Friday, May 25, 2007

Quotas Can Be Good II

Elections test Spain's new gender-parity law

By Lisa Abend Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Susan Sachs contributed reporting from Paris
May 25, 2007

Madrid-In the Spanish coastal town of Tossa de Mar on the Mediterranean, women have long run the public administration while the men were off at sea. But it's a rarity here in Spain, where less than a third of municipal office-holders are women.

The new Law of Equality is expected to change all that, bringing an estimated 7,000 women into local offices in Sunday's municipal and regional elections.

Passed in April to rectify persistent gender inequalities, [...] its most controversial provision requires political parties to present electoral lists in which neither sex holds more than 60 percent of the slots.

The law makes Spain one of the most progressive countries on gender representation. But as other countries have discovered, true political equality may not be guaranteed: what looks good on paper can be hard to implement in practice.

Nearly 100 countries impose some form of gender quota on political representation. But only a few have achieved approximate parity: Rwanda, Sweden, and Finland (see chart).

France's parity law has significantly improved representation at the local level since it was passed in 2000: In towns with populations of 3,500 or more, the percentage of women elected to city council seats rose from 25.7 in 1995 to 46.4 by 2006.

But at the national level it's had little effect: the number of female deputies rose from 10.9 percent before the law to just 12.3 percent in 2002, when parliamentary elections were last held.

French political parties, which fill allotted parliamentary seats beginning with those at the top of party lists, have gotten around the law by putting women at the bottom of their lists. Or they simply accept the financial consequences of noncompliance. [...]

More important, says [Anne Maria Holli, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki], is the effect on mind-sets that quotas can have. "Eventually, people start to think it's normal to have both sexes in government."

That's key for Spain, says Maribel Montaño, Secretary of Equality for the Socialist Party, who acknowledges that the law won't solve everything. "The law by itself isn't going to change mentalities," she says. "We've lived with machismo for so many centuries that we're not going to get rid of it quickly." [...]

Not everyone is happy about the law. The opposition Popular Party declared it unconstitutional. And on websites like discriminacionpositiva.com, men have complained about the quota as "Taliban feminism." [Cry me a river. After centuries of "Taliban masculinism", (OK, that's redundant), you're admitting that you're scared of competing with girls ? - M.H.]

One of the groups least happy with the new law is the Popular Party's electoral slate for the Canary Islands town of Garachico. All of the candidates on the list are female, but because the legislation says that no gender can hold more than 60 percent of the spots, the Garachico slate looks to be illegal...

Quotas Boost Women Pols
[Or, France is a Soup Sandwich, and has been for a Very Long Time]

Gail Russell Chaddock
The Christian Science Monitor
Archives: from the May 14, 1997 edition

[All emphasis added]
PARIS—In the May 1 election, British voters nearly doubled the representation of women in Parliament, thanks to the Labour Party's decision to field women for a quarter of all seats.

And across the Channel in France, [...] French women were not allowed to vote until 1944, and didn't win the right to work without their husband's permission until 1965. [...] [Although that's better than Spain, where women could not hold jobs without their husbands' permission until the late 70s - M.H.]

Ironically, what prompted the Labour Party to aggressively promote women in its ranks was its third defeat at the hands of Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister in British and European history.

After their 1987 loss, Labour analysts concluded that their party needed to become more "women-friendly." Women shared many of the values Labour claimed as its own, yet viewed Labour as the most masculine of all parties and voted disproportionately for Conservatives.

The solution: quotas requiring 40 percent representation of women at every level of party life. [...]

The controversial strategy helped boost the number of women Labour MPs from 39 to 101, or 93 percent of the women in Parliament. "We're hoping that more women MPs will set a different tone and emphasis in Parliament," [says Meg Russell, national women's officer for the Labour Party]. "Now we're waiting for the other parties to catch up." [...]

Scandinavian success

The Nordic nations of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have long topped the list of nations with the highest representation for women. All elect lawmakers to parliament via a system of proportional representation, which allows parties to weigh candidate lists in favor of women. Under this system, the candidate placed highest on the party list is most likely to be elected.

In Sweden, which leads the world with 40.4 percent women in parliament, the five leading political parties require that men and women alternate positions on party lists. Political parties in Norway regularly field 50 percent women candidates for national votes, either by tradition or by party rules. Finland adopted 40 percent quotas for women in 1995.

