Tuesday, 23 September 2008

World's first female majority Parliament

In New Zealand we are pretty proud of leading the way for women's electoral representation, or at least being near the front of the pack. But when it comes to women in Parliament Rwanda has us beat hands down. As Idiot/Savant reports, they've just elected the world's first female majority Parliament, and the current figure of 44 women out of 80 seats may increase further if women are elected to quota seats put aside for youth and the disabled.

How have they done it? Well they've used quotas - Little Miss Brightside has more on how this works in the Rwandan context, and it seems to have been a move that evolved out of the ruins created by genocide in their nation in the recent past.

Which raises the question in my mind; are quotas the only way to achieve a break-through of this nature? In the analysis I've been doing of the place of women on party lists the Greens have stuck out so far, and they do have a firm commitment to a (loosely) quota-based system for women's representation.

What do you think dear readers? Do we need a women's (or indeed Maori, or Pasifika, or non-hetero, or indeed any other) quota in our Parliament? Would such a move be a good idea as an interim measure, or on a permanent basis, or do you just think it sucks the big kumara beyond belief?


Hugh said...

Yes, I did wonder whether there would be a Hand Mirror post on this.

The situation in Rwanda will offer an interesting test for the idea that more women in the legislature leads to improvement in women's situation in the jurisdiction in question.

My suspicion is that it doesn't, but I'm prepared to be proved wrong, and I don't need Rwanda to become the most egalitarian place in the world for that to happen - just for there to be substantial improvement.

Anonymous said...

Labour has about 1 in 3 MPs that are female (33%), National has about 1 in 4 (25%). Just heard recently that women hold 14% of the parliament seats in the world.

good question - I think a quota in NZ would be good - anything that helps!

There are various reasons why women are less likely to be MPs (childcare commitments, time out of the workforce/experience). However it is very important to encourage women in particular to aim towards being a politician/in Parliament because we need a much better gender representation up there - they make the laws!

I'm excited about Rwanda! And surprised.


Carol said...

I was watching parliament on TV today. I know that's only one part of politicians' work. But so much of parliament seems a very macho environment, that it might put a lot of women off. The National benches (during question time especially) were particularly like a baying batch off hounds. And they have the highest proportion of men.

I thought Jeanette Fitzsimmons was noticeably quieter and calmer when she got up to speak - also one or two of the Maori women MPs.

Parliament is so combative and it doesn't show politicians in a very good light a lot of the time.

But I think as more women go into politics it may encourage other women to participate.

Craig Ranapia said...

How have they done it? Well they've used quotas - Little Miss Brightside has more on how this works in the Rwandan context, and it seems to have been a move that evolved out of the ruins created by genocide in their nation in the recent past.

Well, don't you find the notion that women don't support (let alone perpetuate) genocide not only flies in the face of reality, but is just a wee bit patronising in an 'Angel of the House' kind of way?

In the end, anyone who can even start turning around the horrifying legacy of genocide, ethnic strife, the AIDS panademic, endless conflict and equally endless poverty that degrades and demeans everyone it touches has my prayers and good wishes on their side. (For whatever good it will do.) But I don't think any female legislator needs to have a rather mangy pair of wings strapped to their backs as well.

The National benches (during question time especially) were particularly like a baying batch off hounds. And they have the highest proportion of men.

Carol: I'd take the partisan and gender blinkers off for a moment, because I've been observing Parliament for a long time. And I've plenty of women -- on all sides -- acting like idiots.

Carol said...

Yes, I agree that there's idiocy and aggression in parliament coming from all sides and from both male and female. I also don't think women are all naturally pacifist (I lived in Thatcher's Britain when she was salivating over sending troops to fight in the Falklands).

But IMO the overall tone in parliament is the legacy of a long masculinist tradition, and one that would be likely to put a lot of women off participating.

Yesterday, there seemed to me a noticeable distasteful,strongly aggressive pack attack coming from the National benches.

At one point, Fitzsimmons noticeably countered that by standing quietly waiting for the noise to subside before talking. I think the Greens, and some Maori do cultivate a less conflictual approach to politics than in the Westminster tradition.

The women that are in parliament now would need to be ones that feel confident enuff to stand up to that kind of aggression, and possibly to be able to give as good as they get.

