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Quotas are not the problem

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One could bet one’s own salary on it. A female minister is ending in the cabinet – evidence that women do not fit into politics, unpredictable female deputies have a hold over the government – and here you have it again, they are simply not genetically equipped for it. On the weekend, the Social Democrats did not succeed in electing a vice-chairwoman as set by the party statutes, and this time the quotas were to pay for it – a tool that political parties normally use to help women in politics.

But it is not like that at all. The Social Democratic embarrassment is not proof that quotas do not work. The incumbent vice-chairwoman and at first the only candidate for the position, Jana Vaňhová, deserved to be defeated. She was almost invisible during the four years she has been in the post. She did not talk to journalists, nobody knew her opinions – behaviour typical of her male colleagues across the political spectrum. A typical example would be Pavel Bém, the man governing the capital and until recently with ambitions to rule the whole country. And though she was not the main mover, she was definitely the most visible face of the Ústí nad Labem reshuffle, which did not end with Jaroslav Foldyna, the leader of the Social Democratic ballot, taking the post of the regional governor, but with Vaňhová, the number two on the ballot, taking the post. Moreover, Vaňhová’s life partner and influential figure of the Ústí nad Labem Social Democracy, Roman Houska, received a one-year suspended sentence for attacking and hurting a policeman on the first day of the party congress.

Rather than a proof of the quotas not working, Vaňhová’s failure was proof of a normal competition of candidates within the party, which – it must be repeated – nobody finds unusual as long as it involves men. When four years ago – at a time of the crisis involving Gross – the socialists were electing their first vice-chairman in Brno, the first round ended in a fiasco. Neither of the two candidates – Bohuslav Sobotka or Zdeněk Škromach – was elected. Sobotka did win the second round but only by 21 votes, that is with a mandate of 50.8%. Did anyone argue that men are not suitable for the post when both of them flopped and when the other one had only such a weak mandate?

Not even the hasty search of an alternative to Vaňhová is an evidence of the uselessness of quotas. If it proves something then it is the fact that Jiří Paroubek is not too serious about modernising his party. He is modernising the party for the sake of the modernisation itself (“Look, we’re like the Swedish socialists; we have a woman in our leadership.”) and does not have the same motivation that the Swedes had. The Social Democrats have a lot of ambitious and capable women. The meaning of quotas and the support of women in politics in general does not consist in formally electing a woman in the party leadership once in a few years, but in making the way of women into politics easier, as they are in comparison with their male colleagues substantially more bound by the responsibility for their children and household.

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