Gender quotas: One form of discrimination to counteract another?

Letter in today’s Irish Times.

I agree with the writer’s opinion that gender quota legislation is nothing more than using one form of discrimination to counteract another.


Emer O’Toole (“So gender quotas are sexist? What nonsense”, August 10th) bemoans gender quota legislation “which ensures that (a mere) 30 per cent of party candidates are women”. What would she suggest? A clean 50 per cent perhaps? Not only would such electoral engineering be hypocritical (the introduction of formal gender quotas to address a system of alleged informal gender quotas), but things are not as simple as that.

Emer O’Toole might consider, for example, a scenario where one of her local Dáil candidates is male, who is “pro-choice” and his rival is female, who is “pro-life”. I presume O’Toole would be inclined to vote for the latter? Perhaps we should introduce gender quotas for “pro-choice” female candidates only?

Despite Emer O’Toole’s arguments in favour of gender quotas, electoral engineering is not as discreet a science as she makes out and one must always consider the law of unintended consequence. Moreover, one cannot ride roughshod over what should (and I emphasise should) be an open, meritocratic competition in the name of what is in reality one form of discrimination to counteract another.

Candidates should be chosen on the basis of ability and merit, irrespective of gender. Gender quotas, by their very nature, facilitate and encourage sexual discrimination. Is this not precisely what advocates of gender quotas are seeking to address? They are a short-sighted and misguided solution to discrimination faced by women in running for the Dáil.

Engineering a change in the gender profile of the Dáil will, of itself, do little to remedy its well-documented deficiencies, for example the lack of ability to hold the executive to account, the whip system, the dearth of relevant expertise, groupthink and guillotining.

Yours, etc,
Rob Sadlier
Dublin 16