I'm giving a possible reason for why many women choose not to go into politics. There's a strong masculine tradition there that's foreign to many women - probably as much cultural as inborn. And the Nats seem to me to exemplify it more than the other parties IMO.

Hugh said...

The reason the Greens and the Maori party don't go after Labour as aggressively as National do, or vice versa, is that the Greens and Maori see both big parties as coalition partners and don't want to offend them.

Parliamentarians are responsible first and foremost to the people who elect them. I don't know about you, but my approach to people who hold the kind of views that the Tories and ACT do is not to be respectful and consensus-seeking, and I don't want my representatives to behave that way either.

Parliament is a policy-making body. Its main function is to create laws, not to appear agreeable to spectators. We should criticise or praise our MPs based on the laws they pass, not the manners they practice while passing them.

In other words Carol it's a good thing I don't agree that Maori and/or women are more consensual in Parliament, because if I thought they were I would be significantly deterred from voting for them.

Carol said...

I think we may slightly be talking at cross purposes, Hugh.

Mainly I'm talking about parliament as a store window for the work environment for potential politicians. My views on it are influenced by my perspective as a voter, but that wasn't my main point. I think the aggressive posturing and verbal point scoring that goes on in parliament is not something many women are socialised into. Consequently parliament could be quite off-putting as a career choice.

I said above that I know the performance in parliament is only one part of a politicians job. I do think a politician also needs to be a good negotiator, and to be able to compromise when necessary.

I don't see behaving in a relatively non-conflictual way as being necessarily consensual and subservient. A good politician should be able to negotiate from a strongly held position. I think the Greens and Maori often do that.

Hugh said...

Carol, we may be, but I think our positions on this are different.

Recruitment into Parliament is a complex process but my feeling is that most people do not expect the actual experience of sitting in the debating chamber to be present. Parliament's members are not like the board of a corporation or the management team of a business - they don't have a shared goal.

There may be some things that they can all agree on, but putting aside their opinions - or more correctly, the opinions of their constituents - in the interests of the institution is not valid, because those opinions are the reason they're there, and indeed the reason the institution exists.

I think in Parliament being consensual and being non-conflictive are essentially the same. Elections are competitive - people vote for one party as much to keep another party out as to get that party in. Parliament is designed to be an arena where conflict takes place, not an arena where people reach common ground.

As long as our society is divided - and have no doubt, it is divided - Parliament needs to reflect that. If you prize unity, expecting it to flow outward from Parliament is the wrong way to go about it.

Tui said...

@Hugh, I think Carol's point is twofold:

1. That there are ways to disagree without shouting or otherwise being aggressive, that nevertheless cannot be construed as compromising or smoothing over;

2. Part of the reason Parliament does not display these ways of disagreeing has to do with its history as a man's environment. Men are socialised to disagree like this, while women - who are socialised to disagree quite differently, and not necessarily in a way that can be described as smoothing-over or compromising - will find this environment off-putting.

Now, I think most women in parliament are pretty well-equipped to disagree like this, and I think there are plenty of women who *do* disagree like this (I do; one of my best friends does.) So I don't think it is stopping women from entering parliament, or that women who are in parliament usually behave very differently to the men. But I agree wth Carol that it's a potentially hostile environment for women who have to deal with their own socialisation.

Carol said...

Thanks, tui, that's exactly what I meant.

I was presenting the idea as one of the possible factors behind the current statistics. These show women with a substantial percentage of MPs, but still lagging behind men. But I don't think it's the only factor.

I agree many women today don't have a problem with performing in parliament, politics or public debate more generally.

I think the traditional gender socialisation has broken down a bit, tho hasn't totally disappeared. I see evidence of it in online forums. More female centred ones tend to conduct disagreements in a different kind of way from more male dominated ones.

The traditional masculine socialisation tends to encourage men to relate generally in a combative way. You can see it on some rugby forums, and in the difference between this site and some of the more male dominated political blogs in NZ. Forums that have more of a balance between males and females tend to be less combative. I think overall outlook also is a factor: ie I think rugby forums represent a fairly traditional kind of masculinity, while a blog site like publicaddress demonstrates a more contemporary version of masculinity or gender, and is less combative.

But, I still think it's possible that more women than men find an environment off-putting if it has a combative way of dealing with disagreements.