The Indian Parliament has struck a hitherto unprecedented blow for democracy and gender balance. The Federal Parliament in Delhi in March 9th, 2010 passed by a massive 186 - 1, the bill that reserves a third of all seats of Parliament in the national and state assembles for women.
It was a decision intended to coincide with the International Day for Women, but it had to be delayed overnight, after it was marred by extreme scenes of dissension, with some Parliamentarians tearing copies of the bill and shouting in vehement damnation against its authors. Six of those were suspended from House debate and had to be forcefully removed from the chamber. Upon passage, its proponents led by the ruling Congress Party's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were beside themselves with effusive praise.
India is not alone in this dare, having been preceded by even bolder leaps elsewhere. But then, India is not some tribal enclave or third rate country; it is the world's largest democracy, and the second most populous civic union on Earth. India hosts more than a billion breathing humans; hence this decision is momentous indeed. But only for trusting a ruse! Countries like Sweden and Rwanda lead the world in the proportion of women on their sovereign decision organs.
Other cultures, ancient and modern; nations like Sri Lanka, Argentina, Chile and Liberia have, with the passage of time, gone a step further, and elected women as heads of their governments. To my mind, this is the epitome of the power of free choice, and the truest testament to the equality and competence of the world's womenfolk to the challenges of leadership.
Consider the phrase free choice... Everywhere, women have proved their merit, and their accession to power is no longer a matter for worrisome reconsideration. For this reason, the Indian choice deserves more than glancing attention. While this step is laudable and, indeed, emulable, it still betrays an offensive triumph of sentimentalist force over the strict dictates of nature and reason.
Since antiquity, leadership has attracted the reverence and esteem reserved for the finest forms of culture and art. Indeed, leaders are a society's finest artists, and their actions pump the heart of the real lives of their subjects. What leaders dream and idealize, society croons along to, and crowns with realization, and their word is the whole wide world to it.
Like poetry, literature, music or natural science, leadership is, in some form, a spiritual concept. It is an outflow of passion. And we may not reserve positions of passion on the basis of gender! Can we, for example reserve a third of all poetic positions for women; a third of all sculptors, all architects, all newspaper columnists, all farmers? Nature dictates that the most passionate hearts and minds on these planes should excel. Reserving positions of leadership for a given gender is promoting mediocrity. In the already miserly temple of politics, society loses the rarely sacrificed steak of merit at the altar of arithmetic.
Perhaps more poignant is the perversion of this gender equity concept on the Kenyan political scene. If the Constitutional review goes according to plan, Kenya's 47 new counties will each be represented in Parliament by a woman. Noting that each county is composed of several current constituencies, it effectively means each 'old' district will have a Super MP, who will likely be the county spokesperson, and to boot, a woman!
Ask with me: why would a more popular candidate representing real people at the lowest level, be subordinated to an amorphously defined 'leader' for political expediency, representing an extinct entity and answerable to no-one on the ground? When this county leader speaks, shall we take her word to be the synthesized wisdom of five or more Sub-MPs in her county? And what is to stop her from being subjective and partisan in her views? Isn't she just a human like all others in the House?
There has never been any proof that 100 women produce more and better ideas than 20 women. The same cannot be said of 100 passionate souls, whether men or women. Both in the real and the ideal world, we are better off with a passionate, focused all-men parliament, than a reward-for-gender House. Let justice be our shield and defender. Reserving seats for women is discrimination against men. The implied outcome is that no woman will be elected to represent a constituency, since their lot has a free pass, through the county quota system.
Unless the aim is merely to create jobs for cronies and spouses, the representation red-herring is dead and rotting. Tell me another, India!
By Vincent Oloo Mungao
The author is Chairman, Technocratic Age Group of Companies. The views are his own.