The enhancement of women’s rights has been considered as one of the important roadmaps to equality. Many volunteering groups, activist groups, and individuals are in the women’s rights community and are still fighting for women’s rights even today. However, according to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, it will take another 50 years to achieve gender equality in the political sphere at the current rate of change. “There needs to be a change,” she says.

Gender Quotas in Politics & Businesses

To deal with this dilemma, some countries have established ‘gender quotas’ for representatives in parliament. In India, female-reserved seats have been enshrined in the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Indian Constitution since the early 1990s. In Delhi’s local government elections, quotas once achieved their goal of increasing the representation of women to above 50%.

Gender inequality is not just a problem that affects politics; it also exists in the business world. Since 2011, in Belgium, the executive branch has ordered firms to have a minimum of a ⅓ or a maximum of ⅔ of members of one gender or the other.

What is positive discrimination?

We call these measures ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘positive action.’ Positive discrimination is the process of increasing the number of employees from minority groups in a company or business, which are known to have been discriminated against in the past. Positive discrimination was made illegal under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, as it didn’t give equal treatment to all.

‘Positive action’, on the other hand, became legal after the Equality Act in 2010 to ensure measures are taken to support the recruitment and promotion of underrepresented minorities. Positive action and positive discrimination are different because positive action assesses the employee’s qualification before their protected characteristics such as gender, age, and religion are known.

Is this reverse discrimination?

There have been many arguments about imposing positive discrimination or positive action in the political and business sphere. Some groups of people disagree with policies such as positive action, insisting that the policies decrease opportunities for men since gender quotas are just a straight guarantee for women that men do not have. And some argue that positive action can lead to reverse discrimination. Reverse discrimination is a term for discrimination against members of a dominant or majority group in favor of minority or historically disadvantaged members.

How is this rhetoric possible? Making the reverse discrimination theory plausible requires a premise that minority groups are not experiencing discrimination anymore. Even if there were discrimination against minority groups in the past, they argue that the current benefits for minority groups such as women are just a privilege.

Some might say: “At the time, in the 20th century, women really didn’t have the rights, and they needed to fight so hard. But these days, women vote and are not as discriminated against as they used to be.”

These kinds of observations are substantiated by examples of women in senior positions in politics. It is easily visible when women have the status of a powerful person, such as a president or a high-ranking government official, or when women are in a professional group that used to be mostly male in the past.

But as we all know, surveys show different results.

According to UN Women, as of 2019, there were 27 states globally in which women accounted for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including three chambers with no women at all. Only 24.3 percent of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3 percent in 1995.

Now, let’s ask again. Are women now given a perfectly equal opportunity to men? Is discrimination resolved?

Expectations from our society

When you are told to meet a person with high social status, many people still have a tendency to assume their gender to be male. When someone has greatly succeeded in their business, again, the majority assume the person concerned is a man. When a sexually assaulted person is broadcast on TV, we naturally think of women. Until the day of this ‘natural assumption’ ends, we still have much work to do, and positive action is just one stage of that process.

-Soomin Yoo

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