Gender Quotas: Are they Necessary?

In July 2012 the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 Bill was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins after successfully making its way through the Oireachtas. This bill seeks to address the gender-gap between men and women in the Dáil. I feel this measure will only increase the hardships facing men and women in politics while creating a toxic work environment that will harm both genders.

Failure to comply with this bill will see parties lose half of their central exchequer funding unless the minority sex among their candidates accounts for 30 per cent of the entire national ticket at the next general election. The threshold will then rise to 40 per cent once the new 30-per-cent minimum has been in place for seven years – possibly as soon as 2019, or as late as 2022.

Despite fewer women running in the 2011 general election than the previous four, a record number of 23 female TDs ( a 13.8% increase) were elected[1], so I’m not entirely sure why a gender quota is being enforced as a method to address a problem that is clearly improving without it. The average success rate for both male and female candidates was very similar, standing at 29.4% and 29.1% which shows that there is no evidence of a gender bias in the voting practices of the Irish electorate.

Financial punishment for failing to meet this quota devalues the democratic processes as the sex of the candidates engaging in the general election campaign is now being financially valued. The state is valuing a candidate's sex above their ability, and I find this authoritarian act to be an affront to the inalienable human rights of their citizens.

Article 40; subsection 1 of BUNREACHT NA hÉIREANN (Constitution of Ireland) states: “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law. This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function[2].”
These rights are defined by our constitution to be Fundamental Rights afforded to all citizens, but an enforced quota stripes an individual of their right to be seen as more than just their sex.

This is the sentiment of Fianna Fáil local representative Brian Mohan who’s challenging the Constitutional legality of gender quotas after he was excluded from a selection convention that allowed only a female candidate to be chosen[3]. Fianna Fáil members in Dublin Central and Dublin South-Central have been told they can only pick a female candidate for the general election as the party aims to fulfill the requirement that a third of its Dáil hopefuls are women[4]. A political party is instructing their members to vote based on their sex to avoid financial punished by the state… I shouldn't have to point out that this perfectly fits the criteria for sexism, and is against gender equality.

This is just one of many issues gender quotas will create and this will harm the working relationships between men and women preventing cooperation and respect in the workplace. It will not bring about equality since one sex is being financially prioritized over the other and this will only lead to bitterness and resentment. A government that imposes restrictions on who can or cannot run in a general election is nothing short of a violation of each citizen's right to liberty and equality.

Fine Gael Councillor Anne-Marie Dermody is even going as far to say that if women voters don’t have a female Fine Gael candidate to vote for in their constituency then they should vote for a female candidate from another party[5]. Cllr Dermody is encouraging the female electorate to ignore the policy, positions and records of the politicians they’re voting for in favour of their sex - Justifiable sexism for the greater good?
Her statement is most likely a response to Fine Gael having male-only tickets in over a dozen of the 40 Dáil constituencies but her call is merely a token gesture since it fails to even inquire why there are so few women being put forward. It is an inadequate response to an inadequate solution.

I do not doubt that her words come from a good place, “If it’s not a Fine Gael woman, yeah, I’d be looking for, you know, the message is we need more female, more women representatives. That’s the message. If there isn’t a woman on the ticket then I would still be looking to get more women on the ticket.” But it can’t be ignored that she’s advocating an ingroup mentality over gender neutrality. It’s active discrimination and I feel we should discourage actions like these, especially when people like Brian Mohan are being denied the opportunity to contest the general election because of their sex. 

Gender quotas to address a low percentage of women put a question mark over every female employee who is promoted or hired into a senior position – did she get the job because she was the best or because she is a woman?

Quotas potentially make any woman an easy target – dismissed at meetings or overlooked for projects because it’s assumed she is nothing more than the “token women” – there to fulfill a legal obligation, and not because she is good at what she does[6].

This is particular concern to Meath East TD Regina Doherty who responded to Cllr Dermody’s comments by saying “Speaking as a woman and a female TD, I don’t want anyone to vote for me because I am a woman. I want to be voted for because you think I’m the best person to represent you in Leinster House,”

I also find it worrying that the government is introducing a policy that is not the popular opinion, as 78% of people voted against gender quotas in an online poll. In another online poll, 63.12% ( correct as of January 18th. 2015) of respondents said they do not agree with cuts in State funding for political parties who fail to meet gender quotas.

Research conducted by UCC also supports this and found that, overwhelmingly, support for the imminent gender quota is low[7]. Before further adding: It is interesting to note, identification as a feminist and a belief that women’s under representation in politics arises due to a lack of opportunities created for them by political parties are also consistently found to matter. What this means is that gender quotas in Ireland appear to garner support only from the usual suspects, that is those individuals that we would expect to support this type of affirmative action policy either because they should directly benefit from it (women) or because it is consistent with their beliefs (feminists, and those who vote for parties of the Left).

These considering factors behind women's under representation and the relevant biases towards Gender Quotas should be addressed before the State financially rewards their parties of putting forward candidates purely because they’re female. It is a short-term fix to a long-term problem, and their short term fix is to discriminate against men to allow women a clear path to general elections.

This is an ill-sighted attempt to make women appear equal to men without actually giving them equality. If anything it makes them less equal because no man elected will have to defend their position on grounds of being a Quota-pick. This is an example of how these Quotas are harming both men and women.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” - Theodore Roosevelt.

And nothing is exactly what this government has done to address why women make up only 15.1% of nationally elected representatives by issuing a gender quota. Ireland has one of the worst gender balances in parliament in the developed word and quotas are an attempt to address the answer rather than the question.

It is equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity; and I believe women should be, like their male counterparts, allowed the opportunity to win the right to contest their constituency, rather than having it condescendingly gifted to them.

Gender Quotas are not gender neutral and that is my point of objection as they reduce people to their sex and value that above ability. It just paints a picture of equality by ensuring the figures of women on the ballot paper look more favorable, without their position to do so being debated, fought for and won in the public sphere like every other contestant must in a general election

If the Government can propose a solution to the under representation of women in society that does not discriminate against and prevent men from contesting general elections, I’ll happily sign my name in support.

Author: Brendan O’Grady
Date: 17/01/2016


2. - Page 150. Article 40:1
7. Who supports gender quotas in Ireland? An examination of attitudes in the eligibility pool. Prof. Gail McElroy & Lisa Keenan (TCD) (16th -18th October 2015)

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