50:50 coalition to back 50% shadow cabinet quota

// 10 June 2010

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A coalition of women’s groups has formed to back Harriet Harman’s proposal that the shadow Cabinet should be made up of women and men in equal numbers, and support women’s representation in politics.

From the press release:

Alison Clarke, Founder of Women’s Views on News said:

“Women are never going to have anything like equal representation if we just carry on the way we are. We saw that all-women shortlists had an impact and we know from other countries that quotas produce results. And we need results, not because the issue of equal representation is a numbers game but because it is a crucial reflection of the health of our democracy.”

Annette Lawson, O.B.E., Chair of the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations said:

“It is vital for democracy that there is equal representation of women and men in political decision-making: without the different life experiences and perspectives each brings to the table, policy formulation itself is biased. Essential issues are omitted and decisions made that will impact women differently – usually disadvantageously – compared with men. Sufficient numbers of each around a table also leads to different ways of handling discourse, of negotiation and of reaching consensus. These are all essential for the Shadow Cabinet and of course for the governing Cabinet too.”

Finn Mackay, Founder of The London Feminist Network said:

“Politics is part of life and affects everyone in our society and around the world. Decisions are being made in our names every day, often ones which disproportionately affect women and children, and yet our voices are not represented in positions of power. Indeed it is time for change, not more of the same, we should diversify and rejuvenate our political system and make it truly representative, this campaign is a start on that journey.”

Harman’s 50/50 split in a Labour shadow cabinet would signal a serious adoption of an effective measure to promote women’s political representation. It would be an indicator of the party’s high level of commitment to gender issues.”

Tracey Carboni of the Million Women Rise Coalition said:

“Gender quotas can be viewed as a strategy that counteracts the bias inherent in mainstream parties towards men. Men remain in power, representing their own world view and interests.

There is evidence from the Scandinavian experience that more women in positions of power will lead will lead to a greater commitment to women’s demands. This is supported by the willingness of the last Labour government, who had fewer but yet committed women in positions of power to legislate on issues impacting on women. One such area was that of prostitution, and the legislation here took account of the lived experience of exploited women. Increasing the quota of women in power will increase this potential.

However any quota must also represent the diversity of women, otherwise it risks promoting policies that represent the interests of only the more privileged groups of women and will therefore be counterproductive.

Having more women in positions of power is just one aspect of what needs to be a multi-pronged strategy for achieving equality. Those in power also need to remain committed to having links with grassroots women’s organisations”

Pat Pleasance, President of UK WILPF said:

“WILPF calls on governments internationally to give women the opportunity to gain the skills to be in the highest positions of decision-making, yet even in the United Kingdom we do not have equality in this area. It is time that more than 50% of the population has at least 50% of the influence”.

Comments From You

Kate // Posted 10 June 2010 at 9:44 am

However any quota must also represent the diversity of women

Says a coalition of women’s groups that seems to exclude any based in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Orlanda Ward // Posted 10 June 2010 at 1:39 pm

Thanks Kate. It’s a very valid point. We’ve only just formed we’re inviting organisations throughout the UK to join the cause.

Members who’d like to join- please email or tweet to join and show your support!

A J // Posted 10 June 2010 at 2:34 pm

I can’t quite believe that allegedly feminist groups are arguing for a policy preventing women from EVER making up more than 50% of the cabinet, regardless of their talent.

Quotas are an appalling (and utterly patronising) idea. Especially as a way to choose the people running the country.

Jack // Posted 10 June 2010 at 3:01 pm

Many female MPs from all parties are rightly opposed to artificial quotas, especially those who earned their position on merit rather than by artificial means. When you eschew rational means of selecting a candidate for qualification and instead replace it by a mechanism that only gives the illusion of equality, you damage both the credibility of the system and those who are subject to it. Female MPs and ministers who earned their positions without the use of short-lists or quotas do not want to accused of not having earned their position, and when a system such as the one Ms Harman proposes is used, it opens those candidates up to such criticism from both genders. It is such a system that leads to woefully inept and unqualified people like Jacqui Smith to be swept upwards when there is no legitimacy in the system (I realise my opinions on Ms Smith are subjective but her record as both an MP and a Minister are abominable).

I urge other feminists to beware of Ms Harman. She merely uses the flag of feminism in order to justify her agenda against common sense and any credible pro-female group would be wise to distance themselves from her. She is no friend of feminism and her actions are leading many people to wrongly equate her and her opinions to feminism. She is damaging what is a very noble and just cause.

By all means we need to break-up the make-up of the Houses of Parliament, but clumsy quotas and short-lists are not the way forward, especially when Ms Harman’s commitment to such an aim wavers when her husband wished to become a Labour MP, parachuting into a safe-seat ahead of several superior female candidates because of his wife’s will.

earwicga // Posted 10 June 2010 at 4:32 pm

Ha ha ha Jack.

