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 (teaandtoast.ie) 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.