I think that most people would agree that having about half of MPs women and about half of Cabinet Ministers women would be a good aspiration, but I also think most people, including most women, would put ability and competence ahead of exactly equal numbers of each sex.
John Key was asked about gender balance in Cabinet on The Nation in the weekend.
Key told Nation host Lisa Owen “it would be stupid” to promise a gender-balanced Cabinet.
“I think if you went to our female ministers, of which we’ve got a tremendous group of talent – from Paula to Amy to Judith, you name them, Hekia, Anne Tolley, there’s just a bunch of very talented women in there – they are there because they’re immensely talented. Yes, it’s great that they’re women, and I think there should be balance,” he said.
Of the current Cabinet there are 7 women and 13 men. Of Ministers outside Cabinet there are 3 women and 2 men.
In total out of 25 there are 10 women and 15 men.
Labour aspires to MP gender balance but failed to achieve it’s goals due to winning less than expected seats. It gets tricky when most MPs are electorate MPs, ultimately the voters choose individual MPs and the gender balance is whatever it all adds up to.
Greens, the champions of balance, are more staunch on Cabinet ideals. They have male and female co-leaders, and their list is arranged so there is approximately the same number of female and male MPs – it’s much easier to achieve when all are list-only MPs.
Greens have a policy on gender balance in Cabinet, but it’s not clear exactly what they are going for. James Shaw put out this press release in July 2015:
How will the ensure that a Cabinet of Labour, Green and probably NZ First MPs will be 50/50 male/female?
The Green Party is today announcing that, in Government, it will ensure half of all Green Cabinet Ministers are women, and will call on other members of any coalition Government it is involved in to do the same.
“Our hope is that by leading by example, and ensuring gender equality at the Cabinet table, the Green Party can stimulate and support a wave of gender equity reforms for women who work,” Mr Shaw said.
That’s not ensuring Cabinet is balanced, it is ensuring the Green MPs in Cabinet are gender balanced (as long as there’s an even number of them) and a hope that the other parties in the coalition will do likewise.
“The idea that people are paid on merit, or appointed to senior roles like Government Ministers based on their abilities, doesn’t stack up. Women are paid less largely because they’re working in professions that are dominated by women, and they’re often not appointed to senior positions because of barriers that have nothing to do with ability. It’s time to drop the idea that women are worth less once and for all.
Shaw leaps from an unsubstantiated claim that Ministers aren’t appointed on merit to a general spiel on inequality.
Women MPs are paid the same as males in equal positions, and Cabinet Ministers are also paid equally.
“Around the world countries are realising that gender inequality is holding them back and they’re committing to greater representation by women in many positions of power in business and politics.”
While more women in positions of power is a good thing if they are up to the task I would be interested to see evidence that less than half of MPs and Cabinet Ministers is holding New Zealand back in some way.
“By committing to a gender balance in Cabinet, the Green Party won’t immediately fix the inequalities women are forced to deal with at work every day, but it will show that we are committed to gender equality everywhere, starting with where we work ourselves,” Mr Shaw said.
Shaw finishes back where he started – committing to a gender balance in Cabinet.
But how would Greens achieve that? They can hardly force other parties to have gender balance in the MPs they have in Cabinet.
On current polling and using proportionality if Greens had four Cabinet Ministers then NZ First would also have four and Labour would have twelve.
In Labour’s top twelve MPs there are 5 women.
NZ First doesn’t seem to rank their MPs but they have 8 males and 3 females. Based on their 2014 list there was one woman in their top four.
If Labour put 5 women into Cabinet and NZ First 1 that’s 6, so would Greens agree to have all four of their MPs in Cabinet in women to ensure it was gender balanced?
Or would they refuse to go into coalition unless Labour and NZ First had a 50/50m gender split with their Cabinet MPs?
Or would they just hope their ideal is agreed to by the other parties?
It would be a good ideal to achieve, approximately, but with a multi party coalition it may not be easy.
And – do most women care? How many would prioritise gender balance over merit and competence?