Sick to death of senseless quota bashing

Life is funny sometimes. I was only telling someone today that I found it hard to blog regularly as I’m not a writer and that the blogging usually only takes off when I want to have a bit of rant! Well lo and behold… I want to get something off my chest.

I’m sick of reading articles ridiculing the idea of quotas as ‘unfair or undemocratic’ etc etc, blah, blah, blah). Never more so than when I read an article by Aideen Carberry on the new news website ( before work this morning.

With a promising title: ‘Gender Quotas: Treating the symptom rather than the cause?’ I was disappointed that no discussion or exploration of the so called ‘cause’ took place in the article. Instead, the author just went on a somewhat predictable quota bashing exercise.

Apparently quotas are ‘a quick fix that could have negative effects on our parliamentary democracy’. Really? What are these fabled negative effects? Will the Dáil crumble with more women entering the house? What about countries where quotas have worked, there are after all quite a number of them… nope, no mention – then again I suppose it would ruin the momentum of quota bashing if we were actually to stop and examine the research and evidence available. Such as that available on the Quota Project and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance websites. I’m not denying that there are pros and cons to introducing a quota but let us at least explore what these are rather than making useless sweeping statements.

Speaking of quotas, what does it actually mean? The term has been bandied about a good bit over the past few months and little consideration is paid to actually specifying what type of quota is being referenced. There are a number of different options for quotas but one specific quota recommended in the 2009 Oireachtas Report on Women’s Participation in Politics (available here). This quota would require political parties to field both men and women at candidate selection procedures, with a financial penalty for parties who fail to enforce the quota. Legislation would be needed to introduce the quota and usually it has a ‘sunset’ clause, which is a fixed date when the legislation lapses – the idea being gender parity in political office would be the norm by then and no longer need legislation. I often find when discussing the idea of quotas with friends and colleagues, that when you explain what the actual proposal is, opinions change as the image of women being frog marched into 83 seats of the Dáil fade from their minds.

Before I sign off lets look at the other argument put forward in the article this morning and often by those who share my leaning to the left that the Dáil is not representative of many groups, such as young people, Travellers, people with disabilities to name but a few. I share the concerns that many groups aren’t represented in our parliament. Yet, I fail to see the logic in denying a solution to one group in order to gain representation for another. Gender intersects all other groups and as such has the biggest potential to transform our political system. It’s also foolish to assume that the reasons why women are excluded from the status quo is the same reason why Travellers are excluded or indeed any other group, so applying the same solution to all is hardly the best step forward.

What we have in front of us at the moment is unequivocal data which demonstrates that half of our population, the women of Ireland, are excluded from our highest decision making systems. What we also have is recent research carried out by the Oireachtas that quotas at candidate selection procedures are the most effective way to achieve gender parity. The report also acknowledges the other issues which force women out of politics – known as the five C’s and conveniently ignored by Aideen Carberry in her original article.

I have yet to hear a solid argument against quotas, yet I’m pretty sure they are out there and very valid. It would be nice to have a discussion based on those rather than the silliness we’re currently presented with.

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6 Responses to Sick to death of senseless quota bashing

  1. sinéad says:

    In France parties don’t get same amount of public funding if they don’t have same amount as women / men up for election and some parties have chosen to do without the
    funding, is this true?
    Loved your ranting by the way.

  2. Tairin Biasci says:

    I agree with you… most of the times the arguments against quotas system are absolutely stupid.
    I have been discussing it with a guy on FB, but from an Italian point of view… what I mean is that in Italy there is quite an attitude towards always finding a way to go over the Law and respecting it only apparently. So one of his arguments was that they would be useless because of that. But then there seems to be a general idea that if women don’t get a place in politics or do not arrive to senior/leader positions is because they lose time complaining about an unfair system rather than trying to do their best to get there. This piss me off in such a way that I can’t describe… Generally I feel there are mostly two reasons why people might be against quotas: 1. they think that very few women would be able to cover important position with talent; 2. they want to save their ass on those chairs.
    I mean comparing women with other groups is treating them as a minority, which women are not. We have to consider how discrimination on sex-basis is a widely spread phenomenon and that a female point of view in politics is essential to discuss the so-called “women’s issues” and to make them part of an effective political agenda.
    I hope I’ll be able to come to tomorrow’s meeting as I find the argument particularly interesting.

  3. Tommacg says:

    Thanks for the blog and the call for reasoned discussion.

    The only initial comment I’ll make is that the comment “usually it has a ‘sunset’ clause, which is a fixed date when the legislation lapses – the idea being gender parity in political office would be the norm by then and no longer need legislation.” is optimistic to say the least.

    But I’ll hold off full comment until I see the form my article in today’s issue of UCC Motley magazine has taken, post-editing. There should be two articles in it on the topic of gender quotas, so I’ll post my one for your perusal once I see it.

    Look forward to tomorrow evening,


  4. Hey Everyone,

    @Sinead, I think this is true so any whatever the sanction is it would need to be fairly hefty.

    @Tairin, it would be lovely to see you at the meeting and hear you discuss this issue.

    @Tom, I agree with you that my statement was optimistic – I wasn’t necessarily saying that will happen, more thats the theory of what would happen! Post us the links to the motley articles and we’ll send it around to the wider mailing list!


  5. Elaine says:

    Firstly apologies for not making another meeting! I was just what the general views from the meeting were?

    I know my view is going to be unpopular but I don’t really agree with gender quotas. To me asking for a helping had is basically admitting that we need it. As a matter of interest why is it that women can’t succeed in politics? Are there just no good female politicians out there? If women can break the glass ceiling into the old boys club of surgery (where I work), I can’t understand why they can’t do it in the political arena also

    • Hey Elaine,

      Thanks for the comment! There was general agreement from the speakers and those present that quotas are needed to rectify the balance in the current political system. There was also a lot of agreement to the point that women aren’t the only group underrepresented in the Dail and that they way we do politics in this country is deeply flawed. I think on the cover, quotas can seem like a very unequal unattractive solution to a very deeply ingrained problem. However, in the research carried out by the Oireachtas, it is clearly named as the most effective way to solve the current crisis. It is also clear that we need to tackle the other issues involve culture, confidence, cash and childcare. Taken together, they are now known as the 5C’s. The quota being suggested is at candidate selection procedure so it nots like women would automatically be elected – it just means that there would be an onus on parties to put forward a balanced panel for selection in each constituency. Female candidates will still have to win the selection convention and the election itself if they are to be elected. I wouldn’t agree with half the seats in the dail being automatically reserved but I do think allowing women the opportunity to go forward at party level is very important, given that most of the selection is done by men.


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