As Boris says Parliament must aim for a perfect gender balance: Should we use quotas to boost female MPs?
- Boris Johnson is aiming for women to make up 50 per cent of MPs in Parliament
- Clare Foges argues pushing target will not tackle sexism in Westminster
- Julie Bindel says quota is a solution for women’s political under representation
Clare Foges (pictured) said quotas won’t tackle sexism in Westminster
By Clare Foges
Angel’, ‘pet’, ‘swee-tie’; during the decade I worked in politics (from 2005-2015), I was referred to in all these ways.
I was also sent out to fetch dry cleaning when this was not in my job description, spoken over, patronised, patted on the behind.
Sexism exists in Westminster, and it turns me puce with irritation. Yet so, too, does the Prime Minister’s call for women to make up 50 per cent of MPs in Parliament. For here — disguised as a feminist masterstroke — is a woefully backward step.
In pushing for this target, the campaigners are not tackling sexism but aiding and abetting it. Why? Because when women are appointed to tick a box rather than purely on merit, people will suspect the female MPs are sitting on those green benches on account of their ovaries rather than their talents.
Veteran politicians will wonder if the thirty-something filly is there just to take the quota nearer to that magical 50 per cent.
This is maddening for all the capable women who have worked for years to make it into Parliament: sitting on their local council, volunteering, attending endless drinks parties, jumping through hoops to be selected as a candidate.
At a stroke, all these efforts will be undermined. Whatever the woman’s career history or current endeavours, the word ‘tokenism’ will hang around her like a bad smell. And even worse, women will once again be painted as victims in need of special pleading.
It’s unfair, too, on the men who will miss out for no other reason than having the wrong chromosomes.
Besides, what 50 per cent targets miss is that a lot of women have different priorities from men. I was approached to consider standing as a candidate a couple of years ago, while expecting my second baby.
Many brilliant female MPs raise small children while in office — but the juggling this would involve isn’t for me. I imagine others also feel that no amount of help with childcare, a right-on partner or change in attitudes could induce them to commit to such crazy hours. Hence you’re more likely to have men in their 30s entering Parliament than women.
When will the right-on learn that there’s no such thing as ‘positive’ discrimination? As the wise writer Dorothy Sayers — my kind of feminist — once wrote: ‘Once lay down the rule that the job comes first and you throw that job open to every individual, man or woman, fat or thin, tall or short, ugly or beautiful, who is able to do that job better than the rest of the world.’ Amen, sister. Westminster — take note.
Julie Bindel (pictured) said quotas provide a simple solution to women’s political under-representation
By Julie Bindel
Besides the odd sexist dinosaur, most MPs would say that they support workplace equality.
But what about equal representation in government? Despite decades of feminism, a climate of ‘jobs for the boys’ still pervades at Westminster — and men outnumber women two to one in Parliament today.
Yes, we have had two female prime ministers. But don’t let that distract you from a dismal core reality. A report published just last year showed bullying and harassment are rife in both the Commons and Lords, with an unhealthy dose of chauvinism and lechery helping to make the lives of female staff a misery.
So surely now is the time to introduce quotas to make Parliament truly representative of the British people? Every effort to ensure women are appointed on merit has been made and, pathetically, failed.
I am a feminist, so the last thing I want to see is women being patronised. I can, of course, see why quotas are unpopular but, as a last resort, perhaps they are also inevitable.
Sadly, this is what we have been driven to. And the fact that even Boris Johnson appears to now be supporting quotas is an indication that the male cartel system will never end unless we do something radical.
Since the 50/50 campaign was launched at the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, more than 100 countries have signed up to meet the goal of getting equal numbers of women and men in Parliament.
But the pace has been slow: today, the global average of seats held by women in national assemblies is just 25 per cent. Only Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia have 50 per cent or more women forming their governments. It is unacceptable for men to dominate in every other country, both in numbers and in manner.
According to the UN, it will take women another 50 years to achieve true gender equality in the political sphere. Who has the patience — or the faith — left to wait for this to happen? I, for one, do not.
I am tired of empty promises. So it is time to get tough and introduce the one foolproof method to bring about parity.
Let the old boys’ networks sink into the mud under a temporary quota system.
Of course, my biggest reservation is that quotas can be misused by governments and employers as a ‘band aid’ solution, rather than addressing the crux of the problem — sexism.
But quotas also provide a simple solution to women’s political under-representation. It is, for now, better than doing nothing.
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