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Gender quotas are an insult to women and democracy

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CONSIDER this: Political parties wanting a more masculine image of power and strength ignore and replace female election candidates with their male counterparts. This scenario would undoubtedly be considered sexist and would generate uproar from feminist and equality quarters. Men pushing aside women candidates in a blasé attempt to create a more desirable image. Surely this could not happen? But this is the type of situation that is very likely to materialise if proposed Dáil Legislation goes ahead. The only difference with the hypothesis above and the reality is that it would be the women who were replacing the men, thus rendering it fully acceptable to many.

That was the opinion expressed at a conference organised by Kathleen Lynch, the Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental health and Older people. The proposed legislation could see the introduction of quotas to increase the number of women taking seats in Dáil Éireann. As progressive as we consider ourselves to be, legislation such as this is unquestionably undemocratic. Any bid to give greater weight to any social grouping takes away the voters’ right to vote indiscriminately. Surely this kind of thinking goes against equality.

The culture inIrelandis not what one would call a glass ceiling affair. Women excel in many areas, including politics. We have had a female Tánaiste, two female presidents, many politicians and other positions such as the State pathologist, filled by women. The fact that even a few are striking out and excel is proof thatIrelandis not sexist or gender selective.

Women are in positions of power. The assumption is that because there are fewer women in these positions than men, they are being obstructed by an ethos or legislative control. This assumption is not justified. It comes down to the personal choice of women and relatively recent gender equality.

The Irish electorate and women are being insulted by the idea that we need legislation to increase female numbers. I do not believe that there is anyone in the country who would vote for a candidate simply because they are male. That archaic notion is a slight on the intelligence of voters. Furthermore, it is an affront to women because it alludes to the need for a quota to see them successfully fill Dáil seats instead of allowing them to depend on their own merits.

Also, we must allow that for every seat taken in an effort to meet a quota means a seat is denied to a male. This could lead to people unsuited to a position pushing those who are out. It would also be in direct opposition to any argument that the quotas were to promote equality. A position where equality pushes out quality would ensue.

Positive discrimination can never be a solution to an equality problem and more to the point I believe that there is no problem of this kind to begin with.  This kind of legislation will only promote rivalry instead of equality.

Aoife Coughlan

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