21st century feminism

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Quotas, Female MPs and Turning Round the Telescope


And they’re off! The election is now everywhere in the UK (May 6th, if you’ve not heard), so I thought I’d bring up an issue I’ve been pondering starting a discussion about for a while: the dearth of female MPs. At the moment the UK parliament is at 19.6% representation of women, 61st in the list of nations. In January a cross-party conference chaired by Speaker John Bercow, recommended that, if the paltry 19.6% stat didn’t improve in the next election compulsory quotas should be introduced, and this is something I would wholeheartedly welcome.

Mandatory quotas are not always popular. Some protest that it’s not about whether an MP is female, male, gay, straight, black, white, vegan, carnivore  … It’s about what their policies are, what their politics are. Others, including feminists and some female MPs, protest that quotas would be unfair. Female MPs don’t want an uneven playing field, they want to win a seat because they’re the best candidate, not because they’re women.

But the last time I looked democratic government was meant to be about people. About the people of a particular country, not about the career of a particular person. We’ve come a long way in the last couple of hundred years. We’ve learnt that it doesn’t just have to be the King/Queen, who rules the country; we even realised it doesn’t just have to be the aristocracy (aka. the King/Queen’s chums); in the end we conceded that everyone, including poor people and women should get a say as to who runs the show, and - on paper - should get a shot at sitting in the velvet seats of power. But, for women, it’s time it was more than a shot.

"the women of this country deserve to be represented in the governance of this country in equal measure to the men"

When we focus on individual MPs, who want it to be ‘fair’ (whatever that means), who want to be sitting in Parliament because they are the best, because they beat everyone, man or woman, to it, we’re looking down the telescope the wrong way, everything is made tiny and individualised to the point where the wider horizon is lost. The wider horizon is that the women of this country deserve to be represented in the governance of this country in equal measure to the men. It is not enough to continue to say that men can sympathise/empathise/represent/politicise/speak/write/govern on behalf of the women. Oh, and the men that are elected must be better than the women they competed against because they won! Women are available, educated, and equally competent to serve as MPs. It is time we were represented equally in the leadership of the nation in our own right. And, if a particular women wants to ‘beat the boys’ there’s a whole world of out there that doesn’t have quotas, but when it comes to democratic government how can we settle for anything less? It’s time to turn round the telescope. What do you think?

For more info about women in the UK general election, have a look at the Fawcett Society’s ‘What About Women?’ campaign. 

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