Jess – it would be helpful if you could link some of the groups names’s/logos to the relevant internet sites.

sianmarie // Posted 10 June 2010 at 5:26 pm

jack – quotas are used globally with great success in encouraging representation in parliament. not using quotas has led the uK to lag behind. where quotas are used in the UK – in various assemblies for example (am i right in this?) representation has gone wwaayyy up.

we have to get off this idea that all politicians are there by merit anyway. do you think David Cameron is there by merit? George Osbourne? Or are they there as a result of positive discrimination – positive discrimination that says white middle to upper class men are better at politics than women or BME or working class people.

Harriet Harman and Jacqui Smith have their faults. but ffs, at least they put women’s issues on the agenda! at least Harman is opposing this ridiculous anonymity bill.

the fact is, we don’t live in an ideal world where every politician is elected on merit and we get fantastic representation. we are in a world where white middle class men are elected because that is how politics has always been, and they take advantage of the positive discrimination and the ‘merit’ argument to maintain the status quo. (man, if George Osbourne got to where he is on merit then i should be chancellor! i have more economic experience!)

So we need quotas. i’m sorry, but we do, we just do. otherwise we’ll be waiting for 220 years to get fair representation. and until we get fair representation, women’s issues will be sidelined and treated as a minority issue. crappy bills like this anonymity one will come through. i cannot wait that long.

i’d really recommend reading the chapter on politics in Reclaiming the F Word to look at why quotas are working abroad and why the UN recommends them. v interesting stuff.

one day, i hope we don’t need quotas, i would love it if we didn’t. but i am sick of all male shortlists, i am sick of people moaning about all women shortlists when they don’t moan about all male shortlists, i am sick of looking at the faces in the cabinet – i want a parliament that represents the world i live in. if quotas achieve that, then GOOD!

VS // Posted 10 June 2010 at 10:21 pm

I would point out that (unlike the Tories) Labour _elects_ its Shadow Cabinet when its in opposition. As such, a rigid 50:50 quota (especially when only about a third of the potential candidates – the Parliamentary Labour Party is female) _restricts_ the choice of the MP voting.

Democracy is about _choosing_ the people who represent you. Not about a rigid quota that says men can’t be a majority of the Shadow Cabinet _if that is what those electing them want_.

Attempts to increase female political involvement should start at the grassroots – by getting more women to join the Labour Party and to stand for local office and campaign on key political issues. Not by a top-down diktat from the (Acting) Leader.

cim // Posted 11 June 2010 at 10:17 am

“rational means of selecting a candidate for qualification”

The problem is that such “rational means” that do not in themselves take account of gender (or other) bias in wider society end up just selecting the same privileged white men as usual regardless of actual talent.

You’re essentially claiming that the existing means lead to a situation where we already have the best possible MPs (strictly, best possible PPCs) at any given time, and that the distribution of quality of AWS-selected women MPs is therefore inferior to the distribution of quality of non-AWS selected MPs. I think that needs more than proof by assertion. You use Jacqui Smith as an example, but she was just one of a run of (mostly male) terrible Home Secretaries that the last government appointed.

Additionally, as I describe in more detail at http://bit.ly/cedi12 increased diversity in representative bodies in and of itself improves the overall quality of the body even if as you claim the individual representatives are less good.

coldharbour // Posted 11 June 2010 at 2:56 pm

I think there should be equal quotas for every minority group to counter racism, ableism, sexism and age discrimination. I don’t think we should see one form of under-representation as being less important than another.

VS // Posted 11 June 2010 at 6:26 pm

By definition, any elected position is not selected for by “merit” but by what voters’ political views are. For e.g., a Tory candidate could be the best-qualified, most-experienced, most-charming etc person but I would vote for the Labour candidate instead of them not because of “merit” but because of my political views.

The problem with quotas and with all-women shortlists [as a permanent measure, rather than for 1 or 2 elections] is that they _restrict_ the choice of the voters. If I want to, say, vote for Joe Bloggs as my local Labour candidate because I agree with him more than Joanna Bloggs then it is a restriction of my freedom of choice as a voter to say Joanna Bloggs can stand but Joe can’t because he’s a bloke.

Restricting the choice voters have is undemocratic.

The important issue for me is not whether MPs or Cabinet members or Shadow Cabinet members are 50:50 but that they have views/values I share. I want Diane Abbott to be elected as Labour leader (or failing that, an important member of the Shadow Cabinet) because I sympathise with her left-of-centre views. I was annoyed that Thatcher got elected because I disagree with her free market dogma.

The trouble with the feminist case that women’s representation is a good thing _independently of the political views of the woman in question_ means that it invites support for people like Thatcher and Ann Widdicombe – who to my mind have terrible politics.

Shreen // Posted 13 June 2010 at 6:39 pm

I personally do not believe in quotas, but for the people who do, the belief lies in the assumption that fair representation automatically equals fair policies.

