Gender Quotas & Politics – candidate quotas can improve competency of candidates of both genders! #imaginebelfast15

Yvonne Galligan Gender Quotas in Politics 42Prof Yvonne Galligan introduced the topic of Gender Quotas at an Imagine!2015 Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics session up at Queen’s University earlier today. Looking across national parliaments in Europe, women make up >40% in Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Spain. The UK manages a shade over 20%, and Ireland just 15%. See the slides under this post.

Yvonne looked at a four-stage journey from citizen to representative and the obstacles that face someone being eligible -> aspiring -> nominated -> and finally elected. Nomination is the biggest sticking point.

Countries with legal quotas on gender balance achieve higher women’s representation in their MEPs (29.5%) than countries which have informal party quotas (25.5%) or no quotas at all (26.2%). Across Europe, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Ireland have legislation around quotas. Most have some form of sanction if a party’s spread of candidates do not meet the requirements. Though this isn’t perfect and in France, some parties prefer to pay the large fine than obey the law.

Standard arguments against gender quotas in politics usually centre around two positions:

  1. Women might not be the best possible candidates;
  2. Quotas would discriminate against men.

Yvonne pointed to research that shows that the effect of quotas on political party lists – the list system brings about a faster change – is to raise the competency of candidates of both genders (particularly the men) and replaces mediocre men with more highly qualified women.

Studies of women elected to Westminster for the Labour Party in 1997 (“Blair’s Babes“) don’t show a a difference between the quality of quota women and non-quota collegaues, don’t find evidence of quota women being punished at the ballot box or discriminated against in front-bench promotions.

Looking at Northern Ireland in particular, 19% of MLAs in the current NI Assembly are women, significantly under Westminster, European Parliament, Scottish Parliament (35%) and Welsh Assembly (42%).

NI Assembly’s gender balance is pretty consistent. In fact extrapolating the current rate of increase would see a gender parity being reached in 2086, some 71 years time.

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee published their report into Women in Politics earlier this week. There’s cross-party consensus that the current level of representation of women is a problem and should be addressed with urgency, but while there was agreement on the (soft) needs for encouragement and education, there was no agreement on the introduction of quotas and legislation to back them up with penalties.

Yvonne highlighted quotes from male and female MLAs from across the spectrum of parties, speaking in support of the report. Alistair Ross expresses it well.

However, the words of Independent MLA Claire Sugden got the best response in the room, when she invited male MLAs to “use the opportunity of an intervention in [her] contribution to stand up and say that they are a feminist”. No one did. Though Speaker Mitchel McLaughin did then declare “I am a feminist!”

Given the certainly that there are more than 54 women in NI capable of being superb MLAs, and given the unlikelihood that party efforts on their own – and particularly constituency association who have a major say in the selection of candidates – will bring about a more gender balanced meritocracy, surely formal intervention is required?

The discussion afterwards asked why some parties (and some female candidates) are reluctant to agree to formal quotas, whether a list system would fairer, and discussed some of the interventions already in place.

Today’s event sat well alongside Tuesday’s lunchtime session in Ulster University looking at Who Cares about Gender and Dealing with the Past.

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  • Joe_Hoggs

    I do not approve of quotas, it should always be a case of the best man for the job.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “candidate quotas can improve competency of candidates of both genders!”
    Have to disagree only the candidate can improve their own competency, quotas make little difference. A competent candidate’s will should not be effected by advantage or disadvantage.

  • Artemis13

    I think the point was that the calibre of candidates in general is improved, not that the competency of individual candidates is improved by using quotas. So where quotas are used more qualified/suitable people are selected as candidates.

  • Dan

    All these things women are going to do…….let them get on it then.
    Maybe they should start up their own political party…..oops, tried that until it all broke up amid bitchiness. Still, that politically correct bollox got a few of them cushy wee numbers in quango land.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think that might also be a subjective mistake here too, some low calibre female candidates could qualify by an effective default in a branch with gender ratios favouring men, while the meritocracy for a male candidate can increase his competiveness, while without competition and under obligation to fulfil a quota a female candidate might get thrown to the wolves with little branch support and little direction. There is also the possiblity a candidate is elected for no other reason but benevolent sexism, rather than as individuals.

    These arguments are highly reductionist in my opinion.

  • The truth of the matter is that party allegiance aside, men tend to outpoll women at the ballot box. It is relatively easy for the big parties to get female candidates elected, as the numbers are bumped up by running women in safe seats. We can see this with the Labour party at Westminster. The LIb Dems, who naturally champion these things struggle as they have to fight each seat on a local, personal basis, and Vince Cable has said the truth of the matter is that when they field female candidates or ethnic minority candidates in a lot of seats, they find it more difficult to win.
    The problem we need to address is societal attitudes towards women. That is a much more difficult challenge than setting a target. It is also interesting that we assume that all women should only vote for women and therefore we achieve the 50%. I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that you should vote based on your gender or ethnicity and so on. Seems rather tribal to me.

  • Artemis13

    The statement was actually backed by evidence that candidates were more highly qualified when selected in countries with quotas.

