Beyond the Quota

The following article appeared in the Print (November 2011) in response to the ‘First ever, women-only meeting of TDs’. I am posting it today on the Observer site as there has been a huge reaction to several of our articles over the past few days. Most notably; Aoife Campbell’s article here and the Observer’s Pádraig Mc Carrick here. These articles clearly illustrate a very worrying set of inequalities within our society and beyond. What is more worrying, however, is the intense opposition to any attempt at addressing these inequalities.

There are many words in which to describe politics in this country; inept, infuriating, grating, vacuous and certainly laden with testosterone. Controversy erupted earlier this week when Joanna Tuffy TD boycotted the ‘first ever, women-only meeting of TD’s’, which took place in Leinster house.

The meeting centred on how to increase female participation at the highest level in politics, in what was certainly an important week for Mná na hEireann, one which debated the introduction of gender quotas for political parties, a 30 per cent quota for either side of the gender divide will apply to all political parties if this comes to pass, and a week that saw the end of the final presidential term of Mary McAleese.

The announcement of the ‘women only’ invite for this meeting certainly struck a few chords and garnered a large amount of negative reaction. These reactions ranged from ignorant, misogynistic comments on various websites to Joanna Tuffy TD boycotting the event as it was, ‘a meeting about segregation of public representatives on the basis of the gender and that that is a backward move, whatever the issue to be discussed.’

Eoin Murray, the first male employee for the National Women’s Council of Ireland, responding to the criticisms on the cited numerous examples of how a change in the gender imbalance can have very positive effects. Murray cited the example of Rwanda, a country with a complex and troubled history, where as recently as 1994 violence against women in the form of rape was a widespread policy of war coupled with genocide. Now over 53 per cent of the political representatives are women and gender based violence is being addressed at the highest levels of the state.  Other examples are that of the recent pledge by companies in Germany to increase the number of women in top managerial positions and recent events in Iceland that have seen a gender shift in key roles in government from male to female. Halla Tomasdottir and her partner Kristin Pettursdottir who run one of the few, if only, profitable banks in Iceland, are striving to create a ‘new equilibrium for the country. That’s got nothing to do with feminism … I want to do things not for women, but for all of society.’

Gender Quotas in the EU

It is clear that the notion of a gender quota evokes intense debate within society, but there is something much bigger to consider, far bigger than the concerns of Joanna Tuffy. The political spectrum, from individual TD’s to political parties, have missed the point of striving for equality. Rather than these issues being of a ‘female concern’ should they not be concerns of society at large, in which a better, fairer society strives to eradicate divisive and exclusive policies and trends?

Michael D Higgins, in his campaign for the presidency last September continuously stressed the importance of social solidarity. This message was unfortunately lost in the miasmic mire of politics and media. Fortunately he has had a chance to bestow this message upon the Irish people once more, stating;  ‘I wish to acknowledge the immense contribution of those who have previously served in this office, particularly the two great women who have immediately preceded me. They have made contributions that developed our consciousness of human rights, inclusion, and the important task of deepening and sustaining peace within and between communities in every part of our Island … We must seek to build together an active, inclusive citizenship; based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms.’

 Ireland has certainly come a long way from a rigidly Catholic mindset, but we have a long way to go before archaic moulds are broken. An equal society should not have to rely on quotas, but should challenge the broken foundations we reside on.

The purpose of this article was to tackle head on the notion that a gender quota is a metod of ‘forcing any woman that can be found through the doors in order to fulfil a quota’. I have chosen this quote from a Facebook comment thread in reaction to Aoife Campbell’s article for several reasons. No doubt there is an element of trolling here, but it is a comment that is reflected in the national media from every echelon of society. This trolling is also one step away from the ‘banter’ that Pádraig Mc Carrick addressed in his article and aptly portrayed the deeply misogynistic culture in which we live, where horrible crimes such as rape can be trivialised. This is on a day when a protest has taken place for the silence from and cowardice of successive governments on legislating for the X case.

For a more detailed discussion on gender quotas have a listen to our latest podcast here.

-Thobias Inkblot (with special thanks to Shane Mc Nally)

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