So are we making progress, or are we going backwards? Do we even understand what is happening regarding gender equality?
Why am I asking these questions? Because over the past week or so a debate has been raging in political circles as to whether the obvious gender gap in politics can be closed a bit through quotas in candidate selection. Quotas have been toyed with as an idea in some circles, notably in Ireland by Fine Gale leader Enda Kenny (but without much support from within his own party). Now the Irish Times has conducted a survey of current female parliamentarians to ask them what they thought, and 14 out of 23 (yes, we only have 23, and that’s both Houses) were against introducing quotas. One even thought the idea was ‘insulting to women’.
Actually, the gender issue has become hugely complex. If we look at leading positions in politics (actually, not just leading positions), business, even education, women are scandalously under-represented. But when we look at the number of those with higher qualifications and degrees, the picture is reversed, and women are increasingly outperforming men. You would expect to see this reflected in gradual changes in the composition of what one might call the national leadership circle, but it is not the case, and if anything the trend is in the other direction.
So it seems to me that two (rather different) things need to be addressed. First, we need to be careful that young men do not disproportionately become educationally disenfranchised, not least because if we don’t address this we may be building up serious social problems. And secondly, we need to take far more radical steps to remove the glass ceiling for women. In politics, this could be tackled in a number of ways, with the crazy working practices perhaps being the first target. But I doubt that a proper balance can be attained any time soon without quotas of some sort or other. We live in a society that does not yet see women as natural political leaders, tho0ugh some (and in particular the current President and her predecessor) have perhaps been able to make some difference. RThis needs radical treatment, and I tend to believe that quotas are perfectly reasonable as an interim measure.
And just in case somebody in academic circles thinks that universities are so much better, think again – women make up the majority of lectureship positions, but only a small proportion of the holders of senior posts are women. And again, there is no significant trend visible right now that would indicate that things are improving. And there hasn’t even been one woman university president.
Rather than have all this as an issue that everyone discusses but that never really changes, we should accept that it is time for action. Real action. Quotas.