Gender vs Talent: Is quota induced gender equality necessary?

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(Lack of female representation in parliament: above photo demonstrates what happens when all the men are photo-shopped out of the UK Parliament)

The leader of the new Women’s Equality Party has recently called for gender quotas to be in place for the next two elections to choose MPs so that gender equality can be achieved in the House of Commons within the next 10 years[1]. However is such a means of achieving gender equality necessary or will it give rise to a culture of gender bias and undermine equality?

The question of the effect of gender quotas on the recruitment of high profile roles has loomed over British politics for many years. Feminists have argued that having a quota for the number of women in politics will lead to a new form of politics, one that is less confrontational and more cooperative. Furthermore, having visible female representation in politics may also inspire women to get involved in politics. On the other hand, critics have argued that gender quotas could lead to competent men losing out on jobs in the name of gender equality. According to Krook, ‘Quota policies in almost all cases have exposed the biases of prior recruitment practices, raising awareness among both political elites and prospective female candidates on the need to revise existing criteria of candidate selection’[2]. From this it can be argued that gender quotas are needed in order to overcome the gender biased recruitment practices that are currently in place in contemporary politics.

The argument that gender quotas are beneficial for politics is supported by beliefs that women can change the current nature of politics. One such belief is that having a greater number of women in politics will lead to better representation of women’s issues in parliament. However it is also worth noting that such ‘women’s issues’ often pertain to the belief that the female identity is that solely of a mother and a wife, a stereotype that does not apply to all women. Gender quotas can also change the nature of politics as it could result in women not being forced to develop male characteristics in order to be selected[3], resulting in women not being viewed negatively for potentially not being as aggressive and competitive as their male counterparts, characteristics that have been seen to be desirable in the male dominated political sphere. On the other hand, gender quotas may also lead to an assumption that all female politicians are in parliament not due to their talent and ability but due to their gender. Such an assumption is not compatible with liberal democracy as it suggests that one group has privilege at the expense of another, therefore undermining the belief in equality and meritocracy that underpin liberal democracies such as the UK[4].

Despite the flaws of quotas they are ultimately needed to ensure that parliament is representative of the population it serves. As women make up half of the general population they should also make up half of the parliament. Moves to ensure this becomes a reality have come into force in recent years, most notably within the Labour party which has recently appointed female politicians to half of its shadow cabinet roles. While this is promising move, the party has been criticised for appointing women to more junior roles within the shadow cabinet whist more senior posts are all occupied by males[5]. This coupled with the fact that there is now a male leader, deputy leader and London mayoral candidate, the Labour party has been criticised for not doing enough to ensure that women are equally represented in the top jobs within the party.

Although it would be ideal if gender balance in parliament was achieved without the intervention of artificial means, quotas, and quota induced equality are necessary in order for parliament to better reflect society and for the advancement of women’s rights which is ultimately beneficial for society as a whole.

[1] The guardian; ‘Womens equality party says quotas could achieve balance in the commons in 10 years’ http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/13/womens-equality-party-says-quotas-could-achieve-balanced-commons-in-10-years

[2] Krook, Mona Lee ‘Gender quotas, norms and politics’ The Women and Politics research section of the American Political Science Association (2006): 110-118.

[3] Ibid

[4] The FT, ‘Are gender quotas needed?http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/d65795f2-0de6-11e5-9a65-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3p0NaLNAi

[5] The Guardian, ‘Jeremy Corbyn just made his first mistake – but he’s not sexist’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/14/jeremy-corbyn-mistake-sexist-shadow-cabinet

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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