Can We Engineer Society Into Voting For Women

With the August deadline drawing closer, the debate on how to achieve the 2/3 gender rule in parliament as stipulated by the constitution, has intensified.

Without having to expound on the anthropology of our patriarchal society, suffice it to state that the gender imbalance within our leadership is due to our beliefs. The focus then, should be on how we should shift societal attitudes and in doing so, adjust our voting patterns. Instead, the dominant discourse has been around how to structure legal/electoral frameworks so as to achieve this objective.

The emphasis on legislative reform to ‘force’ the electorate to vote for women runs the risk of tampering with the very ideals of democracy, and consequently, may prompt resistance from the populace. The approach should be multi pronged in that any modification to the legal framework, should go hand in hand with interventions to change behaviour.

My view is that if more weight is placed on the idea of social re-engineering, we’re more likely to hit the target. To do this, we must understand how human beings think. How irrational they are. And how predictably irrational they are.

Human beings are inherently sheep as far as behaviour is concerned. We automatically follow and do as others do. This phenomenon is colloquially referred to as herd mentality and a manifestation of this was in the recent quail saga that swept the country last year. This herd mentality underpins our ‘preference’ for male leadership given our patriarchal society. We could however, very easily shift perceptions by orchestrating what is to be perceived as normal. Women leadership, by getting more coverage, in the media for example, could be normalised. In showcasing women in power as the norm, people would generally be more inclined to vote for them.

As we persuade the electorate to vote for women, understanding what motivates people is crucial. Ordinarily, we incentivise by focusing on what is to be gained. But theories suggest that losses loom larger than gains. That is to say, the angst caused by loss does not equate to the pleasure induced by gaining something of equal measure. If we apply this to incentivising the citizenry to vote for women, it follows that we should focus on what is to be lost or missed out on by not having female leaders as opposed to what we could gain with more women in parliament.

We could even go as far as choice architecture at the ballot box. Suppose for instance, if on the ballot paper, the default choice was the woman candidate and voters had the option to opt out and select another candidate. Choice would still exist, but there would have been a gentle nudge to vote for the female candidate. Some would argue that such a tactic would be somewhat manipulative, but it would simply be a strategy to counter the cognitive bias against women leadership – thus neutralising factors (culture etc) that have influenced our choices in the first place.

Of course it would also be prudent to encourage women to put themselves up for leadership. To this end, we’d have to eliminate the bottlenecks and barriers that exist both extrinsically and intrinsically. This would entail ensuring that is both easy and attractive for a potential candidate to engage in elective politics. Educating on the process of the run up to leadership, and maybe, even introducing a kitty to fund election campaigns for women, would be one intervention that would perhaps cost less than introducing more seats to an already swollen parliament.

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