Joint male and female leadership: yay or nay?

As some of you may know, among the more technical code changes being proposed for apporoval at the next general assembly, is a matter of principle: to change the chaimanship of the Green Movement to a joint position to be occupied by one woman and one man together. The proposed code change (in Hebrew) can be viewed here. The purpose of this post is to start off a debate about this proposal, and to do so, we’ve got a short piece by Eran Benyemini on the yay side, and a more long winded one by me on the nay side. May the best man/woman win!!

Lets join forces
by: Eran Benyimini

Over the course of the Green Movement’s development, I made many efforts to join women to the party’s leadership and other central positions. I did this from the understanding that the dearth of women on the Israeli political map influences the style and content of the political dialogue. I also did this from a belief that the environmentally conscious worldview has commonalities with feminist positions, especially with regard to power and aggression. The task wasn’t easy. While many women rose up to the challenge and led the party’s most significant maneuvers, an even greater number hesitated to step forward even while identifying completely with the party’s values.

The reasons for this are numerous: Politics is construed and a masculine and aggressive occupation wherein there is no room for women; commitment to family; lack of confidence in personal ability (I heard this from a successful veteran environmental activist with a PhD); many women preferred to support others and not to be in the forefront.

The loss is foremost Israeli politics’ in general, and the green movement’s in particular. Today the green movement is functioning at 50% of it’s ability and talent, is not involved with many areas that could be on the party’s and the public’s agenda, and is forming fewer new role-models.

The green movement has a golden opportunity with such a move, to lead a revolution in women’s attitude towards politics, and in women’s attitudes towards positions with great influence. Such a move will likely occasion real empowerment which does not diminish men or any other group. A co-chairwoman will be a real and symbolic added power to the Green Movement.

Nobody likes to think that she reached her position thanks to a quota, and not due to ability; on many occasions especially strong and successful women object to quotas for understandable reasons. But, from experience and from studies in the whole worlds, there is no other way to change the numbers, and to increase the presence of women in a party other than by fixing the warped reality by changing the party’s code.

Shared leadership isn’t the best solution
by: Maayan Kreitzman

The need to get women into leadership positions in our society as a whole, and in politics in particular is stark. Israel has one of the lowest proportions of women in politics in the developed world, with only 23/120 female MKs in the current Knesset. The negative effects of male domination in democracy and government are a particularly devastating subset of the negative impacts of inequality in our society as a whole – impacts that diminish all of us, men and women alike. Until this most basic inequality is addressed, and women and men pool their power and collaborate fully, we will be significantly hampered in our efforts, however well-intentioned, to build together a more honest, peaceful, green, multifaceted, and responsible society. The dearth of women in public positions is a situation that feeds itself: existing conditions (both cultural and material) form barriers that make it difficult for women to enter in sufficient numbers to dismantle the same barriers. This dynamic in politics has been extensively discussed in feminist and academic literature and is borne out by the lack of significant improvement in the representation of women from Israel’s founding until the mid-90’s when political parties implemented quotas (the percentage of women has approximately doubled in the last 4 seatings of the Knesset compared to the ~10% level before that). Therefore, active measures to break this cycle and approach a healthier balance are effective, and still desperately needed.

Change always begins in the heart, and expands outwards in concentric circles. I think that most members of the Green Movement deeply feel in their hearts the need to promote equality – in their own attitudes, in their families, in their personal and working lives, in their political home, and ultimately Israeli politics and society. We as a political movement have a responsibility to confront gender inequality within our political family adequately and actively. In this way we will much more credibly lead by example in our public advocacy and future leadership in the Knesset.

For this reason I welcome the sentiment behind the proposed change in the party’s code to mandate that both a woman and man will jointly lead the Green Movement in the position of Chairperson (יושב ראש). Unfortunately, despite good intentions, I am unconvinced that the measure itself holds up to scrutiny. A political party which seeks to be elected into office, as we do, needs to be tactical as well as ideological. I would like to suggest that this proposal takes a negative tactical toll on the party, and poorly addresses the actual ideological intention of advancing gender equality.

