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The Use of Gender Quotas, Essay Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1813

Essay

The use of quotas to ensure fair representation of women and minorities has always been a controversial topic. Recently, more than 30 countries have instituted gender quotas for election to national parliament by either passing constitutional amendments or enacting legislative means (Freidenvall.) A larger number of countries have established quota systems for political parties, resulting in an increased number of women in politics and holding government positions. These countries are engaging in “positive discrimination”, or taking positive steps to eliminate existing discrimination in order to both reduce or eliminate the effect of past discrimination and to hopefully avert the consequences of future discrimination (Positive Discrimination.) This paper will discuss and contrast the position on gender quotas in two countries: Sweden and the United States.

The Scandinavian countries have had the reputation that when it comes to women’s equality, they are role models to be emulated by other, less evolved nations. However, this is only partly true, since there have never been any mandated requirements in these countries to ensure gender representation; in addition, only certain political parties have taken steps to guarantee that women will be represented according to their numbers in the population. In addition, in the 1980s when the Scandinavian countries introduced gender quotas into political parties, women already occupied 20-30% of parliamentary seats, which at that time represented the highest numbers of representation in the world (Ibid.)

The argument for women’s equal participation in politics involves the structuralist view, which holds that society comes before the individual so that for the good of society, women need to have an influence over affairs of the state. There are at least four distinct points made to support the use of quotas to allow this to occur: women existing numbers that are half of the population, so that they are entitled to occupy half the seats in government; women have different experiences which should be represented and because of these different experiences, they will behave differently in politics than men, resulting in an enhancement in the quality of life for the citizens of that country; men and women have different interests, so that males are unable to adequately represent females; and women in positions of power serve as very positive role models for the girls and women that will come after them (Ibid.)

The argument against quotas include: the idea that quotas violate the principle of equal opportunity, because women are given preference over men; quotas are not democratic, because voters would not be able to make decisions about who they want to elect; using quotas suggests that the women are not being elected because of their qualifications, but rather because of their gender; and many females are not in favor of being elected solely based on their female status (Dahlerup.)As a model for female representation in Parliament, Sweden has the second highest number of females elected to Parliament: 45.9% of the candidates who were elected were women. In 2002 and in the cabinet, nearly 50% of the ministers are female (Sweden: Women’s Representation in Parliament.). Based on those figures, clearly Sweden is a country that sees the value in having women represented in its government.

The struggle to include women in numbers high enough to reflect their proportion of the population has been a relatively recent phenomenon in Sweden, however. It was only in 1972 that the major political parties–the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats–realized the significance of involving women in the political process as well as how vital to any election the women’s vote was. Since then, those parties as well as other less popular parties have implemented quotas, ranging from party quotas that mandate “zipper systems”, which mandates that one sex alternate with the other on party candidate lists, to a virtually equivalent system, which requires a minimum of 50% of females running for office (Sweden.)

In addition to political party quotas, Sweden has also recently introduced the notion of gender quotas for private sector Board of Directors positions (Allen.). This movement was supported by the country’s Moderate Party, which controls nearly ⅓ of Sweden’s seats in Parliament; as a result, the suggestion was regarded as a significant possibility. The Social Democratic Party in Sweden also controls approximately ⅓ of the parliamentary votes, and are known to be supportive of such a measure. Interestingly, however, many Swedish women from the Moderate Party’s younger membership are opposed to such an action, preferring to support grassroots efforts to strengthen women’s presence on boards. Currently, women hold 23% of seats on boards at major Swedish companies compared with 3% in 1999 (Ibid.) Sweden would not be the first Scandinavian country to suggest such a measure; in 2004, Norway implemented a 40% minimum gender quota for their business boards.

A country that has no quotas regarding gender is the United States; the country currently ranks  68 out of 134 countries globally regarding its percentage of women in government: 16.8% elected to the House Of Representatives, and 16.0% elected to the United States Senate (Fact Sheet: Women’s Political Participation, Women in Parliament.) While women are increasingly being elected to become heads of state, in the past, such as Margaret Thatcher in England and Golda Meir in Israel , as well as the current leader of Germany, Angela Merkel, in the United State no female yet has successfully been elected to the highest office of the land, or even the vice presidency. There are no existing quotas to improve female representation in government or elsewhere, mandatory or voluntary. When one considers that in Rwanda, a majority of females make up their legislature, in comparison, the United States’ record on gender equality is disgraceful.

