In his most recent rant against STV in the Georgia Straight1
, Bill Tieleman is claiming
that STV is one of the worst systems in the world for electing women based on experience in Ireland and especially Malta as opposed to higher rates of women elected in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
First of all, the electoral system in Sweden, Denmark and Finland is closer to STV than it is to our current First Past the Post (FPTP) system so, given that we are deciding between STV and First Past the Post, a more sensible comparison would have been to other FPTP systems like ours, such as the ones in the U.K., the U.S. or France (all of which have lower rates of women elected than Ireland does).
But far more importantly, just how laughable is the suggestion that different outcomes for women in Ireland and Malta vs Scandinavia can be explained by the electoral system. The status of women in Scandinavia vs. Malta (or Ireland) is different in pretty much every way imaginable, but we are explaining this particular difference based on the electoral system??
If you really want to understand why the number of women elected in Malta is so low (rather than just trying to score pundit points on it), I recommend reading this study
which examined that exact question.
The most important thing to note is that historically only about 4% of the candidates
have been female. So clearly, if STV is acting to prevent women from getting elected in some way, it must be by preventing them from getting nominated. But it's not at all clear to me why, if a party is going to nominate say 5 people for a single riding instead of 1 person each for 5 smaller ridings, this would work against them nominating women. In fact, if it makes any difference at all, most people would argue that the multi-member ridings work more to women's advantage.
The conclusion from the study is that the history and culture of Malta leads to a situation where women are less likely to be in a position (such as a suitable profession such as a lawyer or doctor) to run for office, and are less likely to seek to become a candidate even if conditions were suitable. Whether there are barriers which prevent women from winning candidacy at nomination metings isn't clear. What does seem clear is that STV isn't the cause of the low number of women elected. After reading the study, one imagines that if Malta used our First Past the Post system, they might never have elected any women!
While we're doing international comparisons of electoral success for women under STV, it may be worthwhile to consider a jurisdiction where social conditions are more similar to B.C. than Ireland or Malta - the Australian province of Tasmania.
In this research note
on the 1998 Tasmanian election, Dr. Jennifer Curtin again shows that the number of women elected is closely dependent on how many are nominated which in turn is dependent on social conditions - not the electoral system,
"While the representation of women in Tasmania's House of Assembly stood at a record 31.4 per cent prior to the 1998 election, this strong showing is a recent phenomenon. While Hare-Clark(4) has been in place from 1909, it was not until 1955 that the first two women were elected and there remained only two women in the Assembly until 1964. No women were present again until 1976, and by 1986 there were four women. By 1992 the number had increased to seven (twenty per cent), and in 1996 there were 11 women."
"What is evident from this brief analysis of the Tasmanian election is that while the size of electorates does matter [in that multi-member districts with more members are better than districts with fewer members], it is not the only factor important to increasing women's representation. ... Rather, the onus is also on the major parties to enlist and support high profile female candidates."
I guess we'll see how many women are running for the various parties in the next election.
The best way to measure the effect of the electoral system on women is to remove the impact of different cultures by comparing results from different systems used within the same country.
Some insight into this can be found in a couple of quotes from an article by Marian Sawer of the University of Canberra,
"The late Enid Lakeman compared the results for women in France under different systems of PR in multi-member districts from 1945-1958 and subsequently under single-member constituencies. The greater part of the fall in women candidates and members of parliament dated from the reversion to single-member constituencies [that is, after switching from a system like STV to a system like our current one in B.C.]. By 1973 women constituted only 1.7 per cent of members of parliament (Lakeman 1976: 160)."
"In Australia voters receive separate ballot papers for the House of Representatives (single-member constituencies) and for the Senate (STV), but similarly twice as many women are elected off the Senate ballot papers."
It's odd that Tieleman forgot to mention any of these cases in his article (much like he forgot to mention that Ireland had STV a few columns ago when that information didn't suit his purposes2
), especially given his oft-expressed concern that people are getting biased information about STV.
But let's forget about international comparisons for a second and think about how the two systems, First Past the Post and Single Transferrable Vote actually work.
Let's take a hypothetical voter named Bill who is a strong NDP supporter but also wants to elect a female candidate.
Under FPTP Bill will have one NDP candidate running in his riding. So if that candidate is a women, it's all good. But if there is a man running for the NDP (most NDP candidates have historically been men) then Bill is in a bit of a spot. Does he vote NDP and forego his preference for women, or does he vote for a woman from one of the other parties in his riding (if any of them even have a female candidate). Our old system doesn't give Bill a lot of choice. If he wants to support the NDP he has to vote for whoever they tell him to vote for, whether that is for a man or a woman. If he wants to vote for a woman he may end up voting for any kind of platform, or he may not even have that choice at all.
Under STV however, Bill will likely have a few NDP candidates to choose from, one of whom is almost certain to be a woman. So Bill can express his preference to vote for someone from the NDP and vote for a woman. And even if the NDP decided not to run any women, Bill could vote for a woman who he knows won't get enough votes to be elected as his first choice and then put the NDP candidate as his second choice. That way he gets to vote for the NDP, but his preference for a female candidate will still show up in the voting results - and if the parties observe a trend whereby female candidates are getting more votes than male ones, you can be sure they'll find a way to get more female candidates. This is what I'm talking about when I say that STV puts the power and the choice in the hands of the voters.
Personally, I feel that people should vote for whoever is the best candidate, not based on gender. But that's just my opinion, other people may feel differently. And that's the whole point, the electoral system should allow, as much as possible, for us all to express our preferences, whatever they may be. If people want to elect more women, they should have that option. If they don't want to, they should have that option as well. It's called democracy.
And that's why, if you do want to have the choice
of voting for a female candidate, you should vote yes on May 17.
------1 Here's what you get
if you search for STV on the Straight's website (as at Feb 13, 2005). I count 4 anti-STV columns and a mixed collection of letters. And to think I was mocking the National Post earlier today for it's one-sided take on issues. Who knew the Straight would be so opposed to moving towards a more fair, progressive, electoral system?
Update: the link doesn't seem to work directly, but if you go to the Straight
and search for STV you'll get there. Since I wrote my post, they've added some more letters
critical of Tieleman.2
From Tieleman's Nov 10 column
, "For starters, why would B.C. change its way of electing members of the legislature to one favoured in just a few places like Tasmania, Malta, the Australian senate, and Northern Ireland?"