THERE is much to be said on both sides of the debate about whether special measures should be taken to increase the proportion of elected women politicians.
But the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ difficulty in finding even one woman to put her name forward as a potential candidate for the European Parliament, illustrates graphically a point that has often been overlooked: how do you deal with a situation where women simply aren’t interested?
Throughout the discussion that has intensified over the past decade, there has been an assumption that women are often the victims of institutional discrimination, with many high-calibre would-be candidates being passed over because of the inherent sexism of party structures.
But however much merit this argument may have, it is difficult to sustain it in instances where women simply don’t apply.
Press-ganging women into putting their names forward, as the Welsh Liberal Democrats now appear to be doing, is an extraordinary way to deal with perceived discrimination.
What is the point of having a woman on a candidates’ shortlist if she is only there because she is a woman, not because she has an ambition to be the candidate?
It is tempting to argue that this is not simply political correctness taken to the nth degree, but that it devalues the democratic process and is actually insulting to women.
The ideal situation, and the most equal, surely, is to have all selections founded on genuine equality.
If the best candidate is a woman, she should win selection on merit, not because of a rule that disqualifies a more suitable man.
Blaenau Gwent Labour Party was torn apart by the imposition of a women-only shortlist in 2005, but when an open selection process was used to choose a candidate for the parliamentary by-election called after Peter Law’s death, only four of the 25 individuals who applied for selection were women.
Three of the four women got on to the shortlist, while only four of the 21 men did. Eventually, it was a man who was selected.
Given that the proportion of men seeking to be candidates is far higher than the proportion of women, the worry about positive selection measures favouring women is that the pool of women to choose from is significantly smaller.
This can have quality implications, and there are those who argue, for example, that this factor contributed to the election of some low-calibre Labour women AMs.
It is likely that the debate will continue for as long as democracy exists. But it might be sensible if parties were to agree that when women choose not to put their names forward, it is safe to assume they simply don’t want to stand.