The issues surrounding gender quotas in a legislature are well known and obvious. They require little going over. Suffice to say, by forcing parties to choose a specific number of female candidates, over men, the system of democracy becomes distorted. Some candidates will be chosen on the basis of their gender rather than actual merit. As someone I know said more crudely, candidates will be chosen based on what’s between their legs rather than between their ears.
It also makes the implication, rarely recognised, that men are incapable of representing women in the Dail, and vice-versa. Within the local systems of choosing candidates, it will also result in people (men and women, since the system works both ways as it is proposed) failing to gain a nomination, even if they may have put in more time and effort to get it, in favour of a candidate who is the correct gender. This will be all in the eye of the beholder of course, there is frequently wriggle room when it comes to ranking of merit, but it is going to happen in this system.
Gender quotas are a clear example of curing a disease while leaving symptoms intact, in this case, addressing the status of women in the political system. It is the easy way out of the problem, which will cause more harm then good in the long-run. There are better ways of doing this, but the parties in the Dail seem ill-disposed to doing them.
Women within parties have the same ability as men, right now, to gain recognition, cash donations, to exert the confidence needed to become a candidate. But there are two things that need to be addressed.
The first is a more practical problem: maternity issues. Women have babies, and this has a large effect on their lives. Party members are no different. Having a child and, in some cases, taking the lead in rearing one (which is an issue outside the realm of this topic) is a time consuming process, which will invariably dent any woman’s aspirations of becoming a candidate for election. The solution for this is a better system of childcare and easier ways for women to have access to it.
The second is the more difficult problem, which is the culture of political bodies, which in Ireland is very male-orientated. Changing that culture, “the boys club” that the Dail is accused of being, is not an easy task. It would involve a huge commitment from all political parties to encourage more women to become involved at all levels. It would require a genuine effort to stamp out any actual sexism and sexist thinking. Most importantly though, it would require more women to actually be assertive within the system, to get the recognition, to get the support, to get the cash, to get nominations.
At the end of the day, it is women who most do most of the work to overturn this imbalance. It should not be simply handed to them, as a matter of requirement. They have to make the commitment themselves. Under a gender quota system, you will find women approached by parties who would never have considered running for office. Some would deem this a good thing, I do not. If they didn’t want to run for office under the current system, I see no reason why they would make suitable candidates in a system where they would be required to run, in order to make up numbers.
I mean, no party wants to keep women away. It’s a fairly big demographic, after all, and I’m sure every party in the country would love to be running more female candidates in order to try and attract female voters.
Yet, in this system, where a female candidate might be plucked from relative obscurity in order to make up the numbers required, it may actually be harmful to a parties chances, as they may not carry the internal party support to run an effective campaign. Look at Fianna Fail in Dublin Central in February for an example of that.
That, and the law might be unconstitutional anyway. It might be better for parties to approach this idea on a voluntary basis within their own structures, rather than trying to enshrine it in law. At least in that case, each party can approach the problem in its own way, rather than doing it just to avoid fines.
I would love to see more women in the Dail, but I can only speak for myself when I say that the gender of my TDs is very far down on my list of priorities. Getting as many people into that mindset should be the goal of the government and all political parties, not implementing a system that reduces the importance of merit and hard-work in gaining a nomination to run for office.