Gender Politics II – what can we do about it?

I mentioned on my last post, “The Ironies of Gender Politics”, that I had a couple more ideas I was trying to work through. Also, after the post was published I had a few comments about the absence of any ideas on what to do about the issues I had raised. That’s what this post is for – to attempt to conbvey my ideas on what we can do to make progress on the issue of women’s representation in politics.

This has been a fairly contentious issue recently. An obvious example is the Labour Party’s ‘manban’ fiasco, when the Labour membership attempted to take a remit that would create women only selection lists in some electorates to the national conference, and were instead unceremoniously trampled on by party leadership. Another very recent issue is the makeup of new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s cabinet, which only includes one woman. A lot of the arguments made for these decisions are based around the idea of meritocracy, namely that the best candidate is picked for the job, and that there is no bias in selection for politicians.

I think that meritocracy is a lie. There is absolutely no  way that the selection process for political candidacy or cabinet positions or whatever is completely objective. In our society we see systemic inequality everywhere, whether on the grounds of age, race, height, weight and yes, gender. Women are still confined to specific roles and expectations, that mostly revolve around domestic duties or simply just being objects of sexual gratification. For those women that do make it into the workplace, there are enormous pay inequalities, and the gap is only rising. Most of what I just said, particularly the part about sexual gratification was covered in the predecessor to this post. This very real problem is seen in New Zealand, where women only account for about 34% of parliament. The Green Party are the only party that have more women than men in their caucus, and in the major parties there are few women sitting, and even less in front-bench positions. As women are obviously just as intellectually capable as men, I therefore see no reason why more men are selected to run for parliament than women, given that we are ‘a meritocracy’.

This is not a meritocracy. Meritocracy does not exist. Women are not represented in New Zealand, and Tony Abbott is notoriously sexist.

So what do we do about it? When Labour’s women’s quota idea was released, I must admit that I was uneasy. My main reason for this was that I thought Labour, and any other party should be able to select a balanced list of candidates without having to legislate/ force themselves into doing it. However, having thought about it, and come across everything published in these last two posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way right now that women can get equal representation is through changes to party constitutions, and other similar measures. While creating woman-only selections may be going too far, I certainly think that other suggestions, such as ensuring that list candidates are 50% women have the potential to go a long way in addressing the problem of equal representation. I would love it if parties were able to accompish this through their own personal values instead of having to force themselves to have equality, but this is not a reality that we enjoy.

Measures such as ensuring a 50% representation on party lists are the first step. I firmly believe that by doing this we will begin the journey towards  fairness, and that one day women will be able to enjoy representation based purely on merit, without the aid of legislation to force equality. This will be as it should be.


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