So SWAPO is implementing a Zebra-style 50-50 quota for its candidates, and The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung hosted a public lecture/quasi-debate on it. The Namibian and New Era newspapers among others reported. I was excited when Diescho said he’d approach the issue like a social scientist, I thought he would enlighten us with some of what the literature says on the issue of Gender quotas. Like this article, which explains that one party adopting quotas increases the chances of others following suit . Or this one, which showed that it worked in Norway, or this one for West Germany.

But that was not to be. Rather, we heard a plethora of arguments against the quota that, if they weren’t strawmen or other fallacies, often came quite close. I didn’t write down all of the points, but I’ll go through the ones that spring to mind.

  1. There are men that might lose their jobs in parliament and this is the only source of income they have. This point is not only laughable (honestly, I won’t engage with its ‘merits’), but also moot seeing as the NA will likely be expanded to accommodate additional women without threatening men’s positions.
  2. “It’s about quality, not quantity” — which a) implies it may be difficult to find a few dozen qualified women in the entire nation to fill these spots, and b) seems to suggest that right now every member of parliament and high in the executive is of high quality. Both of those will be news to most Namibians.
  3. There was this focus on how the quota would interfere with democracy. This was the most widely quoted sentiment in the Newspapers. I must admit I was a bit confused on this topic here. Prof. Diescho sounded like he was concerned about the general electorate being forced to vote women into office who they didn’t want there. But that is a result of the party list system, where people don’t get a say over whom they elect, the party always does. Perhaps what he meant was that internally, the party members now are forced to put women onto the list. But then in many if not most parties the list is drawn up by a National Executive Committee or Central Committee or a body of such nature; there is never a pure democracy at play in any case. So it’s not that people are suddenly forced to vote women when previously they had free choice; rather the group they are ‘forced’ to vote for now includes more women.

Of course the one point that should be repeated and taken to heart was that having more women in parliament won’t fix gender inequality. This is certainly true. But to give women representation equal to their share of the population (not more — no special treatment is being asked for here) surely has to be a positive step on the way there.