The political equality struggle: a PS
Yesterday I published a post here in which I suggested that gender quotas could make a useful contribution to greater equality in the political world. I mentioned this also on Twitter, and between the tweets and offline emails I received over the past 24 hours I can tell readers that the more vocal responses were overwhelmingly negative; some were in fact quite rude. One kind emailer even suggested that ‘Irishmen [sic] had not fought for freedom all those years ago to have it taken away by gender quotas’. Several tweeters suggested that people should be elected and appointed in politics ‘on merit alone’ rather than on the basis of their gender (which was more or less the point made by Lucinda Creighton that I referred to in my last post).
I won’t bother with the fighting Irishmen in this context. But the ‘merit’ argument is worth a brief response. It is based on the assumption that people make choices, whether in the polling booth or in the Taoiseach’s or Prime Minister’s office, based on objective criteria. From this it follows that, as a majority of the working population is now female, but only 20 per cent of senior management positions are held by women, women objectively and on merit are less well equipped to lead. It also follows that the four women Enda Kenny appointed to junior ministerial posts are all less qualified than the 13 men appointed to cabinet.
In fact, and with apologies for the blunt language, the merit argument is a lot of codswallop. When we make choices about whom we elect or appoint, we are all weighed down by the cultural inheritance and the conscious and subconscious prejudices we have acquired. Nobody is totally objective. Right now we are living in a society that is getting some really important things badly wrong. It is allowing young men to become disengaged, from education in particular, and thereby risking the development of a disoriented and dysfunctional male class; while at the same time holding back women from senior leadership roles. This particular cocktail of discrimination and neglect is one of the biggest dangers we now face as a society.
There are many things we need to do to address all this, but gender quotas may be one sensible, though temporary, measure to create a fairer and more viable society for future generations.