The cases for and against gender quotas

Gender quotas in politics - What are they?

Quotas are explicit requirements on the number of a certain demographic that must be represented in politics.

They are used to create equal representation among genders within legislation and to contribute to the promotion of gender equality, and ease the access of women into positions of government.

To say that gender quotas cause some controversy would be an understatement. On both sides of the debate, passionate arguments exist on whether or not quotas promote equality or inequality.

Samuel’s Take

Samuel, our Youth Activist from Malta, will outline the reasons why he believes gender quotas would not be the best option to promote equality in the place of work. He will also detail the dynamic between gender quotas and meritocracy amongst other things.

The question of meritocracy

Meritocracy may be defined as being judged and awarded based on your capabilities and past achievements regardless of gender, skin colour, creed, etc.
The question that always keeps floating around is do gender quotas effect meritocracy? The answer is simple at first. Putting in so many people in a position based on their gender is not very fair. However, the plot thickens: meritocracy brings into question other things as while the intention behind this sort of positive discrimination is good, one cannot help but question why there is this imbalance. The problem with these sorts of quotas is that they fail to tackle the fundamental problem - if any.

There are many reasons why there are imbalances in certain sectors regarding gender. These reasons may perhaps be summarised in four general cases:

Case A - Gender Specific Jobs
Nothing much can be said about this ever decreasing niche of jobs. These kinds of jobs mainly revolve around modelling and require a particular gender to get the work done in all cases. To put it simply, a male model isn’t useful in showcasing a particular item of clothing aimed for women and the other way around.

Case B - Not Enough People Apply (NEPA) Jobs
NEPA - an abbreviation for not enough people apply (you heard it here first). The premise behind this case is that legally and socially there is nothing preventing a certain gender from applying but rather the problem is not enough people of that particular gender apply.

Case C - Traditionally Gendered Jobs
The rationale behind these jobs is that in the ‘stereotype’ so to speak, men do the more physical labour oriented jobs while women occupy more indoor, less physically demanding jobs. As a result certain areas are more male dominated and vice versa.

Case D - The Grey Area Jobs
This set of jobs are a mix of cases B and C – while there is nothing preventing women from entering the sector of that particular job legally, there may be somewhat of a social stigma or norm. For example, in teaching, women are portrayed teaching younger students while men teach older students.

Do gender quotas help?

The question from here would be do gender quotas help solve these cases? Simply put, the answer in my mind is no. Let’s review the cases.

Case A
As said in the example, if one gender is required or targeted, the other is automatically redundant.

Cases B & D
These cases are rather similar in the fact that while it is ideal that there is proportional representation of each gender, shoehorning in people just for that aim would do more damage than good. There are many reasons for this, mainly qualifications and efficiency. Engineering and nursing are perhaps the two sectors that are referred to as the most unequal in terms of gender. The fact is that for the most part, more women go for nursing and more men go for engineering. While there are male nurses and female engineers, why should they have a certain privilege just because their gender is uncommon in that field of work?

Case C
For certain jobs, particularly those relating to physical manual labour such as construction, it would be correct to say that they are male dominated. There may be a reason behind this. Scientifically, men are stronger than woman and are better at physical activities like lifting etc. – that’s why in sport we have male and female categories. So it goes without saying that even with the same level of qualification, in areas like construction and other manual jobs, men are still better suited inherently. As a result, jobs like these and many others in the field are left male dominated – as I said before there is a valid reason behind it so we shouldn’t abandon efficiency for the sake of ‘progress’. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

At the end of the day the client and the employer want workers who are qualified and able to work correctly. I think I’d be correct in saying that as long as, for example, the doctor knows what s/he is doing, I’m happy.

What am I trying to say? I’m saying that if one wants to have an efficient work place the person needs to be judged on what s/he is capable of, of what s/he managed to achieve. In certain cases, the employer is forced to pass up a candidate just because another one, who may or may not be less qualified, helps the employer reach the quota.

