On gender balance.

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There's been a lot of hoohah on the blogosphere about all-women shortlists. (Against, mostly Nats like Jeff and Mr Macnumpty, also Political Dissuasion: for, Labour voices like Kez and Yousuf).

Without wishing to sound like a Liberal, I think they're both right. All-women shortlists are indeed a crude and anti-egalitarian way to try and build gender equality. 

However, I can't stomach the complacency, the desire of some to stick their fingers in their ears when others point out that Parliament is about 35% female, down from almost 40% in 2003.

The position in our local authorities is even worse, and declining. Less than 22% of Scottish councillors elected in 2007 were female, marginally down on 2003, and even further down on 1999 (pdf).

The Green approach is different - our constitution requires that at least 50% of our candidates for winnable seats are female. There's an exemption for sitting MSPs, which is one of the reasons both my MSP employers are male, true, but at the Council level we're exactly 50/50.

Looking beyond the obviously winnable seats, we balance there too, but not as tightly. 40% of all candidates, minimum, must be female, and 40%, minimum, must be male.

Now, this certainly makes it more complex to select candidates, as Green activists will tell you, but it can't be seen as discriminating against either gender, nor is it "positive discrimination". Indeed, in one branch there would have been an under-representation of men without this mechanism.

It's not a magic bullet. It should only be a transitional mechanism, although that transition might be lengthy. It doesn't cover other sorts of equalities, from transgender to race and class. 

This principle has, however, encouraged more women to put themselves forward, and through it we've selected more good women to fight and win elections, women who continue to grow in those roles and who inspire more good candidates to come forward each time we select.

I know it's also easier for us than it is for other parties, given our focus on PR elections like the Holyrood lists and local authority contests. But couldn't other parties try something that's not one of the two failed models the blogosphere has adopted, just as the other parties have? (Malc is an honourable exception here) 

It's a classic false opposition. Parties shouldn't be excluding men, but nor should selection meetings where the loudest and deepest voice wins be the norm.


My opposition is neither false nor classic James.

I have a question though. If the Government decided that they were going to make a drive towards gender balance in the fields of plumbing and nursing, would that be something you would support?

We have no need for gender balance for any other job in the world and I don't subscribe that just because the country is 50/50 male/female then parliamentary chambers necessarily need to be the same.

We can keep access to democracy open and free and if anyone wants to be a politician and is capable enough then they'll get there off their own backs with no need for an artificial helping hand.

Thanks James.

Jeff, to clarify, I meant setting the debate up as all-women shortlists versus no equality measures was a false opposition.

Not that it's a perfect read-across, I do think we should treat would-be plumbers and would-be nurses the same: would you be happy if nursing colleges picked only male applicants?

Also, do you really think representing the public is qualitatively identical to fixing their taps or their illnesses? Are you secretly the reincarnation of Edmund Burke?

"We have no need for gender balance for any other job in the world" In Sweden they have a requirement for 40% of boards to be female and I hear very good things of this move which has all but abolished the glass ceiling.

But for other jobs gaining a balance is about recruitment practice and can't be legislated for. The ethnic diversity of the police force is something that is often discussed but you can't conscript people. The lack of male primary school teachers is another... there are more examples...

However, I'm actually posting because I have a technical question on gaining equal representation for council candidates. With PR it's a relatively simple matter of creating rules that insist on a minimum number of women - with a thousand council candidates across the country how do you make that happen?

In England we (Greens) generally use local rules and it seems to work out pretty well, and of course both our MEPs are women and we have one of each for our london assembly members (we use rules for that). However central control to ensure equal numbers of council candidates would be nightmarish for a whole number of reasons.

I'm for rules to ensure gender equality - although done appropriately - but I suspect a lot of it is down to political culture. For example we ave no gender balance rules for our national exec and yet we have 50/50 representation anyway (by chance)

Hi Jim,
It's up to branches to select constitutionally, not the national party, although the gender balance outcome would be much the same. I can't see a need for central control over council selection, balancing between areas.

The system I know best is the one used in Edinburgh. Last time, for the 2007 locals, we selected for the 17 city wards using the following system. The branch ranked all the male and female candidates, then the two lists were "zipped", i.e. alternated. We targeted four wards, and won three of them, giving us one male and two female Councillors.

Sigh. You know this is one of my most unfavourite topics but I am compelled to post. Indeed, a little more gender balance in those that are blogging and commenting on this would be desirable.

Rather than get into the technicalities of selection procedures ensuring gender balance (as any Greens will know this is eye gouging out territory), instead I want to address this 'women not being interested in politics' rubbish and the 'should we gender balance plumbers and nurses' nonsense.

Firstly, women's involvement in politics is extensive when you look beyond the narrow focus of Parliamentary democracy. Women are involved in and tend to make up the majority of local campaigning, voluntary work, NGO staff and membership (this varies but is true in the majority of non-gender specific work eg women's refuges and gay men's health projects). Therefore it is not lack of interest in politics that dissuades women from standing for election but other barriers.

It is important for representative democracy to be representative. Representation in other professionals is an important concern but not an imperative. This is why many industries actively try to recruit underrepresented groups. There is also an argument about traditionally female work being under valued and under paid, but I won't get into that. (BTW this whole area is extremely well researched and documented, see here, here, here and here)

The representation of women in Parliament(s) is crucial to getting women's issues and rights addressed. Better representation of women in Scotland has led to for example, better services to tackle violence against women and an integrated strategy on domestic abuse.

It is depressing that as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement Procession in Edinburgh this year there are still those who question the necessity of women's involvement in politics. We can’t wait around for equality to happen we have to struggle for it.

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