Gender equality is a common postulate declared by many parties and institutions in Europe. Nonetheless, the ways of achieving that equality are not so obvious for everybody. Parities and quotas, mechanisms to increase number of women in public life, are one of the tools that are raising controversy. Often questions are asked: Do we really need it? Isn’t the change happening anyway? Do women want it at all? Will it decrease the value of their professional achievements? Will it solve the problem or will it make things worse? Looking closer at the proposed mechanism itself and reasons for introducing it brings however many answers.
Do we really need it?
The number of educated women in the EU is increasing and there are no legal barriers for them to participate in politics or business. However, they constitute only a small percentage of members of parliaments and board of directors. (See the Wonder woman? iconographic below)
Something seems to be on their way. Whether it is a glass ceiling, a sticky floor, gender based mistreatment or social constructs of caretaking still prevailing in modern cultures, it is enough to block the path to professional success for many women. On the other hand, such phenomena are rarely experienced by men. Recognising male privilege is a key factor in this debate. Taking action is merely an attempt to rebalance, not asking for special treatment.
The EU Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights Viviane Reding has called for increasing the number of women in the management boards since 2011. Unfortunately, without much effect. Asking nicely is apparently not the best way to do this.
Do women want it?
During typical mainstream media debates about parities and quotas, we can often hear successful businesswomen talking about how they didn’t need any of these solutions to reach their goals. They could achieve it EVEN THOUGH they are women. They did it without any ‘support’. They seem to forget about generations of women fighting for the right to vote, to attend university or even to own property. During the meeting organised by the Congress of Women in Warsaw in 2012, Polish business women revealed some secrets of their success – supportive partners, flexible employment patterns and, most important of all, extremely hard work to prove that they could do it. Their achievements are respectable, but why this lack of solidarity with other women for whom less favourable conditions apply? Another thing is that little number of women in politics and executive boards causes… little number of women in politics and executive boards. One simple rule applies: You can’t be what you can’t see. Women who want to achieve professional success deserve to be given a real choice and role models from the top.
Will it solve the problem?
Opponents of introducing parity tend to present black visions of the consequences of such solution. Starting from incompetent women pushed to important positions, and ending with the crash of the economy. An obvious reference in this case is Norway, where a business gender quota was introduced in 2003. After ten years of experience the country has not experienced the black scenario and Norwegians judge the change positively (Read more here).
Even though there is no doubt that the phenomenon of ‘golden skirts’ (women that often occupy several executive positions) exists, it is a phase in the long term process that has been started and needs to last to bring results. It is crucial to remember that women are generally better educated than men and the whole mechanism is designed to promote competent women, who as a result of gender stereotype, face structural difficulties in pursuing their professional careers. As we can read in the EC press release from the 14th of November 2012 (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1205_en.htm) Qualification and merit will remain the key criteria for a job on the board. The directive establishes a minimum harmonisation of corporate governance requirements, as appointment decisions will have to be based on objective qualifications criteria. Inbuilt safeguards will make sure that there is no unconditional, automatic promotion of the under-represented sex. In line with the European Court of Justice’s case law on positive action, preference shall be given to the equally qualified under-represented sex, unless an objective assessment taking into account all criteria specific to the individual candidates tilts the balance in favour of the candidate of the other sex. Using the potential of those women would be a boost for the economy. Countries like Spain, Iceland, France and Belgium already followed the example of Norway. The change could be much faster though, if the regulations would come as EU law.
Parities are a tool to increase gender equality in European societies NOW. It’s a great chance and the choice is ours, since European elections are coming soon.
Member of Online Campaign Team
Federation of Young European Greens