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Gender Quota Discourses - The Norwegian Case
Unformatted Document Text:  this discourse gender equality is construed as acceptable in general. The problem is that gender equality hardly ever occurs in a vacuum; it has often to be assessed in relation to other desirable values. If a gender quota benefits local democracy or at least it does not harm local political autonomy, it is accepted within the conditional discourse of gender justice. Local autonomy and recruitment on the basis of the principle of merit are the more favoured values. Gender is thus understood as an individual identity and background. At the symbolic level gender equality is construed as important, but not as important as local democracy and individual merits. The politicians, however, worry about the “good names and reputations” of female representatives, therefore they hesitate to recommend gender quotas. Power relations and gendered structures in society are not themes that this discourse addresses. This gap between the ideas of gender as an individual identity, on the one hand, and the understanding of the gendered structures of the society, on the other, makes this discourse a conditional one, and not a gender justice discourse. As Sandra Harding (1986) states, affirmative action for women, in terms of gender quotas, will fail if the political actors do not acknowledge that the gendered structures of society and its gendered symbols are as (or more) responsible for the gender imbalances in politics, as factors connected with female candidates’ individual identity and background. The discourse is framed by values like local democracy and merits, and the consequences may be the maintenance of power relations and gender inequality. However, the discourse may be open to affirmative strategies for change if feminists manage to move the discourse towards a radical version of gender justice. The third type of discourse is a denial discourse (Dryzek, 1998). This means that gender is construed to have little or no relevance as a political category, or that questions of gender justice are kept off the political agenda. From the perspective of gender justice and parity of participation, this discourse is discriminatory and thus an expression of injustice. The discourse frames the gender quota issue in contrast to that which is considered to be gender justice (Hagelund, 2003). The gendered imbalances in politics, and the gendered power structures of society, are not taken into consideration within this discourse. In my view representations 9 – 12 fall into this kind of discourse. Gender quotas are construed as irrelevant or else gender has no more relevance than age, occupational background etc. When gender is kept off the political agenda (male) politicians are spared the trouble of taking responsibility for themes like gender and power. And they are spared the need to name men as a political category. This finding is similar to the one arrived at in Maud Eduards’ study of Swedish politics (Eduards, 2002). A gender quota is also construed as not necessary because gender equality is already going in the right direction. This is what Skjeie and Teigen (2003) call “the travelling metaphor”. This construction of gender quotas serves to draw attention away from those things that are necessary for the achievement of gender equality at the local level, and at the same time serves to conceal the real theme of the debate. The gender quota regime is construed as being discriminatory in respect of individual men. The gendered structures of society and the norms of social justice at the collective level are not themes addressed within this discourse. From a feminist point of view the principle of first choice tends to embody a strong expression of discrimination against women. At the symbolic level gender quotas are construed in connection with extremely negative values, for example as “an insult to women”, “insane” and “a parody on democracy”. The preservation of power relations and gender inequality are among the consequences of this discourse. 9

Authors: Guldvik, Ingrid.
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this discourse gender equality is construed as acceptable in general. The problem is that gender
equality hardly ever occurs in a vacuum; it has often to be assessed in relation to other desirable
values. If a gender quota benefits local democracy or at least it does not harm local political autonomy,
it is accepted within the conditional discourse of gender justice. Local autonomy and recruitment on
the basis of the principle of merit are the more favoured values. Gender is thus understood as an
individual identity and background. At the symbolic level gender equality is construed as important,
but not as important as local democracy and individual merits.
The politicians, however, worry about the “good names and reputations” of female representatives,
therefore they hesitate to recommend gender quotas. Power relations and gendered structures in
society are not themes that this discourse addresses. This gap between the ideas of gender as an
individual identity, on the one hand, and the understanding of the gendered structures of the society,
on the other, makes this discourse a conditional one, and not a gender justice discourse. As Sandra
Harding (1986) states, affirmative action for women, in terms of gender quotas, will fail if the political
actors do not acknowledge that the gendered structures of society and its gendered symbols are as (or
more) responsible for the gender imbalances in politics, as factors connected with female candidates’
individual identity and background. The discourse is framed by values like local democracy and
merits, and the consequences may be the maintenance of power relations and gender inequality.
However, the discourse may be open to affirmative strategies for change if feminists manage to move
the discourse towards a radical version of gender justice.
The third type of discourse is a denial discourse (Dryzek, 1998). This means that gender is construed
to have little or no relevance as a political category, or that questions of gender justice are kept off the
political agenda. From the perspective of gender justice and parity of participation, this discourse is
discriminatory and thus an expression of injustice. The discourse frames the gender quota issue in
contrast to
that which is considered to be gender justice (Hagelund, 2003). The gendered imbalances
in politics, and the gendered power structures of society, are not taken into consideration within this
discourse.
In my view representations 9 – 12 fall into this kind of discourse. Gender quotas are construed as
irrelevant or else gender has no more relevance than age, occupational background etc. When gender
is kept off the political agenda (male) politicians are spared the trouble of taking responsibility for
themes like gender and power. And they are spared the need to name men as a political category. This
finding is similar to the one arrived at in Maud Eduards’ study of Swedish politics (Eduards, 2002). A
gender quota is also construed as not necessary because gender equality is already going in the right
direction. This is what Skjeie and Teigen (2003) call “the travelling metaphor”. This construction of
gender quotas serves to draw attention away from those things that are necessary for the achievement
of gender equality at the local level, and at the same time serves to conceal the real theme of the
debate. The gender quota regime is construed as being discriminatory in respect of individual men.
The gendered structures of society and the norms of social justice at the collective level are not themes
addressed within this discourse. From a feminist point of view the principle of first choice tends to
embody a strong expression of discrimination against women. At the symbolic level gender quotas are
construed in connection with extremely negative values, for example as “an insult to women”,
“insane” and “a parody on democracy”. The preservation of power relations and gender inequality are
among the consequences of this discourse.
9


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