Other nations with a high percentages of women in the legislature have also adopted some form of quotas. The African National Congress Party in South Africa requires women to head a third of all lists. Argentina, Mexico, and Belgium have also made quotas compulsory for all political parties. Germany and Spain boosted parliamentary representation for women to 26.5 and 16 percent respectively through party quotas.

"Every country that has made progress on this issue has used some kind of quota system to deliver the change," says Clare Short, who helped develop the British Labour Party's strategy on women.

France lags behind
[So what's new ? - M.H.]

Unlike most of their European neighbors, Britain and France elect deputies individually, a system that forces parties to make hard choices between male incumbents and women newcomers. [...]

In France, the political will to do this has been hard to muster. As recently as March, some 75 percent of French deputies said they opposed the principle of parity between men and women in the legislature. [...]

But pollsters say that such views are lagging behind public opinion. Some 82 percent of French people in a survey last year said they favor a referendum on parity. [...]

"What makes it difficult for women in France is the system of voting and a certain Mediterranean machismo. Women have made big strides in teaching, health professions, communications, and journalism, but not yet in politics or big business," says [Roland Cayrol of the Paris-based CSA polling agency]. [...]

"It's been tough to increase the number of women candidates, because we have so many incumbents who are men. They have been loyal, so we can't just tell them they can't run. But you'll see many more conservative women in next year's regional elections, where the RPR is committed to 30 percent women," says [Anne-Marie Couderc, the Rally for the Republic Party (RPR) minister in charge of women's rights].

8 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Have any of these reporters ever been in France? Where women have been running the men politicians from behind the scenes since, at least, the late 17th century.

And then, when we come down from the clouds, look at the actual result of electing women to positions of power: Astor, Rankin, Pelosi.

The first two are candidates for 'most baleful' democratic representatives of the 20th c. Pelosi, well, we'll see, but she isn't looking good so far.

May 25, 2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

"One of the groups least happy with the new law is the Popular Party's electoral slate for the Canary Islands town of Garachico. All of the candidates on the list are female, but because the legislation says that no gender can hold more than 60 percent of the spots, the Garachico slate looks to be illegal..."

I was thinking from the previous posts that quotas would ultimately help males. Just as college graduates were overwhelmingly male 50 years ago and today are overwhelmingly female, government may well be evolving to the same point. Quotas will likely hurt women in the long run in my opinion. But hey, that's good for us guys!

Also, I have no problem with a Party (say the democrats) insisting on gender parity somehow. I just don't like the idea of the government imposing it.

May 25, 2007 10:39 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[L]ook at the actual result of electing women to positions of power:

Thatcher, Golda Meir, U.S. Representative Patsy Mink, U.S. Senator Liddy Dole, Sandra Day O'Connor (Arizona legislature, elected judgeship), U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe...

Etc., etc.

May 25, 2007 10:42 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I was thinking from the previous posts that quotas would ultimately help males. Just as college graduates were overwhelmingly male 50 years ago and today are overwhelmingly female, government may well be evolving to the same point.

I'm for gender parity, so while I would appreciate a vast feminine majority in gov't for awhile, as a "worm turns" kind of situation, ultimately I'd like to see at least a consistent 60/40 ratio, with no preference as to which sex holds the majority.

Also, I have no problem with a Party (say the democrats) insisting on gender parity somehow.

That would make me happy enough.

May 25, 2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Patsy was my representative. I'm VERY surprised to find her on YOUR list.

My point was that the initial women electees to previously all-men offices were usually disastrous. (Astor, of course, was in Parliament.)

May 25, 2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Patsy was and did many things that I disagree with, but she overcame immense obstacles to achieve ground-breaking success.

There are plenty of examples of male success stories with whom I don't see eye-to-eye, too, and yet I cannot deny their achievements, even if I might wish that they had failed.

May 25, 2007 11:58 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

If the voting public cares that much about gender parity, then there is absolutely no need to engrave it into law.

And if they don't, there is no point.

Besides, there is the problem of parity error that I brought up previously.

I suspect that once taking self-selection into account, the only way to get to 60/40 is by such blatant preference as to indelibly taint its beneficiaries, no matter their competence.

May 25, 2007 1:34 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I suspect that once taking self-selection into account, the only way to get to 60/40 is by such blatant preference...

I suspect the exact opposite.

Let's find out.

May 25, 2007 2:37 PM  

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