Gender Neutrality


In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

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Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18

4 comments on “Gender Neutrality

  1. I guess it’s down not just to women being there, but the right women being there.

    • Definitely but to some extent it does seem that having any woman there seems to ‘break the spell’. We had two great women as President – those are pretty big pumps for Michael D to fill – but even so, it’s amazing how much his gender makes no difference – unlike when Mary Robinson (in particular) was elected twenty years ago.

  2. granbee says:

    Absolutely right on that each of these three Irish presidents are good for the job is because of their inner selves, not their exterior body parts!

  3. Carolyn says:

    I think female leaders tend to be exceptional, because they have overcome gender bias their entire working lives.

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