Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Quotas for Women

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  • Lilith __,

    Great post.

    Back in the 1990s I heard Marilyn Waring give a public lecture on why Parliament should have a gender quota: otherwise it wasn’t representative democracy. She was seeking to have the matter examined under Human Rights legislation. Unfortunately I can’t find an online reference to which piece of legislation it was.

    I did find this Waring quote from this year, though:

    It’s time for a new Select Committee Inquiry. Maybe it could spark patriarchal interest if every issue was subject to a market based opportunity cost assessment – just what does male violence cost the economy each year? Inequality is expensive; social injustice is not a saving – we have to pay for in the long run. The Commission on the Status of Women moving to a 2 year as opposed to an annual event – it’s apparently too much of a burden on nation states to have to assess the situation regarding female human rights annually.

    Forty years of feminist activism and there are issues with no progress at all – violence against women, the recognition of unpaid work; where we are going backwards – numbers of women in parliament, numbers of women appointed to Government Boards and Commissions; and a systemic failure to provide leadership on all human rights issues. It’s an interesting day when I can conclude, from evidence, that there were greater and more female human rights legislative changes and changes in resourcing under Muldoon than there have ever been under Key. Two generations later a parliament still dominated by white middle class middle aged men needs to hear the truths of the ongoing exploitation of and discrimination against the women of New Zealand. So on International Women’s Day in 2015 I have a message for the Prime Minister: Get some guts and join the right side – but this time in your own back yard. I bet you can’t.

    [source: Dr Marilyn Waring of AUT University’s speech at the International Women’s Day 2015 breakfast at Parliament ]

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3890 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    Even if men were somehow better leaders (being confident and decisive where women are shrill and pushy)

    I see what you did there...

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The concern-trolling argument is that if we had quotas for women, people would think that women hadn’t achieved their positions through merit, but only to fill the quota.

    As I snark-tweeted at the time, I'm sure the fifteen women with ministerial warrants in Canada were appointed entirely on merit. The sixteen men (if you include the Prime Minister)? Quite another question. :)

    I (quite rightly) got a long string of blistering and perfectly accurate replies about how brilliantly qualified every man jack of them was, and how dare I suggest otherwise?

    Which, of course, was exactly my point.

    Oh, and another somewhat disingenuous nuance to this concern trolling? One the most naive political observer would pretend that Cabinets are strict meritocracies -- political debts get paid off, factional interests mollified or put in their place and on and on. FFS, just read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. After the 1860 election, his appointments to Treasury, the State Department and Attorney-General were three men he beat in a race for the nomination that was bare-knuckled even by the standards of American politics. It worked, more or less, because it had to but nobody could pretend "merit" was the only thing on Lincoln's mind.

    At least Trudeau was upfront about what he was going to do well before the election.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • despud,

    Two thoughts:

    Firstly, our partitioning for MPs is partially geographic, and partly issues based. If women feel strongly enough that the male-dominated parties don’t represent their views, then start a Women’s Party.
    Ditch the electorate seats entirely, as the intertubes has demolished distance, throw out the threshold, and we might see the rise of a Nurses party, a teachers party, a scarfies party. And a bogan’s party, a beneficiary’s party, a disabled people’s party. It might be single issue’s politics, and it might may consensus a lot of fun, but it sure would be interesting.

    Secondly, I’m always aware that demands for quotas sounds like special pleading. There was a fairly recent time when the top 5 or so positions in NZ politics were all held by women. Would there be a men’s quota as well as a women’s quota?
    I sometimes argue that in one critical metric, men are strongly disadvantaged - our lifespans are several years less than women’s. What could be more important than that? So we should stop funding research and treatment of women’s health issues until the gap is closed.

    Since Nov 2015 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to despud,

    There was a fairly recent time when the top 5 or so positions in NZ politics were all held by women.

    We can expect that every post might be filled by a woman about 50% of the time. That is what gender equality means.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3890 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to despud,

    Would there be a men’s quota as well as a women’s quota?

    That's how it functions, both in the Green Party, and Trudeau's cabinet. It's not 'there must be at least X% of women', it's 'there must be at least X% of women, and of men'.

    I sometimes argue that in one critical metric, men are strongly disadvantaged – our lifespans are several years less than women’s. What could be more important than that? So we should stop funding research and treatment of women’s health issues until the gap is closed.

    Well, you're in luck there, because the gap is closing. We also know why women live longer than men. Partly it's because, to vastly over-simplify, testosterone is physically bad for you. Mostly it's behavioural. Men are less likely to go to the doctor. They're more likely to die from homicide and suicide. They're more violent. They drink more. Why? Because taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally, is seen as girly. Unmasculine. It's the patriarchy, dude. Men would live longer if they softened the fuck up.

    What could be more important than that?

