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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Descriptive Rep Fallacy: Womens' place in political life.

Author: Cole Dutton

As women are becoming more widely represented in professional fields such as business and finance 38% in 1987 to 51% in 2009, doctors, dentists and other health fields excluding nursing 43% in 1987 to 55% in 2009, and in the academy with 61% of Canadian university graduates in 2007 being women. People are looking toward politics and questioning why little change has occurred. Across the globe, women have accounted for 1.4% of heads of state since 1900, a seemingly alarming statistic. Women, when not the daughter, sister, or spouse to a prior ruler only made up .78% of rulers since 1900. In examining Canada we can hope to get an idea of both the efficacy of gender quota's and an understanding of whether or not gender quotas are needed to ensure democracy effectively represents the interests of the women and the public as a whole. Gender quotas are neither necessary, nor represent the best interests of women.

Canada is a highly developed country and a multicultural and multi-ethnic society with a large immigrant population. Most of Canada's population is of European descent and immigrated to the country under the national policy 1885-1905. Canada is officially bilingual and the majority of the Canadian population speaks either English or French as a first language. However, not multi-ethnic at the turn of the century Canada nevertheless had to deal with a disproportionately large number of non-Anglo and non-francophone immigrants.

Canada has experienced moderate gains in the representation of women in their representative houses; in Canada Women hold 25% of seats in the Commons and 38% in the Senate. Canada has had one female Prime Minister: Kim Campbell. Campbell spent just a little longer than 5 months in office.

Those who work to advocate for gender parity in the Canadian House of Commons do so using a number of specious arguments to agitate for gender quota's as a means to achieve descriptive representation. They suggest that women are experiencing hidden impediments to their political advancement, and women's lack of representation in the legislature undermines, "women's issues" and sets a poor example for aspirant women who wish to achieve political successes of their own. Groups currently argue that women need minimum representation in parliament in order to ensure their voices are not stifled and they feel no pressure to vote along masculine lines. A minimum representation of 30% in the legislature is usually suggested in order make a substantive women's bloc. Yet, Canadians, have nearly reached that level of representation without any top down manipulation of our democratic institutions.

Upon closer examination, it is clear that the claims of the feminist lobby raise further questions. Firstly, it does not ask what women themselves want. Political philosopher Larry Arnhart believes, "that we can assess the moral value of a society by judging the extent in which it satisfies our natural desires and proclivities." This statement explains why so few women engage in politics: they do not want to do so. The answer lies largely in motherhood; a political career is intense. Motherhood remains the single greatest difference between men and women; economist Thomas Sowell notes women tend to avoid intensive careers, and this leads to economic complications," [Maternal desires are] especially important when it comes to high levels of achievement in the most demanding professions," politics being one. Sowell notes women consistently choose jobs with less demanding hours, and when polled about whether or not they desire a high-powered career, women regularly say no. Yet, if we control for marriage, children, and education the difference between women and men in nearly all professional fields disappears entirely.

Proponents of gender quotas also fail to note that introducing mandatory quotas would create a number of secondary problems. Relying on faulty assumptions gender equity advocates suggest that women's issues need 30-50% stake in the commons to make the legislative agenda. However, this creates the assumption that women share a common set of desires and principles. As Carol Bacci states women share, "common interests, based on historical disadvantage." Is this true? Pamela Paxton inadvertently notes women's issues are a questionable concept, "Many studies of male and female legislators have demonstrated that women tend toward the political left . . . . But much of the difference between men and women disappears if the political party is taken into account." Margret Thatcher would agree.

When we examine the claims made by advocates of gender quotas, we realize that women have not failed to enter politics due to discrimination, but rather because it is unsuitable to their desires and goals. Further, if we introduce mandatory quotas we complicate Canadian democracy; we end up taking power from the voters who wish to choose their representative and we undermine the concept of equality of opportunity. Currently in Canada, both the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party have introduced soft (non-sanctioned) party quotas to ensure some degree of representation in the parties, and in 2005, the two parties made up 50% of the Commons and had a combined 21% female representation. In 2015, women make up 25% of the Canadian parliament. Women have made great strides in political representation and living standards and this is without dictation from above. Party quotas serve as a means to get women involved in the political process, yet keep parties free to act independently and voters free to choose. Party quotas are the only reasonable way forward, implemented independently by parties, but in the end greater political participation is open to women if they choose to seize the opportunity, and many are, on their own terms.

Works Cited
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Bachetta, Paola and Margret Power ed. Right Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists Around the World. New York: Routledge, 2002.
CIA World Factbook. "Canada People and Society,"
Dahlerup, Drude ed. Women, Quotas and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2006.  
De Brou, Dave and Bill Waiser ed. Documenting Canada: A History of Modern Canada in Documents. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada: Fifth House Publishers, 1992.
Inter-Parliamentary Union. "Women in National Parliaments,"
Ludwig, Arnold M. King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership. Lexington Kentucky, USA: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
Paxton Emily, and Melanie M. Hughes. Women Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective.  Thousand Oaks California, USA: Pine Forge Press, 2007.
Roberts, J.M and Odd Arne Westad. The Penguin History of the World Sixth Edition. London: Penguin Book  Limited 2013.
Sowell, Thomas. Economic Facts and Fallacies. New York: Basic Books, Perseus Book Group, 2011.
Statistics Canada. "Trends in University Graduation, 1992 to 2007,"
Statistics Canada. "Women in Canada at a Glance Statistical Highlights,"
Valian, Virginia. Why so Slow: The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.