Opinion

Siân Gwenllian: Why I think gender quotas are a necessary step for Welsh elections

01 Aug 2021 4 minutes Read
Charlotte Price White and her plaque.

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.

Minority

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.

Advantage

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.

‘Decision-making’

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”.

Positive

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’.

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#1Chris
#1Chris
2 months ago

I’m not sure a disparity of 26 women to 34 men in Y Senedd is indicative of gender bias, or simply statistical variation. But generally speaking I support gender quotas where appropriate. I work in an industry with a heavy male bias, which is incrementally redressing that imbalance. In this I have worked with enough capable, highly talented women to know that gender should not be a bar to office. The view “but the most qualified person for the job should get it” is absolutely true. Yet for too long the best person for a job is often passed over… Read more »

defaid
defaid
2 months ago
Reply to  #1Chris

A long wordy U-turn follows… … on a concept that’s referred to in one short sentence in the article. I agree entirely with your observations but I’m unsure of how the imbalance can best be redressed. Council quotas and employer quotas are definitely needed, if only to break the boardroom cloning (something that has been damaging my employer for nearly 20 tears). Quotas don’t address what may be a more fundamental issue: confidence. In engineering, technical rôles are mostly filled by men while on my employer’s shopfloor, from unskilled through to line management the ratio is about 3f : 1m… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
2 months ago
Reply to  defaid

Certain women like to do their own thing. I had a double-take moment three weeks ago, when I saw a petite Arab-looking girl operating a SweRock cement
truck! Okay, this is Scandia, but even here both men and women want to do the things that attract them, and time hasn’t changed that. People choose freedom.

defaid
defaid
2 months ago
Reply to  j humphrys

That’s what I came to realise while I was typing. Government, and industry, are missing out on half the pool of potential candidates for every rôle because people see particular jobs as being for a particular gender. Given time, quotas at selection might change that misperception.

j humphrys
j humphrys
2 months ago
Reply to  defaid

Sorry, my point is Open Mind trumps Quota. There are no quotas for cement truck drivers in Finland! Though I do take your point about missed talent.

Last edited 2 months ago by j humphrys
Gloyw
Gloyw
2 months ago
Reply to  #1Chris

Do you work in sewage treatment by any chance?

#1Chris
#1Chris
2 months ago
Reply to  Gloyw

😂 No. But not the first time I’ve been accused of it 💩

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago

Getting a 50/50 gender balance of candidates does not necessarily secure a 50/50 mix of those elected. My concern is that too many candidates are now products of party machines and come with their party’s groupthink firmly embedded in them. It’s that grey men syndrome upgraded to a more modern mix of “approved” characteristics

Last edited 2 months ago by hdavies15
CapM
CapM
2 months ago

Quotas based on gender are problematic for a number of reasons even if they are an attempt to correct matters. There’s always the possibility of, or accusation of someone getting selected because of their gender and a more able candidate being excluded for example. Seeing that we have a numerically small Senedd we really need to have the most able MS we can get regardless of Party. If political parties tested all their candidates for their ability to know and understand the rules applied to being an MS and the workings of the Senedd/government would be a good start. That… Read more »

Glen
Glen
2 months ago

How about just choosing the best person to represent voters, regardless of gender, colour, religion etc.

Is there anything more patronising to women than an all female shortlist?
While quotas is just another word for tokenism.

Last edited 2 months ago by Glen
defaid
defaid
2 months ago
Reply to  Glen

While I was typing an earlier comment, I came to realise that you can only choose the best person if they put themselves forward. Looking at it from the perspective of hiring the best person for the job, if women don’t apply then we’re missing half the pool of best candidates, in industry as well as government. Men don’t become secretaries, women don’t become plumbers. I know it’s a generalisation but I’m sure everyone understands that gender association. Positive discrimination at selection will definitely reduce the overall quality of successful candidates but only until that gender association is no longer… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by defaid
Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
2 months ago

Perhaps we should not accept this uncritically… “When women are absent from public life, women’s voices and priorities are absent too.” True. Noone is blocking women from public life, Noone is trying to suppress women’s voices. So SG is putting up a false premise. “hearing only one type of voice is damaging.” Detail please – what is the “one voice” which is prevalent? What is the damage which is being done, plis SG? No premise established at all. “female leaders were more risk-averse and therefore closed their countries earlier than male leaders, saving more lives.” Risk-averse means avoiding risk without… Read more »

Quornby
Quornby
2 months ago

I’m against gender allocations for the same reason that Pankhurst was against disenfranchised womanhood.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

I honestly think quotas would do more harm than good. People should be judged on their merits and not on their gender or their race for that matter, going against this would be adding fuel to the fire of sexism, bigotry & the far right.

When I go to the polling station I vote for the candidate who is best qualified to represent my interests. Whether or not they happen to be male, female, or have a different ethnicity to me is completely irrelevant.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago

I fully support the general proposition we will be better represented, the better the match of the profiles our Senedd representatives to Welsh society in all its diversity. Quotas may provide a cosmetic solution, but they may also result in a failure to address the root problems of why more women candidates are not coming through. For example, one issue might be Senedd procedures and practices that are unfriendly to women with child-rearing responsibilities. Quotas alone would allow for the advancement of women candidates who do not have children to raise or who are privileged to have partners who are… Read more »

David Russell
David Russell
2 months ago

Gender quotas or diversity quotas are just another Marxist tactic to replace talent with mediocrity. White men are now becoming toxic and are openly discriminated against.
It will all end badly.

#1Chris
#1Chris
2 months ago
Reply to  David Russell

Oh here we go. Another one who doesn’t understand what Marxism is but can’t keep the word out of his mouth. All you know about Marxism is that the Daily Heil told you Corbyn was one

#1Chris
#1Chris
2 months ago

I see all the reactions to this article and I could spend all night arguing them. But I won’t. To simplify it as much as possible:- Quotas are a short “injustice” to redress an injustice that has been in place for hundreds of years. They are an imperfect blunt instrument, but they are better than letting the hundreds of years old tradition of white men hiring white men exactly like them every single time Nobody is trying to force anyone into jobs they don’t want to do it CERTAINLY has nothing to do with f***in’ “Marxism” Nobody is picking on… Read more »

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