First, let’s look at the inspiration: the proposal is modeled after the German Green party. As a successful party which has been elected to the German Bundestag (lower house) in all but one election since 1983, and even served as a member of two coalition governments, the German structure would appear to be ripe for imitation. The German greens’ fundraising foundation and operational wing have a shared chairpersonship, not the political wing itself, which has one leader who is at the top of the party’s list. The current proposal for our party does not actually pertain to leadership during elections, which would be determined by separate primaries. Do we want to implement joint leadership during elections as well, or only in between? What about joint leadership once the party is elected into the Knesset?

We need to think seriously of the significance of having two leaders instead on one, both internally and externally; both outside the Knesset, and hopefully within it. Internally to the party, having two leaders, male and female, may have varied positive and negative effects. On the positive side, two people at the top of the hierarchy could distribute the workload of leadership and increase the activity and productivity of the leadership. It might also lessen personality-based decision making and bring the whole party to consensus based decisions. On the negative side, a dysfunctional pair of leaders could be a major disaster and would negatively affect the entire party’s active core.

Externally, the effects are clearer. When we communicate outwards, it is very important to have a clear message, and a recognizable figure to get that message out: this figure is the party leader, and his/her importance in a campaign can’t be underestimated. Grassroots organizing is critical to political success (particularly for a party which is interested in democracy, activism and sustainability), but so is a leader: one person who embodies our values and vision and can take them out to the public through mass media. Dual leadership will confuse and muddle the party’s public image in a high profile campaign. The option of one of the two chairpersons acting as the de-facto public figure in an advocacy and/or election campaign would defeat the purpose of dual leadership; after all, the position of chairperson is public and political, not internal and administrative. Having two leaders where one leader is destined to fulfill the role of a glorified sidekick in external matters is ridiculous. Same goes for leadership within the Knesset once members are elected.

Given that the internal effects of dual leadership are unclear while the external effects are probably negative, I would hesitate to support the change for these purely practical reasons. In addition to these, I think that this proposal is off-target for addressing the systemic barriers for women to reach the position of party leader. To illustrate this, let’s make use of an analogy:

Ecologists and conservation biologists know that in addressing a conservation problem, the best solution to protecting or promoting the well-being of a natural population isn’t necessarily the most intuitive or simple one. It is necessary to look at the entire life history of the population in question to determine at exactly which stage the threat(s) occur. For example, protecting the adults of a threatened turtle population from hunting and human disturbance on beaches may do little to improve their population numbers if the limiting stage in their life-history is poisoning of the eggs due to pollution, or being caught as by-catch at sea.

Studies show that once women enter political races, they are as likely or likelier to win them as their male counterparts (based on Canadian data). But, there are simply fewer women candidates, and women are generally more likely to leave politics for various reasons early in their political career. So, our focus should be on getting women to run for political positions, and getting them to stay, not on ensuring them a spot at the top of the party no matter what. Mandating one woman and one man as party leaders may result in a severe lack of competition (particularly of the female side), and in the acclimation of candidates that are less qualified and committed than they would be if they were compelled to win a competitive race. The split in the leadership races is therefore less democratic, and unnecessary since women in political races are not disadvantaged compared to men once they are running.

I would suggest a different approach whereby women are actively recruited and encouraged to seek leadership in competitive elections, not only for the leadership of the party, but also for the party’s list. If a joint leadership is mandated, but there are still no women interested due to the continuation of the prevailing conditions, what have we accomplished? We must cease to see women as only good ‘supporters’ and ‘partners’ in politics and leadership, and understand that given the right conditions, women are excellent leaders in their own right, capable of participating and winning in the competition which is inherent in politics. Our democracy will certainly serve us better if women close the gap of underrepresentation. But we need to find the right way to make this happen.

One response to “Joint male and female leadership: yay or nay?

  1. Pingback: בעד ונגד יו"ר משותף גבר ואישה « ירוק אדום כחול לבן

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