International Women’s Day: Say No To Quotas!
Today is being celebrated the world over as International Women’s Day; a day to celebrate the achievements of those of the fairer sex, while highlighting the work that is still to be done on behalf of women in some of the forgotten corners of our world. Perhaps inevitably the conversation today will turn to towards finding solutions to the real and perceived inequalities facing women. That conversation will undoubtedly rest on quota systems. In fact, a member of the Jamaican Senate has already raised the issue, arguing that it would compensate for the disparity between men and women in the Parliament. I’m no expert in these matters, and I do not pretend to be – these are my opinions having thought about the issue. I have no doubt that the Senator has good intentions, but I cannot support quotas on the basis of gender, especially in political representation. Here’s why.
Quota systems in politics exist to solve inherent or structural inequalities. That is, the state engineers what is thought to be a desired result by allocating or reserving a certain amount of seats in the parliament for women, on the basis that they are women. That would be the first qualifier. While advocacy groups here in Jamaica such as the 51% Coalition have argued that the women who would occupy these reserved seats/spaces are to be qualified, they do not deny that the basic qualifier would be gender. It raises the question, is there inherent and structural inequality in Jamaican politics? By this I mean, are women prevented from running for, and holding public office simply because they are women? Of course not. A female colleague of mine only this morning tweeted that she is thankful to have been born and raised in a country where being a female was not a deterrent or an impediment. We must then question why we need to engineer the democratic process to reflect what we think it ought to look like. This betrays our impatience with the democratic process. We believe the pluralist society we consider ideal is taking shape too slowly for our liking, so we must necessarily meddle, engineer and interfere to suit or preferences. That is dangerous. That is to be rejected.
Quotas amount to affirmative action, and just as any other beneficiary of affirmative action is seen as less than, or only having attained the position they occupy because whatever predetermined trait commended them to it, and no matter what their independent qualifications are, we run the real risk of them being shadowed by the quota system. It is my considered opinion that such a move would set back the process, rather than further it.
By favouring one sex over another, we are creating an atmosphere of resentment and animosity; the state will be playing favourites. That is not the role of government, that is not the role of the state. We diminish the capacity of women to make advancements on merit, and single them out for special treatment and remedial action. How would this be in their best interest? How would we have advanced the cause of women by using their gender as the predominant qualifier? Am I the only one who finds that offensive?
Finally, there is an inherent problem with quotas which allows for manipulation. The state ought not to play favourites, as mentioned before. Therefore, if we create quotas on the basis of gender, we may have to do it on the basis of race, then religious persuasion, or political persuasion, and possibly even sexual orientation. Only that would be fair. My question is, where would one draw the line? There is an inherent problem with seeking to adopt a strictly pluralist society, and that problem is chaos. While I can appreciate the good intentions of those who propose quotas, I believe it complicates the problem, rather than fixes it. Democracy was not intended to be engineered or manipulated by the state and its agents; it was intended to unfold at the ballot, by the people, through their vote. If the people want more women, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, Rastafarians, blacks etc. in Parliament, let them vote them in. Do not reserve seats for them because of predetermined characteristics. I cannot support that.