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A gender quota muddle

There is often a pervasive and toxic assumption that only women candidates are able to represent women voters

Ingram Bondin
12 April 2017, 7:37am
A complex choice which involves a large variety of factors is reduced to whether the voter and the candidate share the same sex
A complex choice which involves a large variety of factors is reduced to whether the voter and the candidate share the same sex
The question of whether gender quotas should be introduced in Parliament has recently been the object of substantial public discussion. The weight thrown behind this issue by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Civil Liberties has been dampened by the remarkable lack of enthusiasm on the part of those who would stand to benefit the most from this measure.

Although I am in favour of greater female participation in politics, I would like to question some of the assumptions being made by the proponents of gender quotas.

The advocates of gender quotas argue that the percentage of representatives in Parliament who are also women is too low. Presumably by this they mean that the percentage of representatives who are also women is not proportional to the percentage of women present in society. 

In order to remedy this situation of ‘gender inequality’, they are proposing to allocate more seats in Parliament for representatives who also happen to be women. The precise manner of achieving this has not been made clear so far, but let us assume that a sensible way of implementing this measure can be found. They claim that such a system would make Parliament more ‘representative’ of society at large.

It seems to me the ‘representation’ sought by gender quotas is of a different nature than the ‘representation’ found in a representative democracy, and that it is a mistake to equate the two.

In a representative democracy, voters elect a candidate to represent them in parliament. This candidate is a person who enjoys their trust, and who they regard as capable of representing their ideas and interests in parliament. Men and women are both entitled to vote, and candidates of either gender can be found on the ballot. Voters are free to choose the candidate who they feel will best represent them.

Now suppose that gender quotas are introduced, and that a number of women candidates who were not able to win a seat in a competitive election under their own steam are given a seat in Parliament. Who would these women candidates represent, seeing that the electorate has clearly preferred to repose its trust in other candidates?

It seems to me that the only possible answer out of this riddle is that these extra women candidates are supposed to represent the class of women in general. But women voters have clearly made their own choice in the election and these candidates do not enjoy their trust.

In fact this ‘representation’ which is promoted by gender quotas is at odds with representative Democracy itself. Whilst our Parliament is a representative institution, introducing gender quotas would create a mixed institution which is only part representative, seeing that certain people will be trusted with legislative power on account of a completely superficial characteristic such as their sex, and not on the grounds that they represent electors.

Without wishing to claim that the following is subscribed by all proponents of gender quotas, there is often a pervasive and toxic assumption that only women candidates are able to represent women voters. A complex choice which involves a large variety of factors is reduced to whether the voter and the candidate share the same sex. Whilst this position is untenable I would not underestimate its capacity to lead people astray on this question.

I conclude by expressing my disappointment at the readiness which has been shown to put the representative functions of Parliament in jeopardy just to be able to give additional ‘exposure’ to women candidates. The banality of this kind of reasoning shows that this matter has not been thought through properly. The right measures have to be chosen in order to increase the participation of women in politics and I seriously doubt that this is a suitable one.

Ingram Bondin is a member of Front Against Censorship

Ingram Bondin is an activist of the Front Against Censorship
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