Monday, 30 March 2015

Equal rights

At the conference this weekend the SNP voted for positive discrimination in the form of all-women and balanced shortlists for the General Election in Scotland in 2016.  The debate on the subject was heated at times, and is still generating heat on social media.

I voted against the motion.  I understand why people want to do it.  They want to be seen to making an effort to promote women, so that the gender balance of politicians is more reflective of the population at large.  I agree that this needs to be done.  However, I don't think forcing all-women or balanced shortlists is the way to go about it.

Why don't women want to put themselves forward as candidates for political office?  I think that the main culprit is the role that is given to girls pretty much when they're born.  It has been proved that parents and school praise girls for being quiet, doing as they're told and putting the needs of others before themselves.  Boys are praised for being active, noisy and independent.  Is it any wonder, then, that by the time they reach adulthood most women don't see the role of politician, whether at local or national level, as one that is for them?  In my opinion, this is the root of why we don't see nearly enough women as candidates for office.

Forcing all-women shortlists runs the risk that men of talent will be overlooked, and that some candidates may not be the best available for the job.  There is also a risk attached to parachuting female candidates into a constituency for the sake of having them, as they may then lose the seat to a better known local male candidate from another party.

What's the solution?  Obviously we can't fix society overnight.  We can try to change things so that girls are also encouraged to play to their strengths rather than to fit into a pre-made stereotype, but that will be very slow at best.  In the meantime I think that political parties in general should be looking at training their female members to be assertive, confident and to be unafraid of challenges. Not every woman will want to do this, but I think such training would boost the numbers and would be a better solution than trying to force the issue with shortlists.

Positive discrimination is still discrimination, and two wrongs don't make a right.


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