  • Artemis13

    This in incorrect, women were statistically more likely to be elected than male counterparts at the last Assembly election. The number of female candidates reflects the proportion of female politicians,. Voters aren’t unlikely to vote for women, men do not out poll women as you suggest. Assembly research shows this.

  • masonmci – give some evidence or an example? DUP feel peeved that Naomi outpolled Peter …

  • On the point of assuming that women only vote for women … that’s not what Yvonne said or I wrote. Having women on the ballot paper encourages young women to vote full stop.

  • Worked well for the 2 MLAs in NI21 too … before they broke up

  • YvonneGalligan

    at the end of the day, quotas are about addressing the bias against women that pervades politics. its about trying to fix a system where women have historically been excluded – for whatever reason. Yes, it is shaped by social expectations of women’s roles and when these are restrictive they need to be challenged. But it is also shaped by power – who has it, who wants it, and who wants to hold on to it. A level playing field would see power distributed more fairly among women and men. This is what quotas try to do.

  • Dan

    Are women supposed to be encouraged or feel empowered because it’s a female MLA, even if that female is in Sinn Fein with the vile stomach churning activities of members of that party, past and, as Spotlight demonstrated, present?
    Is that somehow better for women?

  • oakleaf32

    I don’t see any gender quotas in Nursing or Teaching in which men are greatly outnumbered and just right. Maybe just maybe the sexes have different interests in life. I spoke to my wife about this subject and none of her friends are interested in politics.

    About 15 years back I knew Sinn Fein members who refused to canvass for a female MLA (no longer involved) because she was an idiot. She was appointed on the grounds for being female not for having any talent.

  • Reader

    I think Slugger has the opportunity to do a bit of worthwhile research here. As we all know, there is an election coming up. Suppose we each took a note of how many male/female canvassers turned up on our doorsteps, then we could compare it with the number of male/female candidates.
    That would give clues as to where the pipeline is failing to deliver the desired results.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Firstly, The main qualification in a democracy is winning a popular vote which ultimately is removed by a quota. A student graduate who has little connections to the outside world will benefit from a quota more often than those who are actually working in the community and has to juggle responsibilities and commitments.

    I have 3 degrees in 3 different joint-subject STEM areas, and 6 months work on disability welfare research and as far as I am concerned I have no more right to be a candidate than someone who canvasses, networks, fund-raises, campaigns and who brings their experience with the community into the party and has none. I have no right to stand unless I were to earn or was able to put the money behind myself. I’m happy to just work the doorsteps and attend meetings if I can even do that.

    Using “Qualifications” can be a “classist” metric and often used as a benign form of intellectual snobbery. Who knows more about the problems facing NEETs than a NEET … some Fabian school philosopher with a coffee in their hand and set of slides and statistics?

    Look at England, PPE graduates go into politics from graduation with the party machine behind them, and that machine does the candidates work for them until the day they retire. Most of the rest are legal professionals and former public servants, with the occasional journalist or business person with too much time on their hands.

    There was a woman elected in Germany after 13 years unemployed, I do not know if she’s qualified or not but surely that’s a person who is more interesting than a group of people who went to the same university, to study for the same qualification and ended up in the same party?

    How does that system benefit female professionals getting involved? Disabled women? Women in vocational work? Women who are unemployed? Women who are carers?

    Naomi Long, one of the most “qualified” candidates, even said that in her elections within her party, quotas were unnecessary. Indeed, there is also the assumption given the choice between a random male candidate and a random female candidate, that the female voter will vote for the female and the male voter will vote for the male.

    If an independent male candidate gets elected ahead of a female candidate who benefited from a quota selection, why should he take a fall for standing in the way of a 50:50 election, even if he’s getting more female votes than the female candidate?

  • Artemis13

    More qualified for the job that is, which of course is hard to determine as there’s no ‘job spec’ easily available (a measure that might improve transparity), but I take Prof. Galligan’s more educated opinion on this.
    Someone would not be ‘elected ahead of’ another candidate as you suggest. Quotas would likely apply to candidate selection, at least that is how it operates in other countries. It isn’t like 50/50 psni recruitment where the ’employed’ must have a proportional make up- rather it is balancing the pool of applicants. Some legislatures do specify a certain % on gender, but most focus on candidate selection. The women selected would have to meet whatever requirements a party has, therefore they would have the necessary ‘merit’. They would also need to be elected by the public, there would be no guarantee that if a woman was selected she would be elected. Labour women selected following positive action have not been viewed as inadequate by either colleagues or voters because of their method of selection to run for election. Tokenisim would help no one, women would need to be suitable candidates. The alliance party do not believe in quotas as policy so of course Naomi Long would restate the party line.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Long was elected, she gained experience fighting male competitors and won. How would a quota removing that experience help her?

    Imagine if Long’s civil engineering degree had a gender quota proviso to address imbalances in STEM, female representation would be put ahead of everything even workload, accuracy and best practice.

    Why would a female politician even need to be political if a maths game does her work for her?

  • Artemis13

    The quota wouldn’t have removed that. Again, quotas are for candidate selection not a % of elected reps in most situations. And no, quotas do not take away from best practice or ‘merit’. People still need to be fit to do the job, eg affirmative action in the US or Catholic PSNI officers. They still had to pass the tests etc it was just ‘ach you’ll do cuz you tick a box’.