    Quality of life? How much you earn, and so how much you can save for your longer retirement? How safe you feel, on the street, in your home?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to despud,

    If women feel strongly enough that the male-dominated parties don’t represent their views, then start a Women’s Party.

    *snore*
    You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the reason to argue for gender quotas is so that women's "views" are represented. That's not it at all. Women make up half the population. Half of it. Or even slightly more. We're not a "single issue" group.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 581 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Well said Emma

    At least we got 3 posts before we got trolled.

    I'd just point out another factor in the recent Canadian cabinet, almost every position is filled by an actual expert in that field. Strange that even with the huge limitation (not) of choosing half women, the roles are filled by people with a clue. Compare that with our sorry excuse for a cabinet (cough Simon cough Bridges, minister for extinction).

    While we're dreaming of quotas, how about quotas for every state owned enterprise, what I wouldn't give to see even one woman on our senior executive team.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4452 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emma Hart,

    That's how it functions, both in the Green Party, and Trudeau's cabinet. It's not 'there must be at least X% of women', it's 'there must be at least X% of women, and of men'.

    Which the over-excitable "oy noes, the end of meritocracy" Canadian punditry tended to forget. It wasn't 50% women, 50% cronut.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    thinking that some of those men are there because they’re men, not because of merit.

    This, especially seeing this week's nasty immaturity.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Men are less likely to go to the doctor. They're more likely to die from homicide and suicide. They're more violent. They drink more. Why? Because taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally, is seen as girly.

    Also because the skills to manage taking care of ourselves are not evenly distributed by gender.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Your logic is formidable. Are you sure you're a girl?

    ;-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22763 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Would there be a men’s quota as well as a women’s quota?

    The way the Green Party does it is that you can't go over a maximum of 60% for either gender.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    AspieGrrl

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • despud,

    Um, I might have been a little provocative, but I was not trolling.

    I don't think you've adequately established why gender should be a basis for quotas. We have a geographic quota, which is dumb, but historically made sense due to the past costs of transportation and communications. One impact of MP was to dilute that quota.

    Personally, I would prefer a job quota to a gender quota. Just think: lawyers are well under 1% of the population.

    If you argue that women should be quota-ed into parliament on the basis of their communication skills and empathy, then you're suggesting a meritocracy, rather than a quota to balance representation of viewpoints.

    But then, if you want good people in parliament, why use gender as a proxy for that? Make MP's pass a communications, networking and empathy test. And while you're at at, an intelligence test. But meritocracies don't seem popular -except maybe as upper houses.

    Since Nov 2015 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    As my very bright and mathematically talented wife was once told by her male teacher
    "We can make her an honourary bloke"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4452 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    To address you in good faith.

    Here's the thing. Without a quota we've ended up with a male dominated cabinet and parliament where an alarming number of important jobs are being handed to white males of dubious talent.

    By contrast Canada has while implementing a quota actually got talent in jobs that matter.

    Since the current system has failed how about we give a quota a go and at the same time represent 51% of the population.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4452 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    If you argue that women should be quota-ed into parliament on the basis of their communication skills and empathy, then you're suggesting a meritocracy, rather than a quota to balance representation of viewpoints.

    I too am worried that I might not become a Cabinet Minister because some grasping women who is more qualified than I am displaces me.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I too am worried that I might not become a Cabinet Minister because some grasping women who is more qualified than I am displaces me.

    It could be worse, what if she was also more competent?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1223 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Living in Oz at the time I loved it when NZ had 5 women in the top jobs, because Australia was still trying to come to terms with a woman leading a minor party. Obviously the world ended and Australia fell into a fiery pit of doom as a result.

    Since then they/we have womanned up a bit, but it's still bullshit most of the way down. I wonder if that term will change to cowshit, or bovineshit once we get more women in power?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1223 posts Report Reply

  • chris,

    It’s about having enough women to provide a representation of the diversity of women.

    Brilliant. Hopefully less men might also lead to a better representation of the diversity of men. A little leeway for X wouldn’t hurt.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Moz,

    When Sydney Morning Herald columns are syndicated here, it feels like a time warp.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to despud,

    Um, I might have been a little provocative, but I was not trolling.

    No, you weren't. You will be strongly and ably disagreed with, but I accept that you're saying what you say in good faith.

    Just watch the "provocative" doesn't get away on you :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22763 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Sacha,

    When Sydney Morning Herald columns are syndicated here, it feels like a time warp.

    I remember that, back when it was better put together than the free community newspaper put out by our local real estate agents. It scares me that Key has brought NZ parliament down to a level where the Australian one seems quite sensible by comparison. Don't do that.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1223 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I'm struggling to find the exact quote (though I'm pretty sure it was in an interview with Geena Davis) but there's research that indicates that, when we look at a crowd, we think there is gender balance when there are way less than 50% women. If our mental picture of equality is so very skewed that we think a group which is half women is unbalanced, then we need a quota to tide us through until our perceptions match up with reality.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

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