Do we need a women’s wing in political parties?

Frederique Soh

While it has been argued that having a “women’s wing” in political parties only serves to reinforce the fact that there is no true equality as there isn’t a need for a corresponding “men’s wing”, I do see a necessity for it, simply because there just aren’t enough women in politics.

Out of the 87 parliamentarians in Singapore, only 20 are women. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women, Singapore ranks 54th in the world with about 22.2% of female representation in government.

Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t the representation be closer to 50% since almost half the population is female? As a liberal democrat, I believe that the best person for the job should be elected, regardless of gender, age or qualification, but sometimes it may be a necessary evil  to have positive discrimination to bring about a more balanced representation.

The issue of quotas has always been hotly contested among liberals. Quotas are the allocation of a definite number of places for certain groups of people such as women, youths or minority groups .

In an ideal world, no quota should be necessary, and the best candidate wins the seat. However, in reality, sometimes  a quota may be the only way to “force” or encourage representatives  from the various strata of society to come forward,  because a government should be a proportional representation of  the population.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women recommended that :

Political parties have a key role to play by getting more women to stand. By giving gender parity to candidate lists and by allocating more winnable seats to women, they would create a more level playing field.

The issue of quotas was also supported by the fact that it has shown results. From the same report:

The effective sanctioning of political parties that fail to facilitate gender parity or meet quotas would, the Organization argues, show political commitment to effecting real change.

Until this commitment is in place, quotas remain the most effective route for increasing women’s participation. Out of the 59 countries  that held elections in 2011, 17 of them had legislated quotas. Women took 27.4% of parliamentary seats in these countries as opposed to 15.7% in countries without any form of quotas.”

Within the context of a political party, aside from advocating  for gender parity in a party, a women’s wing  can scrutinize policies proposed by the party. It is easy to say that a progressive party shouldn’t be introducing gender-biased policies, but if there is a women’s wing to ensure that all proposals do not disadvantage women, then what’s the harm?

Also, in many patriarchal societies like most of those in Asia, women’s wings and women’s rights groups can counter male chauvinism. They can also educate women about their rights.

At the end of the day, there are different perspectives on gender. Men and women are built differently and we think differently. We should acknowledge and celebrate our differences. We shouldn’t be boxing ourselves in by simply drawing the conclusion that having “women’s wings” in political parties may undermine gender equality.

Frederique Soh is a member of The Women Democrats.

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