Labour yesterday released proposed changes to its selection processes, including allowing local electorate committees to apply to the party’s ruling council to block men from running for some seats.
It is part of a bid to lift the proportion of women in caucus to 45 per cent by next year and 50 per cent by 2017.
The proposal is backed by Labour’s NZ Council and will go up for the vote at the party’s annual conference in November. However, it is already causing division.
There are two proposed changes here. Quotas so that the list is representative and the ‘man ban’ process to ensure that there’s greater diversity among electorate MPs.
I totally get the argument here. Women are just over 50% of the population, so they should be represented to that extent in Parliament. If they ain’t then its safe to assume there are barriers – economic, cultural, institutional, historic, etc preventing proper representation and preventing female candidates being chosen on merit. So you have something like a quota, a form of positive discrimination to ensure that female candidates of merit aren’t excluded on the basis of gender.
But you can’t have a quota system in an electorate seat, and right now the electorate seats aren’t selecting many female candidates. Thus the man ban, in which electorate committees get to block men from running in seats if the council approves.
The backlash against this idea has been overwhelming. The problem, I think, is that the man man isn’t positive discrimination – it’s just discrimination. The justification for that is that it counter-balances discrimination against women, and that people who don’t accept that argument don’t believe in gender equality and the Labour Party shouldn’t rely on their votes if political success means accepting misogyny. Sometimes principles and progress count for more than realpolitik.
My problem with the man ban is this: I can’t imagine a scenario in which its ever used. If electorates aren’t selecting many female candidates, why would they decide to totally preclude male candidates from the selection process? And, even if they did, almost the entire Labour caucus vehemently opposes this idea on the grounds that it is political suicide – something they realise now even if it eluded them a week ago – which could make it tricky getting approval from council. AND, even if you did get an electorate who requested it and a council granting permission, how many female politicians want to go into a general election campaign after being nominated by a process from which men were excluded only to have that thrown in their face at every candidates meeting by the National MP?
So the ‘man ban’ seems like a disaster. Something that makes the party look absurd to a huge number of voters but with no gain. No progress towards greater gender equality – on the contrary, I predict it will sink the proposal to adopt a quota system for the list which would have led to greater female representation in Parliament.