There has been an ongoing debate over the issue of female representation in electoral politics. In most democracies, the percentage of women serving in the national legislature is far below the percentage of women in the general population. Some countries have subsequently adopted quota systems, whereby parties are required to field a certain percentage of female candidates, or there are reserved seats in the legislature; examples include Argentina, Sweden, South Africa, Pakistan, Belgium and France. Proponents argue that this is necessary in order for the legislatures in representative democracies to truly be, well, representative. Critics argue that quotas are demeaning to women and simply represent tokenism, not real change.
Recently, this debate has spread to Ireland, where out of 166 seats in the Dail, only 23 of them are held by women. However, it has been controversial; it caused a huge ruckus at the Fine Gael conference where it was proposed, and the Irish Times reported that a majority of female TDs are opposed to the idea of gender quotas as well (although there are differences by party). The current online Irish Times poll is running 69% no, 31% yes.
Although I am sympathetic to the aims of the proposal, personally I don't think gender quotas are the solution to female under-representation in politics for several reasons. First, I would be concerned that female representation through a quota system would be completely divorced from actual political power, whereas if you rise through the ranks as a politician, you have clearly built up your own base. Oftentimes, I think this kind of thing is window-dressing: "Oh, sure, we'll let her in, but just sit in the back and be quiet". Another reason is that too often I think there is an underlying assumption that somehow having more women will somehow make the system "better" or more humane in some way; the reality is, many women in politics are just as stupid, cutthroat, and corrupt as the men; Sarah Palin and Iris Robinson come to mind.
The one positive effect I could see from a quota system is that it might force the major parties to look beyond their usual recruiting grounds for candidates (party youth, GAA, family dynasties) and we could end up with more candidates who were actually interested in policy, rather than playing politics...or with people who actually know something about the issues that they are legislating about. If done correctly, this could also open up the potential pool of male candidates as well.
So what say ye, loungers - should Irish parties adopt gender quotas? If so, why? If not, how can we increase female representation in the Dail? Or does this even matter?