Daniel Thwaites wrote (I highlighted the important section in pink:
A Gender Agenda
Daniel Thwaites, Contributor
Jamaicans vote people into public office with all kinds of profiles. We have a female prime minister (PM). We've had a PM with a physical disability. In the Houses of Parliament right now, we have beauty queens and, rumour has it, some other kinda queens.
We have people who speak the Queen's English, others patwa, and yet others their own language nobody else understands. We have business people, trade unionists, lawyers, teachers, doctors, unemployed, reverends, atheists, engineers, gunmen, pacifists, a half-dozen rum heads, blacks, whites, Chinese, Indians, mongrels, thoroughbreds, soaring IQs, a few dingbats and morons, ex-judges, practising criminals, and, if Paul Adams is to be believed, people getting high on cocaine. The Americans would say we're very 'diverse'.
But there have always been fewer women than men. Now, my friend, Imani Duncan-Price, is proposing a joint select committee to look at gender imbalance in Jamaica's political life, and has suggested a temporary quota system to jackboot more women into political office. The quota idea seems to be on fire up there in the Senate. Just recently, Ruel Reid suggested implementing one for the number of children we're permitted.
Now I should like to think of myself as reasonably, though not too radically, sensitive to what are called 'gender' concerns, meaning that more than just not minding having more women involved in political leadership, I would like to see it. I think they'll generally do a better job, and they're certainly better to look at.
So the first thing is to acknowledge that Imani has reignited a good debate. The idea, though, that there be an explicit reserve of spaces for women strikes me as best forgotten. It's one thing to desire an outcome, another thing to work for it, and yet another to legislate it.
Legitimate vs illegitimate group
I can think of some spheres where a quota system might be appropriate, but democratic representation is not one of them. Consider up at the university where there are hardly any men! Rumour has it that the gender imbalance is resulting in the outbreak of a whole heap of feminism among the young girls up there.
The suggestion also raises the issue of other legitimate groups that are under-represented. Should there be quotas for them as well? And what criteria would we use to decide what is a legitimate, or illegitimate, group?
What about those who call themselves LGBTQIA? I googled those letters and they mean lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning, in-between and asexual. In time, some even more interesting letters may make it into the mix. These are deliberately and self-consciously agitating as a class. They are certainly deserving of representation, and despite the common perception that they are already over-represented in Parliament, they're probably not. So should there be a quota for that as well?
The problem is that once we start seeing individuals as mere ciphers for categories and kinds of people, the dispersion will be continuous. And if we head down that path with gender, every other ism and schism will follow in tow.
Not to mention that practically, the hurdles to implementation would be quite steep. It's somewhat easier to envisage a quota system in the appointed Senate. But the nuts and bolts of implementing that in the House would be quite interesting. Even if the JLP and PNP were to agree with it, there's the not-insignificant matter of what strong constituency organisations would accept, and who voters would choose.
Politics is a rough living. For starters, we Jamaicans give our politicians a lot of attention and a fair deal of social status, in exchange for which we like them poor and preferably homeless. We also expect to slander and libel them as we have a mind, particularly about their sexual habits and moral weaknesses, and we demand that they take it as good sport. Obviously, it's a satisfactory deal, because people keep signing up, and whenever there's an opening, multiple entrants vie for the spot.
Matter of intelligence
But if we assume, as seems probable, that women are more intelligent than men, that might explain why more choose to avoid the interminable meetings, calendars of funeral attendances, and continual reactions to petitions of various kinds. Women, particularly those with children, intend to have a life of their own, and recognise other commitments that take priority over the demands of constituency work Jamaican style. As Senator Nigel Clarke pointed out, where there is a more civilised system (my words), women make up two-thirds of the judiciary and are, therefore, the majority in that branch of government.
Plato levelled a devastating criticism of democracy a long time ago, to the effect that crowd-sourcing leadership will not bring forth the best people, only the loudest, most obnoxious, and those that appeal to our basest instincts. Of course, there is Churchill's reminder that it's the worst kind of government, except for every other kind we've tried. But Plato's observation is still relevant, and the rough and tumble of the democratic process is definitely not for everyone. Obviously this doesn't exclude women, but I can certainly understand why many would opt to be uninvolved, and self-select out of the political carnival.
Women also constitute the majority of people eligible to vote, and the majority of the workers in either major party. If they collectively determined to vote as a bloc for only women candidates, given our first-past-the-post system where even one vote over a male competitor would decide an election, women could take more than 100 per cent of the elected positions in the country quite quickly and with relative ease.
Why women don't do that is an interesting question. I have speculation about it, mostly grounded in my intuition that ordinary women don't think of themselves and their relationships to men folk in quite the way some feminists would prefer them to. But until women are convinced to vote like that, I think it's a pretty extreme example of patriarchal governmental paternalism to legislate the gender balance of the country's leadership.
Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.
Flashback to 2011: Should gays serve in Parliament? ...... Under certain conditions, new candidates say (Observer)