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Am I here to fill in quotas?

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I have talked to many people about quotas. I have read so many articles about the quota. So many that there’s barely anything if anything at all that I haven’t read about it. Still, I can’t say whether I’m a fan of it or not. All the other feminists I know have a very clear position; it seems so obvious to them. But, as I noticed, it can seem just as obvious for a feminist to support the quota as to speak up against it. My problem is that I understand both sides, but I simply can’t choose…


So many reasons to LOVE the quota

A quota is a compensation for the discrimination that hurts women every single day Click To Tweet

For a feminist, nothing is better than the idea of forcing the old men who have the power to give half of it to women. The quota can help women, who deserve to be there, to get to the top. But let us be honest – we don’t know if half of the best people are women; what if the quota makes us loose some great men who could have changed the world if only they had been in power?

This makes it very hard for me to understand how a man can support the quota (and they always impress me: these feminists, who fight a battle with the quota, that isn’t even their own problem). Because, at first sight, it seems like a man could only suffer from it. But if you think about it again, that’s not entirely true. Mixed teams work better, and that’s proven. So the men, who are on the team, benefit from the quota.

But what about the men who could have been on the team, but are not there because some woman is in there, maybe only to fill the quota? I could turn in circles for a long time, asking myself (and you) these questions. But then again, I have to be realistic – what about the women who deserve to be on the team, but who are not, because they are women and because there’s no quota?

If I want to worry about the men who maybe not change things because of a quota, I should wake up and talk to all the women who can’t change things because there’s no quota.  A quota is a compensation for the discrimination that hurts women every single day.  And, as a friend reminded me a few days ago, we have to keep in mind that a quota is thought to be a temporary solution; that, if it works, won’t be needed anymore.

I want to quote my English teacher here: “Quotas are the most effective way of ever achieving a better gender balance” – and I couldn’t agree more.


Nothing more terrifying than a quota

Yet, as a woman, nothing is more terrifying to me than the idea of getting to the top because I am a woman, not because that’s where I ought to be. I’d rather stay at the bottom all my life than getting something I don’t deserve because of my gender – it would most probably make me very unhappy. And I don’t think I would be able to change anything there, at the top if I got there only because of a quota.

I remember having this feeling once that I got somewhere because I am a girl, not because of something I did or said or something I could do. Just earlier this month, I was elected as a class speaker. I was elected by the girls (and one boy), and I know that they had already decided to vote for me before I had even said what my ideas were. They were happy as long as a girl would represent them as if a boy wouldn’t be able to do that. I listened to the boys, and I got the feeling that one of them would have done a better job than me. But he didn’t even have a chance – because he’s a guy. That’s what I call stupid sexism. I’m not happy because I have the feeling that I didn’t “really” win, he’s not happy because he wasn’t elected. Nobody is happy, sexism is just awful.

Even though we don’t have a quota for class speakers, I keep thinking that I was elected as a woman, not as a person. My problem with the quota therefore is the fear of feeling like that again. The fear of being seen as a woman before being seen as a person. The fear of being seen as a woman before being seen as a competent person.  Because – let be me very clear about this – I have absolutely no problem with being seen as a woman, I really like being a woman, I just want people to acknowledge me as a person, simply because my gender has no impact on my skills and my capabilities.


All I do is complain

In this whole quota-debate, all I do is complain. For the future, I have decided that I’m either going to have to decide or going to have to shut it down. Because if the only thing I do is criticize and disagree, I never help anybody and, what’s more, I keep the ones who know which side they stand from discussing and perhaps really changing something.

When I am somewhere as a woman (e. g. at the Young Greens in Germany, where we have a 50% minimum women/girls quota), I can’t stop asking myself if I would be doing the same thing if I was a guy. Even if I know that I would probably do the same thing, this question keeps popping up in my head.  I complain because I feel bad, being somewhere only because I am a woman. On the other hand, when there’s no quota, I start complaining because I say I have fewer chances to win because I am a woman, not because I am (maybe) simply too stupid to do the job.

So today, I stand somewhere along this line: I am a girl –  and I want to change things, so I want to get to the top. But I won’t get there to fill some quota, I’ll get there because I’m going to fight for it.