Certainly, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as well is the high-profile candidacy and Senatorial success of Hillary Clinton is indications that it is becoming more acceptable in the United States for women to be taken seriously regarding high political office. However, given that the United States is an advanced industrialized nation with a high standard of living, a strong and vocal feminist movement as well as having broad constitutional guarantees of civil liberties (Millar), it simply doesn’t follow that the United States should be so far behind nations that are comprised of mostly third-world, underdeveloped countries. Yet, the notion of quotas in the United States is a very unpopular concept, whether it involves minorities, females, or other groups that have been traditionally without a great deal of power.

Implementing political quotas in the United States would undoubtedly result in significant legal challenges, such as when the Bakke case resulted in the Equal Protection Clause, the 14th Amendment guarantee that states must be prohibited from denying any person, equal protection under the law. However, given the ratio of females to males in the population (1:1) as well is the percentage of females pursuing postgraduate degrees in the United States, which has surpassed the number of males enrolled in such programs (National Center for Education Statistics), it appears that certainly, women are at least as qualified to hold political office as men. Since the entire idea of affirmative action and quotas has been unpopular in this country since it was first introduced, realistically, it seems unlikely that gender quotas regarding political office will ever be enacted. However, it does seem reasonable for the political parties to consider utilizing quotas to ensure that the people who are running for office represent a variety of groups: women, minorities, and other populations, such as the disabled.
Undoubtedly, if women were in more leadership positions in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, there would be a significant impact on policymaking and decisions. As discussed previously regarding the case favoring quotas, women are different than men and bring a completely different perspective on many issues. For example, the current debate about contraception has a completely different response from women which even bridges party lines; Democratic and Republican women to a large degree support the notion of family planning, while the Republican opposition to insurance plans covering contraception is essentially an all-male proposal. This issue affects not only women, but entire families, and should be of concern to all citizens, regardless of gender. Another example of male lawmakers passing legislation that is completely insulting and condescending to women is the law passed in Virginia recently, which requires pregnant women to have an ultrasound, regardless of whether or not they choose to have it. Virginia female lawmakers walked out of the room when the vote was being taken, but unfortunately, because their numbers were not large enough, this law was actually passed. Nationally, in the United States there appears to be a movement backwards since laws governing contraception were decided decades ago. I can’t help but believe that if women were represented in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate in numbers that reflected their proportion in the population, nothing like this would ever even come up for a vote.

The United States regards itself as a modern country, yet one would not necessarily know this when considering how few women are represented in the government, as well as examining recent bills proposed and passed in various states, which significantly limit women’s control over their own bodies. When one considers the examples of countries in Scandinavia, typified by Sweden, their social progress regarding women’s equal rights is significantly ahead of that of the United States. If more females were in positions of power, the political agenda in the United States would likely be considerably different–not necessarily better, depending on one’s point of view, but different. Unfortunately, the focus on social issues recently as well is the successful enactment of legislation that reverses the progress women have made over the last decades threatens to define the United States as a backwards, socially-primitive country that is returning to its past rather than marching forward into a modern future that will enhance the life of its people.

References

“A Fact Sheet: Women’s Political Participation, Women in Parliament.” June 2008. International Women’s Democracy Center. 10 March 2012 <http://www.iwdc.org/resources/fact_sheet.htm>.

Allen, Ted. “Sweden Considers Board Gender Quotas.” 12 October 2011. ISS. 10 March 2012 <http://blog.issgovernance.com/gov/2011/10/sweden-considers-board-gender-quotas.HTML>.

Dahlerup, Drude. “About Quotas.” 2009. Quota Project. 10 March 2012 <http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutquotas.cfm>.

Freidenvall, Lynn and Dahlerup, Drude. Quotas: the Key to Equality? Quotas As a Fast-Track to Political Representation for Women–Why Scandinavia Is No Longer the Model. Paper. Durban, South Africa: IPSA World Congress, 2003.

Friedenvall, Lenita. Women’s Political Representation and Gender Quotas–The Swedish Case. Paper. Durban, South Africa: IPSA World Congress, 2003.

Millar, Nancy. “Envisioning a US Government That Isn’t 84% Male.” University Of Miami Law Review (2007-2008): 138.

“National Center for Education Statistics.” 2011. US Department of Education. 10 March 2012 <http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98>.

“Positive Discrimination.” 2012. The Free Dictionary. 10 March 2012 <http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Positive+discrimination >.

“Sweden.” 4 March 2010. Quota Project. 10 March 2012 <http://www.quotaproject.org/uid/countryview.cfm?country=197>.

“Sweden: No Legislated Quotas, Quotas Adopted by Political Parties Voluntarily.” Quota Project. 10 March 2012 <http://www.quotaproject.org/country.cfm>.

“Sweden: Women’s Representation in Parliament.” 2007. International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance. 10 March 2012 <http://www.idea.int/news/upload/sweden_women.pdf>.

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