Sat | Jul 4, 2020

Don't give women free pass

Published:Monday | March 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Sandrea Falconer, one of the six women in the Senate. - File Photos
Senator Imani Duncan-Price
Some of the Jamaica Labour Party's prospective female candidates display the party's V sign. From left: Saphire Longmore Dropinski, Joan Gordon Webley, Olivia Grange and Sharon Hay-Webster at a party meeting ahead of the 2011 general election.
Lisa Hanna

Government senator Imani Duncan-Price's motion for gender quotas in Parliament is an idea whose time has passed. Far gone are the days when persons should be put into positions of leadership purely because of their sex.

Duncan-Price has recommended a special measure for two electoral terms by way of instituting a gender-neutral quota system for the Senate and for the candidate slates of political parties. She has proposed neither gender would fill more than 60 per cent or less than 40 per cent of the appointed or elected positions.

At present, there are 14 female legislators in the 84-member Parliament, eight of whom were elected to the Lower House and six appointed to the Senate.

But the fact that there are only eight women elected should not, of itself, become a platform for a gender attack on the electorate. In their wisdom, the voters collectively said no to the majority of women put forward by the People's National Party, the Jamaica Labour Party and the few third-party candidates who offered themselves.

Some 12.5 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives are filled by women.


Lisa Hanna, one of the 14 women in Parliament, speaking during a Gleaner Editors' Forum, described politics as bloodsport.

"It's a rough sport. You have to have crocodile skin to stay and continue in it. It does not matter which gender you are. It's bloodsport for the men and for the women, too," said Hanna.

Using Hanna's description of politics, one wonders whether Duncan-Price thinks her 10-year freebie would protect women who dare to enter politics.

Interestingly, 35 per cent of the seats were contested by women in the 2011 general election, which clearly indicates that women are being given the opportunity to offer themselves for office. So clearly, Duncan-Price's motion is intended to influence the manner in which Senate seats are allocated by the prime minister and the opposition leader. It is a barefaced attempt to issue freebies to women.

It is interesting to note that the call for quotas was dismissed by People's National Party delegates at their last annual conference. The delegates rightfully recognised that the institution of quotas would be a most unfair system.

Women desirous of entering the political system must go through the channels of applying at the constituency level and getting the vote of confidence from the people. They should not be given any unfair advantage over any other potential candidate to run on a party ticket in any constituency.

If Parliament is to consider the outdated quota argument, it has to be careful not to allow any group in the society to believe it is being excluded from such preferential treatment. Thus, consideration should be given for non-merit seats to be given to the youths, various religious organisations, and, perhaps, even gays. And while we are on the issue, why not give consideration to socio-economic quotas, making 70 per cent of seats in the Senate for poor people, 20 per cent for the middle class, and the remaining 10 per cent for the upper class.

I am tempted to get even more ridiculous with the proposal, but fear someone may take it seriously to the point that it forms the content of a motion for debate in Parliament.

send the right signal

It is time the country starts sending the right signal to its citizens. That message must be one of meritocracy, rather than an artificial system which guarantees people, many of whom lack the stomach for leadership, a free pass to either the Senate or the ballot paper.

If we go down this route of quota, even for the 10 years as proposed, when it fails to yield the intended results, some woman legislator may come up with a suggestion for a more accommodative formula to be employed for the counting of votes cast for women voters.

Respectfully, we should be turning our attention at trying to attract the best persons to the political process, irrespective of gender, class or creed.

Our culture has so demonised political participation that even decent, honest citizens are viewed as untouchables and outcasts, which is a prime reason behind many women's fear of coming forward. What we have now is a situation where no one wants to touch another person with a long stick if he or she was ever involved in politics. We need to fix that.

It would hurt to think that persons are being sent to the Senate, the review chamber, simply because of their gender. The foremost criterion should be competence. One way of im-proving the quality of the persons who make themselves available to serve is to start paying senators, and paying them well.

To increase women's participation on the hustings, political parties should promote shifts in cultural attitudes by moral suasion, empowering more women with leadership and management support, and eliminating dark pockets of chauvinism with public and private education campaigns. Educate, don't legislate.

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