Isa Zehetner
(Isa) Zehetner is fourteen years old and lives in Germany at the moment. She has lived in Austria, Ukraine, Russia and the Netherlands, traveling around Europe because of her father’s job. She is a member of the Young Greens in Germany (Youth Organization of the Green Party), where she enjoys learning more about politics and participating in building the future of her country. She has always had the problem that is sexism in her life, like so many other girls. Unlike the others, though, she decided to do something about it and is now a feminist.

One thought on “Am I here to fill in quotas?

  1. The statistics do not lie. Women are systemically excluded from leadership roles in business, politics… Everywhere. A “good man” may get overlooked for advancement but not on the basis of gender. Good women get squeezed out of decision making all the time _because_ they are women. And this, despite the fact that better decisions are arrived at through diversity. The consequence of over representation of white, middle aged males in determining the fate of our planet, society and species is evident. And a change is not only necessary, it is urgent. But this structural, systematic bias can only itself be addressed with a structural mechanism — a quota — where implemented, has been used to positive, demonstrable effect. In countries where there is greater female representation in leadership (Scandinavia), economic performance, democratic engagement and social development are all better. These things are all especially important for women — who are at greater risk of social exclusion, joblessness, a lower wage rate and less (no) retirement income, though as a sex we long outlive men. The face of poverty in the world, including the developed world, is female. For that reason, the question of quotas intimately impacts you, Isa, and all young and experienced women around you. I would tell you to persist in your optimism but, again, the facts don’t lie. Women are systematically excluded from leadership roles. Did you know, for example, that only 3% of Europe’s top companies have female CEOs? 3%. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Now look around you. Do you really think so many girls and women lack the ambition and skills to become leaders of such organizations? Of course not. But in the time we’ve been watching this topic, nothing has changed. Recent Mckenzie statistics say fully 80% — 80%! — of women get sidelined from corporate career paths. Sure. A girl can believe she’s among the 20% who will survive. But why should this be a question of survival? And why can’t more women, and more kinds of women get to the top? We need women of all kinds at the top too — and of different kinds of competences too. (Do you honestly think all those 97% men are really the best qualified for the job btw?!?) Why can’t women be 50% of those CEOs? And the same in politics, media, finance, banking, STEM, etc.? You definitely get the point. Two important things: 1. With each new generation, we are forced to reinvent the wheel — and therefore can’t make progress on gender parity — because young women don’t believe there is a problem and/or they don’t believe the problem applies to them. By the time they start really encountering the biases (middle management, in your thirties, when/if you start having children), traction is lost, we have to start all over again, and by then, it’s too late. This has to change, and it has to change before you (and your generation) personally start encountering the same biases all women out there are already facing; and 2. We need quotas. The system is not going to change itself. It hasn’t, and it isn’t going to. The most optimistic estimate for reaching gender-parity is in 80 years from now. You will be 94 then, God willing. 94. Don’t you think we need to fast-forward the situation? You deserve that. Your friends, sisters, mother, aunts and, darn it, I deserve this. But so does our planet, our species and our fellow creatures. As a male friend of mine says: All decision making bodies need to be 50% women — and these can be any kind of women. It doesn’t matter. By virtue of their mere presence, the outcomes will be better, more democratic, and more sustainable. He is right. Research bears this out. So let’s not subject ourselves to a double-standard. Why would a woman have to be any more qualified for a role than men today are? That’s just not being fair to yourself/ourselves. So please do me a favor. This is a subject you/we do not have the luxury to be ambivalent about. Take a stand. Take the stand for your own future and all the girls and women who will follow you. Don’t only support a quota. Champion it. And go out there and make it happen! One last thing, in all your reading you may have come across a quote from Ms. Neelie Kroes, former European Vice President for the Digital Agenda, role model, politician par excellence and a personal hero of mine. There were gender quotas for European Commissioners in place when she came into office — even with which, btw, the member states only managed to appoint 1/3rd women (!), and today’s European Commission, the top political body in Europe, is even worse! Well the story goes that Neelie was once asked by a reporter “what do you say when people say you’re only a commissioner because there’s a gender quota?” She famously answered: “Yes, that’s true.” So, if a quota is good enough for Neelie, I assure you, it’s good enough for me–and I hope, for you too. 🙂

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