What if the United States reserved 30 percent of seats in Congress for women? What if presidents were required to appoint a 50/50 gender-balanced cabinet? Sound like a crazy idea?
Reforms like that don’t sound so crazy in Brussels, Belgium, where I spent yesterday at POLITICO Europe’s Women Rule Summit. During a day of stellar panels, on everything from how to get more women in European Union leadership to unconscious gender bias, the idea of quotas designed to bring more women into politics came up time and again. A chunk of EU countries currently have some form of gender quotas for national and European Parliamentary elections — in Ireland, for example, the government can slash a party’s funding when less than 30 percent of its candidates for national office are female.
Top takeaways … Quotas aren’t universally popular. “Very often women say I don’t want to be a quota woman,” said Virginija Langbakk, director of the European Institute for Gender Equality. Dean Peacock of Promundo, which engages men to promote gender justice, said while men are broadly supportive of gender equality in the abstract, “when quotas are put on the table, we see men much less supportive.”
But they can work. Many speakers agreed that given the enormous structural obstacles women in politics face, gender equality isn’t going to just happen on its own. “It’s not a matter of time; it’s a matter of policy,” said Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Alexander De Croo. “When I open a position and ask for a shortlist, I will get 5 names and 5 names will probably be men.” Quotas allow you to say, “You go back. And you try harder, because those women are there.”