By Cynthia Richie on January 06, 2018
It's been a busy start to 2018 with daily reminders of both the need for women to have an equal voice in elected/appointed offices and the potential for rapid change that coalition work makes possible.
The clearest example of this was the impressive launch of the Time's Up coalition- which issued a clarion call to end sexual harassment and the inequality that perpetuates it. Many thanks to terrific allies like Monica Ramirez who has played a major role in the development of this effort - and the many others who are participating. Our voices are stronger when when we sing in unison.
My single biggest hope for 2018 is that together we will begin to consider intentional actions like quotas and voting system reforms that are advancing women's representation around the globe. This terrific piece from The Australian provides a model for the conversation we must have in the US. It's hard to be a lone voice on any topic but as the Time's Up women have demonstrated there is tangible power in our collective voice - let's use it:
Whenever gender quotas have been raised with conservatives, the collective reason for opposing them almost always has been rooted in the principle of merit. It’s a spurious argument at best, but it’s their excuse time and time again for not taking decisive action to fix the gender imbalance among their parliamentary representatives.
The data doesn’t lie: there is no denying the huge disparity in representation between the major parties when it comes to gender. Today there are fewer Coalition women in parliament — as a percentage and as a total — than at any time during John Howard’s nearly 12 years in power.
In contrast Labor, which has embraced quotas, has seen the number of women in parliament steadily rise. Years ago it was Labor that had a problem attracting women to join its ranks and run for parliament. The blokey culture of the party of the working class was less appealing than the Liberal Party for many women. Today, however, from what little we can glean from membership figures made available publicly, fewer woman are joining the party ranks of the conservatives.
It’s not about whether the extra women Labor attracts into parliament are better than the men. It’s a case of overcoming culturally ingrained discrimination against women. Women have the right to be as good or as bad as male MPs. Quotas level the playing field, removing prejudice; they do not distort it, as is so often falsely argued. Linking quotas to the notion of identity politics, the political right deliberately has turned opposition to them into some sort of false defence of the values of liberalism.
Even if gender quotas distort merit-based selection — which they do not — conservatives can no longer claim they are the defenders of merit over quotas anyway. Last week Malcolm Turnbull belled the cat when he declared that “geography” won out over merit when Darren Chester was dumped from cabinet in favour of a Liberal National Party backbencher from Queensland. The Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce felt that a geographical quota for Queensland was more important than meritorious elevation to cabinet because of the electoral threats Turnbull faces on his right flank in the sunshine state in the wake of the recent state election result. So much for the principled defence of merit over quotas falsely cited time and time again.
This principle of quotas to ensure a reasonably reflective state-based distribution on the frontbench has long been in play for conservatives. I remember Howard referring to it when I interviewed him for his biography. And the Nationals have a formal quota for the number of cabinet ministers they get in government under the Coalition agreement. Quotas are unacceptable to conservatives only when gender is involved.
It has irked me for some time that Liberals try to use merit as some element of liberalism that knocks out any embrace of quotas. Inconsistency is the only word to describe such claims.
As a matter of simple logic, unless you believe women are less meritorious than men, how can anyone claim that merit has delivered the conservatives so few female MPs in the House of Representatives? Does anyone honestly believe the female sex is meritoriously capable of holding only 17 per cent of Coalition seats in parliament? Or is it likelier that Liberals and Nationals have a problem in preselecting women or convincing them to run for preselection in the first place?
How can anyone seriously believe merit is the defining principle for winning a parliamentary seat for the conservatives in the first place? A simple look at the gene pool in the House of Representatives or the Senate would clarify that misconception. Gender quotas aren’t about delivering better parliamentarians than are selected at present, even if that would be a likely consequence. They simply help to overcome in-built prejudices that discriminate against women. Unless, that is, you believe women are meritoriously capable of holding only 13 of 76 seats for the conservatives.
