Debating Diescho On 50-50 Gender Representation

DURING the lively 5050 gender balance public lecture (organised by the Konard Adenauer Foundation) last week, professor Joe Diescho convincingly made a compelling case for democracy – a procedural democracy – against the proposed 5050 gender quota.

Procedural democracy cares a great deal about the equality of the opportunity in its support of a society’s functioning through democratic social mechanisms-such as free and fair elections- to ensure fair outcomes. Rightly so, flaunting such democratic processes through a quota system would make a mockery of any democracy.

In the wider context, Diescho is not against the 5050 gender representation. But he argued, among others, that the proposed 5050 quota is tantamount to policing democracy and therefore unconstitutional because we are dictating to the electorate about who to vote for. Simply said, voting, in any democracy, is a matter of individual choice whether we like it or not. Nor do securing parliamentary seats for women through quotas necessarily mean greater equality.

However, when it comes to fair outcomes, we are also learning that democracy has shortcomings: In itself, it is not a great equaliser it has a blind spot, inherently flawed and paradoxical.

As a construct, democracy may seem solid and immutable, but it is not a 100% perfect system of governance because it too creates inequalities, which sometimes require a collective intervention in order to correct the failure. Also, just like the market, democracy is not a foregone process that occurs in a linear fashion. Meaning that, left alone, democracy does not always produce the desired outcomes.

Certainly for Namibia, that failure is clear. When it comes to participation and representation in politics, leadership, and other key societal decision-making positions, opportunities between men and women are not equal in this country.

As a male, I am a beneficiary of this unequal relation between men and women, which puts me a step ahead over my female counterparts. I am surrounded by other men whose lives probably also took this kind of path. It’s our world… men’s world. It is men’s democracy, and we might as well call it a macho democracy. That is to say that we don’t have a complete democracy but a male-oriented democracy that treats men as first choice for everything else over women.

As Namibians, we like to boast about our democracy, obscuring the truth that men benefit from centuries of cultural traditions, Christianity, colonialism and the liberation struggle- which all but have poisoned and corrupted the Namibian psyche to believe that politics and leadership are virtues reserved for men only.

Therefore, when a democracy, like ours, excludes half the population from representation and participation, the failure must be corrected, making the 5050 gender quota a compelling case for intervention. The intervention is necessary simply because a complex pattern of hidden barriers are what is making it impossible for women to get their share of political influence. What is being challenged by the 5050 gender representation are the exclusionary practices (the main reasons why women are under-represented in our politics) in our cultural and political institutions.

I would, therefore, argue that the 5050 gender-balance is not policing democracy but correcting and strengthening democracy in order to increase and safeguard women’s participation and representation in politics. In the same vein, I would say the 5050 gender-balance is ensuring the equality of outcomes (as opposed to the equality of opportunity) by removing obstacles preventing women from participating fully in democracy. I would also say that if the proposed 5050 gender balance will likely split, as Diescho suggests, the Swapo Party, it is a split for more democracy.

It may sound like I am aocating for a guided democracy, but just because the right to vote for women (the equality of opportunity) is guaranteed in our constitution, it does not necessarily mean that barriers preventing them from greater participation and representation are removed.

Therefore, the focus should be on inclusionary democracy (as opposed to procedural democracy) in its emphasis on the “who” question in terms of parties’ representation and participation in the societal functioning. This is to argue that if barriers preventing women from greater participation and representation exist, compensatory measures such as the quota system must be found as a means to achieve equal outcomes.

Source : The Namibian