Español In the name of equality, Chile’s democracy will only end up being more unequal. With the imminent approval of a long-planned electoral reform by the government of President Michelle Bachelet, the South American country is set to employ gender quotas to boost the representation of women in politics.
Complaints about the discrimination that women suffer in accessing political office are widespread. The defenders of imposing gender quotas point to the discrepancy between the proportion of women in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and the population as a whole.
“Participation in political office, and access to public decision-making, shows a clear inequality along gender lines,” notes a report from the National Library of Congress.
The proposals, approved last week by the Chilean Senate, include a limit on the number of men, and indeed women, whom can be selected to run for political office. The relevant norm, which will only apply to the four elections between 2017 and 2029, stipulates that “no single gender can hold more than 60 percent of the presented candidates.” In practice, this means that at least 40 percent of all candidates fielded will have to be women.
Chile currently boasts one of the lowest figures for female members of the Senate, whose members just approved the policy. In fact, a pitiful 15.7 percent of seats in both chambers of Congress are held by women, far from the regional average of 24.8 percent, and the global figure of 21 percent. Chile is lagging far behind, but why?
The idea that women are under-represented in Congress follows a particular political notion. The thinking goes that each sector of society should have a proportional representation in Congress, because it’s their to protect their interests. According to this reasoning, women, indigenous peoples, trade unions, bosses, and everyone should have the correctly allocated number of seats. And while Chile claims to revel in liberal democracy, this particular idea is contrary to individual rights.
It’s the result of collectivist thinking, in which individual identity and agency is diluted in favor of an abstract mass that shares a common characteristic: in this case, one sexual organ or another. The unique features of each woman are subsumed into a catch-all category of gender. The end result is that the individual potential of women is disregarded in favor of a predetermined genetic difference.
If women are included in the list of candidates because they’re women, it follows that there are men who will be excluded because they’re men. This is discrimination, and the supporters of quotas know it, but the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) backs it up. The 1979 treaty encourages these kinds of “special temporary measures” to “accelerate de facto equality between men and women,” considering them not to be a form of “discrimination.”
But however much the Convention may try to obscure it, the reality is discrimination. Quotas mean that women don’t reach political office through their own merits, but through a law which insinuates that they need the intervention of the state to achieve their goals. The idea itself, and the arguments of those who support quotas, are degrading for women. Where structural discrimination towards women already exists, the inclusion of quotas will only double that discrimination, even if it is labelled as positive.
Quotas are often hailed as a tool to repair the wrongs of the past, where women were often prohibited any form of political participation. This was true inequality of gender, where the law allowed men to vote but forbade women from doing so, considering them unprepared or incapable of doing so. Circumstances have changed, and in the last 50 years women have emerged as global leaders.
Formal restrictions on female political participation have, in many parts of the world, disappeared altogether, and while marked inequalities persist, women’s political power has grown consistently in recent decades, and is likely to continue to do so. Is it therefore necessary, still less desirable, to replace one historic injustice with another?
After the next round of elections in 2017, Chile’s Congress will see a greater number of skirts and a reduction in the number of ties. But the change will be precisely this, superficial. Politicians will continue to be politicians: their desire to regulate and legislate will be the same, independent of their gender. Meanwhile, the debate over how and why legislators vote the way they do will take a backseat to compliance with gender politics.
Gender quotas are not only being planned for the Chilean legislature. Senate President Isabel Allende recently published an article in which she anticipates a similar system for the management of state companies. However, in the face of this initiative, the answer is much simpler: privatization.
Translated by Laurie Blair. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.