Gender quotas announced in the Labour Plaid deal could pave the way for a gender equal Senedd for years to come — but Catherine Fookes, Director of WEN Wales and Chair of Fabians Cymru, argues that gender quotas are only half the story
WEN Wales and the 21 organisations who support the Diverse 5050 Campaign were all delighted that our hard work and campaigning over the past three years has paid off and helped lead to the historic agreement between Labour and Plaid for gender quotas to be legally baked into the reformed electoral system. It shows the power and importance of working together across our diverse membership and across different sectors to get the transformational change we need to see for a Wales free from gender discrimination.
And in recent polling reported in the Western Mail we’ve seen that there is widespread public support for measures to ensure we get to gender parity in the Senedd too. And even more welcoming is that young people are the most supportive with 58% of 16–34’s saying ‘yes’ compared to 46% of 35–54’s.
To those who are not yet convinced on quotas, the power of quotas goes beyond gender equality to changing the actual outcomes of our politics. They have a real impact on people’s lives on the ground. International research shows that gender quotas in parliaments lead to more being done to address poverty, violence against women and public health. All of these are key priorities for most people in Wales, especially as we try to recover from the pandemic.
Research shows that quotas are the single most effective tool for increasing women’s representation and they are already being used in over 100 countries worldwide. The Senedd used to have gender parity in 2003, but since then the percentage of women elected has gone down to 43% and Wales is behind Scotland for the first time since devolution. With the Labour / Plaid commitment to introducing gender quotas and the public support to see this through as shown by the polling, Wales can certainly lead the way on equal representation in the UK.
We must celebrate small victories particularly given the relentlessness of the last 18 months, and this agreement to push through gender quotas is indeed a victory. However, it is only half the story. We at WEN Wales are committed to intersectional feminism — and that means we won’t rest until all women from all protected characteristics — such as those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled women, and LGBTQ+ women have equal power and equal voice in all our elected institutions. And unfortunately, gender quotas alone won’t deliver the diversity of elected politicians that we want to see.
Currently the diversity of the Senedd is appalling. Only three MSs (5%) are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, including the first woman of colour to be elected to the Senedd in May 2021, only three MSs (5%) openly identify as LBGTQ+ and as no information is collected or published on the number of MS’s who are disabled, we don’t know if disabled people are represented at all.
So, we need drastic action and we need the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform to look into the way quotas for all protected characteristics can work. For example, Uganda and Egypt use quotas for a wide range of social groups — including for disabled people and youth workers.
Professor Mona Lena Krook, a leading US academic in this area who spoke at the recent Cross Party Group on Women here in Wales, suggested a way forward could be ‘embedded’ quotas. Intersectional embedded quotas are emerging as global best practice to ensure diverse representation across different protected characteristics. They use intersectional demands within group-based quotas. This can be achieved, for instance, through requiring gender parity within quotas for other characteristics, for example, if there is a 20% quota for disabled people, the intersectional requirement could ask that half of these candidates need to be men and half women.
We are at a pivotal and potentially ground-breaking moment for delivering a truly diverse democracy here in Wales. There is political will, recognition that the status quo is not good enough and recognition that quotas are needed. But only by seeking out experts who are working on intersectional quotas, and by understanding how best to design quotas to ensure full diversity is represented, can the Special Purpose Committee on Senedd Reform ensure we have a Senedd fit for purpose. It took 20 years for the first woman of colour to be elected to the Senedd — we cannot and must not wait another 20 years for more to join her.
You can support the Diverse5050 campaign by signing the petition for diverse and equal representation in the Senedd