Gender Quotas:

There is a feeling that the lack of women in political circles is detrimental to the political democracy of Ireland and that parity should be a real goal to be achieved.  This parity would most likely take the form of ensuring quotas are introduced.  The reality is that draft legislation is on it way and has been in the offing for some time now.

Does it actually answer the democratic deficit or will it really ensure that more female politicians are elected. Many seem to think so, but what do you think.  The debate has been strangely held prominence within the political arena with some support from various specific interest groups.  The debate has yet to stir the nation to converse in all regions of the country as to the merits of this.  Yet it stills angers the proponents of this legislation and supporters of the quota system that the message isn’t getting out their as they would like or indeed registering with the parties they want to adopt it.

Now the move is on by parties to align themselves with this quota system, i.e. they’re jumping on the bandwagon to make themselves look good and show that they were always in favour of this.  Fine Gael sent directive back in the early part of 2002/03 to their constituencies to select a female candidate.  Whilst this didn’t cause consternation, there was murmuring as to why this was.  Finna Fail also met with consternation at selection conventions that the party hadn’t selected enough female candidates.  They eventually were brow beaten into selecting a number of female candidates. The results of each party after the selections was that both had few female elected.  Many ordinary party members were left fuming that the various party head quarters were sending dictates that cost many as they believed good candidates not to be selected.

Regardless of their favour the fact remains that there aren’t enough women politicians.  The usual reasons flouted in various circles suggest that politics is a male dominated practice and they don’t want women involved.  This might have been prevalent in the 40’s to early 80’s but since there has never been, from I have seen, any attempt to stop a person running for election because of their gender.

Gender quotas also impose a construct on society when there may be no necessity to do so.  Imagine the scenario where a person wants to get elected in their county for the dail and they are accepted as the best person for the party locally.  This imposition might suggest that they don’t run if they are male for to select a female. Not only does the positively discriminate for the female but also discriminates against the male.

The Irish Constitution under Article 16.1.3 suggests

that no law should be enacted that places any citizen under a disability or incapacity for membership of the Dail on the grounds of GENDER…

Some of the pros and cons that should be discussed further;

  • Quotas are against the principle of equal opportunity for all, since women are given preference over men.
  • Quotas are undemocratic, because voters should be able to decide who is elected.
  • Quotas imply that politicians are elected because of their gender, not because of their qualifications and that more qualified candidates are pushed aside.
  • Introducing quotas can create significant conflicts amongst gender specific groups e.g. Womens Groups / Mens Groups


  • Quotas can compensate for actual / perceived barriers that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats.
  • Women have the right as citizens to equal representation.
  • Women’s experiences are needed in political life.
  • Election is about representation, not educational qualifications.
  • It is in fact the political parties that control the nominations, not primarily the voters who decide who gets elected, therefore quotas are not violations of voters’ rights.
  • Introducing quotas may cause conflicts, but may be only temporarily.

No having perused the above, replace the ‘Women’ words with Men and you get the sense of if this is actually fair.  The Suffragettes who burned their bra’s to get fairness wanted just that, fairness.  They didn’t want additional exceptions, they didn’t want the system to discriminate against them, they wanted the same as was available to men.

Is there anything to fear from this imposition of gender quotas.  If we are to accept that women get paid less for comparable jobs that men do then there may be exploitation of women in this area as well.  Go into a local supermarket and you see the laws that have failed in action everyday.  Minimum wage imposed on employers always a moot point for me.  Now we see the youngest legal workers in most shops, why because they cost less than older experienced workers.  Sectoral dominance or I should say cultural norms is also a problem.  Childcare has few male workers, nursing has few male workers even community development also has few male workers.  I haven’t seen anything being introduced to balance this imbalance.

Further to exemplify this.  When out of work one time and eager to complete any course to stay active, the only course available was hairdressing.  I asked the FAS person that I would like to apply to do this course and was told “…no you cant as you’re a man…”  I didn’t seek to site gender equality or that legislation should be changed.  Maybe I should have, but I got on with it.

There has been many actions proposed internationally to address the gender inequality in varying situations.  Few have had any real impact as the quota was not the overriding impetus for increases.  In fact most increases came as a consequence of the actual conditions being changed or improved.

Fact:    gender quotas will not allow for election / promotion of the best candidate

Gender quota only promotes Women to position and not men

Gender quotas have been got rid of in the majority of countries they were implemented

Gender quotas only guarantee a woman will be there regardless of her abilities

I am against gender quotas primarily as they are often implemented the wrong way.  Where political systems have seen increases in the female representations is when

  1. The condition of participation is broken down.  E.g. barriers for single female mothers
  2. Child care conditions as of right are in place
  3. Cultural norms must be challenged
  4. Tokenism is over used as an option and should be stopped

The assertion that we elect “THE BEST PERSON” should be our focus.  If we want equality, we shouldn’t impose something that favours one gender over the other.  Fair policies can be implemented, but imposing a blanket policy wont necessarily help women enter political life.  It may stigmatise those who do get elected, that they only got in because they were a woman.  I want the best people in regardless of gender.  I have seen attempts to put women into political life as elections that if anything pushed their cause back years.  Tokenism will be par for the course with political elites unfortunately.  Ensuring that we have equal opportunities is more important.  E.g. if you were an unemployed person chances are if someone stands against you who is a Teacher then you wont get elected.  Generalisation yes, but factual in many constituencies.