Gender quotas in politics

Making reference to politics, gender quotas in politics are very bad. If you place a gender quota on an institution such as parliament and the electorate doesn’t want to elect so many women, you’d be rendering the whole thing undemocratic. What should be done is that the political parties encourage more women to get into politics and the let the people decide. As a side note; I highly recommend you vote for a candidate based on policy and not gender. Making reference to Malta, the Maltese House of Representatives or “Il-Kamra tad-Deputati” is presently made up of 69 members, only 10 of whom are female. While that is an obvious imbalance, the Maltese MEPs, on the other hand, are 3 women and 3 men. I believe that a proportional representation in areas like politics is slowly coming. Introducing things like quotas to hasten it will create a backlash that hurts more than helps women.

At the end of the day, in most cases, discrimination based on gender is bad. However, when judging whether someone is capable of doing a job s/he must be judged based on what s/he is capable of, and, what the job entails. Therefore where do gender quotas fit in? Only a few jobs either specifically require a particular gender or a certain gender is inherently better at that sort of craft.

Given that in all EU countries there is the entire necessary legal infrastructure (women can’t be paid less, etc.) that prevents discrimination, it is only a matter of time before some form of balance is found. This of course not failing to mention there have been and there still are women in power. For instance, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel both of whom are against quotas. These women, and many others, got to their position with hard work and not via a quota.

Deborah’s Perspective

Deborah, our Youth Activist from Ireland is pro-gender quotas. She thinks in the long run, they will only serve to improve women’s representation in politics and level the playing field in society. She’ll discuss evidence and examples of how she believes quotas have worked.

A lot of people like to believe in a meritocracy. A system where the ‘best’ person for the job is always the person that gets it. However, I like to be realistic and not idealistic. I think a big part of this is recognising that the society we live in can be really unfair. Not fun to admit, but important nevertheless.

Olympic Sports Broadcaster said, ‘I’m a big fan of quotas. Quotas only come in when every other avenue has been averred and found lacking. Essentially, quotas make everybody say, “right, what do we need to do to change this?"’ I think this totally sums up my opinion on quotas.

For a long time, the lack of women in politics wasn’t even considered an issue. Thankfully, our society now sees it as the glaring problem it is. But how can we do anything to combat it, if we are not being proactive? That’s called being all talk and no action. Quotas are the action we need. A lot of people see this as a situation where the best person for the job is having the opportunity directly taken from them, and rather given to an undeserving woman. However, the purpose of quotas is to widen the pool of applicants to discover MORE talent, not less. In widening the pool, you only make sure that the best person is actually getting the job - why? Because you started off with more people to choose from. A pool of people that included more women.

Equality of access can never be a bad thing. Saying that women don’t always have the same chances in life to reach their full potential isn’t making excuses - it’s stating facts. We must remember there are a number of factors that stop women from accessing leadership roles in the workplace. They’re often known as the 5 C’s.

Childcare - A lack of statutory maternity leave and the long demanding hours of a career in politics that prevent women from rising to leadership positions

Culture - Women holding supportive positions rather than leadership ones

Confidence - Women being less likely to put themselves forward due to factors such as a lack of visible role models and the impact of the media

Cash - According to the Chief Statistics Office of Ireland, women’s income was around 70% that of men’s. This can be a barrier to embarking on expensive election campaigns

Candidate Selection - Gendered recruitment pools, e.g choosing from councillors, political branch membership and trade unions that have higher percentages of men.

Theresa May and Angela Merkel are two of the leading figures in European politics and neither have children. Coincidence? I think not. Just look back at the first of the 5Cs that prevent women from ascending to leadership positions.

So we know that women are underrepresented in politics. We know that action must be taken to change that. But are there any actual, real benefits of having more women in politics? Glad you asked! Here they are.

  • Countries with a greater proportion of women among top decision makers in legislature have lower levels of income inequality.

  • When more women leaders hold cabinet positions, there is a trend towards increased spending on health services.

  • Countries with a greater share of women cabinet ministers exhibit great levels of confidence in their national governments.

There are a myriad of other benefits to having higher percentages of women in politics, and I could literally go on for hours. But at the end of the day, what is the bottomline? As my dear friend and fellow youth activist Ahlam from Belgium said: "Women are half of the world’s population, and half of its potential." We deserve to be half of its decision makers too.

Now that you’ve heard from both sides of the debate, time for you to make up your own mind! What do you think about gender quotas? Leave a comment on social media and let us know. If you feel passionately about this, go out and research the candidate that is most in line with your view. And remember: If you give a shit, #GiveAVote.