And let’s not be distracted by the tired conservative red herring that gender quotas are a “slippery slope” that gives way to other micro-quotas based on race or ethnicity, for example. Women make up more than 50 per cent of the Australian population; no other cohort considered for a quota is so pervasive yet so shut out. Quotas are in fact a cultural norm for conservatives, just not gender quotas for some reason. Watching defenders of the quota for Nationals in the ministry twist and turn when condemning gender quotas may be a fun pastime, but the lack of self-awareness it highlights is disturbing in elected representatives who perform such an important role in our democratic polity.
Liberals know they have a gender problem, even if they have yet to acknowledge that quotas are the only viable solution to it. Targets have been established, including a non-binding target of 50 per cent women in parliament by 2025. But targets work only if organisations have mechanisms in place to reward or punish line managers who meet or fail to meet the targets.
That works in most businesses or private organisations — for example via bonuses or promotion opportunities linked to key performance indicators — but not in political parties. And you have to be realistic when setting targets. This year Qantas announced a target for its cadet intake to boost the number of female pilots. Liberals won’t embrace a quota even for newly preselected MPs, instead sticking to its entirely unachievable 50 per cent target in seven years.
What will happen when (not if, because there is no doubt) the Liberal Party fails to meet its 50 per cent target by 2025? Nothing. No one will be held responsible, there are no bonuses to be withheld. There may be an electoral price, but even that is fuzzy at best because so many other factors dictate how people vote. Electoral success is no guide to the impact quotas necessarily have on a political party — there are too many independent variables in play, as any good researcher will tell you.
The airline industry is also a good point of comparison to politics for another stale argument once used to shut out women: having more female pilots isn’t possible because of the travel and time away from home. Yet women account for 68 per cent of Qantas flight attendants. Cue face palm.
Quotas let merit shine by removing long-term cultural barriers to meritorious women entering parliament (or becoming pilots). Qantas is getting with the times; it’s a shame the Coalition isn’t. How many more years must we endure right-wing ideologues using quotas when it suits for geography or Coalition harmony, only to pan the idea when it comes to gender? The hypocrisy is simply staggering.
I was pleased to find this piece by Nancy Smith that writes about the male-dominated political culture in Florida:
I maintain that without significant numbers of women in power, the "club" the male culture built in the capital and in every capital in this nation will stand brick for brick just as strong as it is now in 100 more years: In a manner of speaking, the men will continue to retire to the parlor with their brandy; the women will gather out of earshot, engaging in a conversation the men should but never, ever will hear.
Maybe you're unaware, but a whole lot of countries have more to celebrate when it comes to women in government than the United States does. In the past two decades, the U.S. has sunk from 52nd in the world for women’s representation to 104th today, according to data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In the past year alone, the US has dropped nine places — from 95th to 104th — among more than 190 countries.
Think about it: Females currently make up more than half the population in the country, yet they’re represented by a Congress of 80 percent men. This isn’t just an equal representation issue. The proportion of women in government profoundly affects how all of society views women.
Today, around half of the nations in the world use some kind of gender quota in government, according to the Global Database of Quotas for Women.
Iceland this week provided great fodder for the argument that so many of us have been making for decades - women bring a unique perspective on policy that is sorely missing in the US. According to this story in The New York Times it is now illegal in Iceland to pay women less than men for the same work:
Companies with more than 25 workers will have to obtain an "equal pay certification" from an accredited auditor showing that they are basing pay differences on legitimate factors such as education, skills and performance. Big companies with more than 250 employees have until the end of the year to get the certification, while the smallest have until the end of 2021. The certification must be renewed every three years.
I will end this week with this piece written by Andrea Dew Steele and Swanee Hunt that is emblematic of many news stories of late - the title says it all "A seismic shift in government is coming, and here's who will drive it" - while I agree that this shift cannot come soon enough I would emphasize that true parity must include all women from across all races, parties, and states.
I will be traveling overseas for the next few weeks with limited access to the internet - I plan to resume this missive at the end of January!
My colleague Toni Gingerelli has worked very hard to update Representation2020's Gender Parity Index despite nearly constant changes in women's representation stats. She will be releasing the updated Index this coming week - please do help us to share this important tool that measures and quantifies progress toward parity.
I am very much looking forward to working with each of you in the coming year to advance women's equality and leadership!