Editorial: Voters will decide value of 'man ban'

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Dated move at least offers clear point of difference.

Labour Party leader David Shearer. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party leader David Shearer. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Just when the country imagined women were doing well in politics, particularly in the Labour Party, the party's organisational wing says they are not. It is so worried that women do not yet fill half the party's seats in Parliament it might allow electorates to ban males from selection as the Labour candidate. Predictably, the "man ban" has been ridiculed from all sides but if Labour wants to do it, why not?

The party's former president Mike Williams offered one reason: "It's discrimination, there are human rights issues." Certainly it is discrimination, the kind of "positive discrimination" that Labour parties believe in. Another red-blooded male, MP Shane Jones, said, "Last time I checked it was the blue-collar, tradie, blokey voters we were missing", implying they will not vote for a woman.

He might be right but he is about 30 years too late. It was at least that long since the Labour Party began recruiting women candidates in earnest.

It appointed a succession of women as president of the party. A decade later it had a woman leading the party and within a few years she was Prime Minister.

By then the National Party had given the country a woman Finance Minister and its first woman Prime Minister. The nation has had two women as Governor-General, has women at the head of almost all levels of the judiciary today, women leading government departments and featuring high on the party lists of all parties in Parliament. This is a battle Labour women have led and won.

But they do not appear to know it. They have set a goal of a 50-50 gender balance in their caucus and women make up only 41 per cent so far. To reach perfect equilibrium by the election after next, they may need to turn away good men. Local electorate committees may be able to seek permission of the party's New Zealand council to say that only women need apply for their selection.

If this is repugnant to the meaning of equal opportunity in most people's minds, it is not foreign to Labour thinking. While the public has not heard of a "man ban" before, it is quite likely that something close to it has been informally operated in party selections for many years.

Positive discrimination is central to the philosophy and character of the Labour Party. It does not believe in equal opportunity but in equal outcomes, which it believes require the playing field to be tilted in favour of those disadvantaged by race, gender or relative poverty. The "man ban", even if the executive backs away from the idea in public, is a good defining issue for voters.

To anybody who shares Labour's belief that women are inherently disadvantaged in competition with men, an idea as drastic as the "man ban" will show how determined a Labour government would be to address remaining gender imbalances in all walks of life. To those who believe women can hold their own in any company these days, it will be a warning.

If positive discrimination is no longer needed its continued use is unfair to the very women it assists. It says they could not have reached their position without it, and that men more capable than them have been barred at the door.

The calibre of women in the Labour caucus does not suggest they needed a "man ban". If such a device is needed to reach perfect equilibrium, the party's female talent pool must be running down.

There is no point objecting, it is Labour's business, Labour's badge of honour or dishonour depending on point of view. Labour will bear the plaudits or the consequences.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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