - this is a very tricky question to answer favourably, while still saying that discrimination is a good idea. On the other hand, the men running can demonstrate that they are so good they even managed to get past the obstacle of being the "wrong" gender.
    4. It's arbitrary - has anybody done studies on the make up of the Dáil by religious affiliation, sexual preference, education background, race, etc. etc., and determined that these are correctly "balanced"?
    5. If a similar discrimination policy was introduced say on school teachers (currently 90% female), so that women found it harder to enter teacher training college, there'd be an outcry!
    6. It's wide open to abuse - from what I recall, there's no limit on the number of candidates to run in any constituency, and the deposit system was eliminated - what's to stop a party from running 100 women in one constituency (e.g. one they never run in) just to "make up the numbers"?
    7. The fact that so few women run as independents would suggest that there's more to the dearth of women candidates than at the party level - it could be that they've more sense and don't want to be politicians!
    8. Sweden/Norway are often used as examples of how "great" discrimination policies are - despite the fact that they use a voluntary system, not a mandatory system that this entails.

    1. This would be one of my bug bears...
      In my view there is no such thing as 'Positive discrimination'.
      Discrimination is ALWAYS the wrong answer.
      Analysis is required of
      a) If less Females, Neuter or Transsexuals run for public office?
      Or b) If voters are less likely to vote for them?

  2. Oliver, you first, since the response is shorter :)

    The success rate of women in being elected once on the ballot paper was almost identical to that of the men in the election last February. So that would tend to rule out your second suggestion. Therefore it has to be the first and so the question is why? You should have a look at some of Claire McGing's research on this - the main problem is the culture within political parties. So I see no problem in forcing the parties to act a bit more evenly in selecting candidates.

    Andrew, we already had a go at this during the election but lets do it again!
    1) So because a few trailblazers are out there we should forget about leveling the playing pitch? Because Rosa Parks had a seat on the bus, there was no reason for the civil rights movement?
    2) Maybe if FG weren't such a male dominated party in the first place, there wouldn't need to be such measures. If FG run a one person, one vote type selection convention there is no guarantee that incumbents will be re-selected. Thirdly, FG are voting for the legislation so you'd think if they had a big problem with it they'd not be supporting it. Anyway, based on the age profile at least 20 TDs in FG will be retiring.
    3) Straw man. Once on the ballot paper, each candidate will have to show they're the best person for the job. All this is doing is improving the equality of opportunity, not outcome. We can still have 166 grey men in grey suits if that's what the voters want.
    4) I would have no problem with age profiling of candidates in proportion to census figures. Religion not so much in a republic where we're meant to have separation of church and state.
    5) The CAO system is gender blind, selection of candidates is obviously not.
    6) Nothing, except that the party will only get expenses for candidates that get at least a quarter of the quota. I'd be all in favour of longer ballot papers. More exciting counts and we could actually get some good candidates elected. Minimal candidates is an Irish thing - in Malta and Australia, elections under PR-STV actually run huge numbers of candidates to provide maximum voter choice.
    7) That's down to the four C's issue and the overall attitude and practice of politics in this country. Just coz that's broken too doesn't mean we shouldn't tackle the candidate selection problem first.
    8) Perhaps, but we've had 80 years to put voluntary codes into practice and done exactly fuck all about it. Times up.

    1. 1. It's not levelling the playing field - it's explicitly inserting discrimination points to guarantee a desired outcome (i.e. require more women to get selected).
      2. Perhaps women FG members simply don't want to run? If there was any desire for this at the party level, why haven't they pushed for a voluntary code in their own party to do it, or are they just afraid that if they have to do it and nobody else does that they'll be penalized (hence the push for making it mandatory across all parties)? Also - if the current incumbents are doing a good job, why shouldn't they be automatically re-selected?
      3. Not really. With all affirmative action approaches, there's a stigma being in the "minority interest group" that they got the selection purely because of their gender. It's up to them to prove that they got the selection legitimately. How can they do this?
      4. But where does it end? After gender, we introduce age. After age, sexual preference (too many straights?), then education (too many third-level graduates), then career background (too many publicans), etc.? And church/state being separate in this country - given that officially men/women are supposed to be treated the same in this country as well, the fact that you want to discriminate based on them to ensure "equality" would suggest that we'd also need to do the same for religion to make sure that there aren't too many issues being pushed in favour of one religion over another. I don't see a difference here.
      5. The CAO system is gender blind - but is the process to have people apply? Is there evidence that women are applying to be selected, and then rejected because of their gender, or is there something else?
      6. But what expenses are there to simply tag their name on a list? If it's a purely nefarious attempt to get around a silly law, why would they bother actually putting any investment into it? Re: long lists - I agree - personally I'm in favour of a single 150 seat constituency, as national politics are national issues, not local. That'd certainly make counting fun.
      7. But if the (alleged) four C's aren't eliminated first, then all we're going to get is poorly selected women?