But this is simply not true – as it is possible that a male politician could channel the voices of his female citizens via networking with grassroots women’s rights groups. I am sure men can represent and defend women’s rights, maybe they are not being represented well currently, but I don’t think that justifies pushing in the quota system to generate an artificial sense of fairness.

Being able to represent your nation is the whole point of politicians no? If a politician is failing a very large demographic such as women, then they are simply not doing their job properly.

And what coldhabour said above is interesting – where will it stop? Quotas for every minority group?! Yikes! How about the government actually speak to those people directly and voice their opinions in parliament? Novel idea I know, I wish this would actually happen, but I’m not happy with forcing it to happen.

cim // Posted 14 June 2010 at 11:33 am

I don’t believe fair representation does automatically equal fair policies, but I do think it improves the chances. Yes, there are a few male MPs and former MPs who have done excellent jobs representing women’s interests, but the majority have not. The nature of privilege means that even if you are aware that you have it and aware that you need to account for it you can still forget to ask the right people the right questions at the right time.

This is really obvious with the recent proposals to give anonymity to rape suspects, for instance – the vast majority of the opposition in Parliament has been by Labour women, not Labour men. It’s not, so far as I can tell, that the Labour men don’t think it’s a bad idea (when they do speak on it, that’s what they say) but that they don’t think it’s important enough to spend much time on.

VS: There is a conflict, in single-member constituencies, between what the constituency wants and what the country as a whole wants. I don’t see that as so much of an issue for the shadow cabinet, though, where there are sixteen places plenty of which can be taken by men.

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 June 2010 at 12:18 pm

The idea isn’t a simplistic assumption that an individual woman would be better at pushing against patriarchy and systematic sexism simply because she is a woman, but that greater representation of women will overall create change.

The ‘tipping point’ theory suggests that when women must make up at least 30% of a parliament (or cabinet, or board, etc), for such a change to occur.

sianmarie // Posted 14 June 2010 at 12:42 pm

of course i don’t believe that women politicians are automatically feminist politicians – i grew up in the 80s and we all know the idea that ‘thatcher had to be more man than the men’ in order to not be accused of being feminist.

but we also know – and it is clearly proven – that when representation of women goes up, women’s issues (which affect men too) become less marginalised.

in terms of all female shortlists restricting choice – so do all male shortlists! when you go to vote, your choice is already restricted by who has been put forward by the parties to stand. and we know that women are often held back in many seats because the party is keener to stick with the familiar ‘look’ (white male for e.g.) so as not to isolate or concern loyal and regular voters. i could equally say that my choice to vote in the election was restricted because i HAD to vote for a white middle class man.

i wish we lived in a world where quotas weren’t necessary. but we don’t! the whole political system is based on patriarchy that privileges a certain group of people and structures itself around historic and exclusive behaviours (booing, late hours, very few women’s toilets in 1997). It is only going to take a complete overhaul about how we view politics and who the public accept as politicians to get anything close to equality.

sianmarie // Posted 14 June 2010 at 2:54 pm

So, VS what you describe here:

“I want to, say, vote for Joe Bloggs as my local Labour candidate because I agree with him more than Joanna Bloggs then it is a restriction of my freedom of choice as a voter to say Joanna Bloggs can stand but Joe can’t because he’s a bloke.”

is already happening because parties do choose which party member is going to stand in a constituency and often the choice is for joe rather than joanna bloggs. you don’t go to the polling booth and get to pick which labour candidate you want to vote for, from a list of other labour candidates. you vote for the labour candidate that the labour party have selected.

Shea // Posted 14 June 2010 at 5:52 pm

@ Sianmarie – spot on!

As for restricting the choice for voters.

We do that anyway with the Parliamentary system we have. We vote for the party not the individual according to the electoral ward we are in. This is why, along with the FPTP system we have to vote tactically. A system of proportional representation would remedy this to some extent.

We need a quota to initiate a cultural change and we should be extending quotas to the HoL, boardrooms and directorships. I would actually add a disabled and ethnic minority quota to that. I think we’ve shown on this thread that the meritocracy argument has been blown out of the water. And actually what qualification do you need to be an MP?

Rob // Posted 14 June 2010 at 10:23 pm

It may not be fast enough but at least the number of female MPs is rising. If I were Labour I’d be far more worried about the lack of working class and/or state educated members of parliament.

In theory more women should mean a greater representation for women’s issues but if the new MPs, like Harriet Harman, are chiefly concerned with the problems of upper income women, will they really be representing you regardless?

cim // Posted 15 June 2010 at 2:15 pm

“if the new MPs, like Harriet Harman”

Harriet Harman was first elected to Parliament in 1982. There aren’t that many MPs who’ve been around longer than that.

Certainly other ways that Parliament is unrepresentative also need dealing with, but that doesn’t mean that the lack of women in Parliament ceases to be a problem. (Indeed, if the principle of quotas and restricted shortlists can be established for women, it might make it easier to then apply the same to other underrepresented groups)

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