Siân Gwenllian: Why I think gender quotas are a necessary step for Welsh elections
Siân Gwenllian MS is Chair of the Senedd’s Cross-party Group on Women
I was delighted to be part of a celebration at Bangor recently to note the achievements of Charlotte Price White, a prominent Suffragist who walked to London during the Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913.
Born in Scotland, Charlotte studied science at the University in Bangor, graduating in the 1890s. She settled in Bangor in 1902 after a short time away as a school teacher in London.
She was one of the first women to be elected to Caernarvonshire County Council in 1926 and forged a path for future women in politics.
As a small crowd gathered on Upper Garth Road to unveil a plaque in her memory, I felt personally indebted to her and hundreds like her who fought so hard for women’s rights. I also felt a little sad. So much has been achieved but inequalities persist.
Only around a quarter of county councillors are women; I served as the only woman on Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet, and I am the first woman to represent the Arfon constituency.
When women are absent from public life, women’s voices and priorities are absent too.
Even at the Senedd, I am in a minority.
Of the 60 members, there are 26 women and 34 men. Of the 13 Plaid Cymru Members of the Senedd, 8 are men, 5 are women.
To change this situation, I firmly believe we have to have a statutory electoral system in place that makes it obligatory for political parties to select equal numbers of men and women, whilst also reflecting the diversity of society in Wales.
I will be advocating this during this new Senedd when there is an unique opportunity to bring this about in Wales, for the first time.
Diversity in public life brings advantages to us all – this of course not only applies to gender but to all manner of characteristics, be it race, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc.
When it comes to representation and decision making, hearing only one type of voice is damaging.
When there are seats at the table for people with different backgrounds, different world views, different realities, we manage to capture various voices, and we’re able to make decisions that benefit the whole of society.
In order to achieve this, quotas are a necessary step – until we are in a position in which equal representation is organic, representation has to be ensured manually.
Implementing quotas addresses a number of factors that stand the way of equal gender representation; when girls and women see someone like them in a decision making role, it reinforces the idea that those roles are for them, and quotas also simply open more roles to women.
We know that women are capable of making great politicians and successful leaders.
In fact, a number of recent studies on female-led responses to the pandemic concluded that women are better at handling crisis situations.
Dr Supriya Garikipati and Dr Uma Kambhampati found that female-led countries had better covid outcomes – it notes that female leaders were more risk-averse and therefore closed their countries earlier than male leaders, saving more lives.
Dr Garikipati told Forbes that “women have been asked to be more like men to be successful, but perhaps it’s time to ask men to abide by more female traits such as empathy and clear communication”.
This study and its findings make clear the benefits of diversity within governments, that input from different types of people with different approaches – something which comes from having different lived experiences – is a positive for us all.
But this won’t happen unless we make it happen.
According to the UN, at the current rate, gender equality within the highest positions of power will take 130 years.
They note that only 22 countries worldwide have a female head of state or government, that 119 countries have never had a female leader, and that there are only four countries in total that have at least fifty percent female representation: Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia, and the United Arab Emirates.
There are 19 other countries that have achieved at least 40 percent representation, and of these, two-thirds have implemented gender quotas.
As I set about to argue the case for mandatory quotas in Welsh elections – for the Senedd and local government, I will be inspired by Charlotte Price White and countless other women’s rights campaigners.
Let us continue their legacy by ensuring the next generation of girls feel their chances of filling a position of power is just the same as their male peers’.