In early November Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, unveiled “a cabinet that looks like Canada.” This new cabinet is said to be one of the most diverse the world has ever seen, comprising of an equal number of men and women, as well as numerous individuals from ethnic minorities and disability groups.
But what is the significance of this decision by the Liberal party leader, not just for Canada, but for the global equality movement?
When asked why he made the decision to make his cabinet gender balanced, Mr Trudeau simply replied with, “it’s 2015”. Such a straight forward answer may have made the reporter’s question seem trivial, but it didn’t truly answer the question. Considering we live in an age where many of us strive for gender equality, it is also important to point out that though it may be 2015, was the appointment of these women for the right reasons? And what should be defined as the right reasons to start with?
In an ideal world, of course, men and women would be equal to the extent that boardrooms and cabinets are split fifty-fifty between the two genders by coincidence, rather than because of a pre-defined quota. But the reality is that for us to get to that point on a global level, we have to start with quotas. People need to start seeing women, seeing ethnic minorities and seeing people with disabilities in these kinds of positions of power. Without this visual the masses will continue to see these and other groups as inferior or incapable of doing the job.
And yes, this may seem unfair to the cis-gendered white man, and yes, it may make me question whether I got a job because I earned it or because I’m brown and female and from a working class background, but the harsh truth is that we can’t really achieve that much for equality without quotas like these. We can’t just hope that one day society will just wake up and realise all of their prejudices are bull.
So what was Mr Trudeau’s answer supposed to suggest? That he happened to have a gender balanced cabinet or that he specifically chose people who may not have been as qualified for the positions as someone else? Well from the fact he pledged to install a gender balanced cabinet throughout his election campaign, some would argue the latter is the case.
Perhaps there were ‘better qualified’ men for some of the positions, but even if Trudeau did appoint these women as ministers partly because of their gender, this would hardly be the sole basis of his decision. Of course these new cabinet members will all be equally qualified to perform their job, it isn’t as if political leaders or CEOs just pick out names of random women from a hat just to fill their quotas.
Trudeau’s cabinet has been declared as the first gender balanced cabinet in Canada’s history. This fact has been used by plenty of journalists as if to shock or impress readers, but the reality is, a truly representative government has been long overdue, and not just in Canada. There are just five other countries in the world that half an equal balance of men and women in their governments (for example Finland and Liechtenstein), with the UK falling behind with less than a third of Cameron’s cabinet ministers being women.
If anything, it isn’t so much impressive that Trudeau has achieved this equal balance of genders – all this fact does is highlight how underrepresented women and minority groups have been throughout history and continue to be to this day.
So yes, we should hail this as a great day of progress for gender equality, but the reality is that this step should have been made well before 2015.