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Parity as Practice: the Politics of Equality

Sponsored by the
Yale Women Faculty Forum

the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights
at Yale Law School
the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund
at the MacMillan Center

March 30-31, 2012

organized by

Priya Natarajan, Astronomy and Physics, Women Faculty Forum
Judith Resnik, Yale Law School
Reva Siegel, Yale Law School
Allison Tait, Women Faculty Forum

Parity in the context of gender is both a metric and a goal for feminists. In the political realm parity programs have been enacted in countries ranging from France to Argentina and Bangladesh, mandating either a certain number of reserved seats to regulate the number of women elected, or setting a minimum for the share of women on the candidate lists. In the corporate domain, Scandinavian countries are experimenting with instituting gender quotas on corporate boards and Norway has adopted legislation requiring that boards of both state-owned companies and public limited companies be composed of forty percent women. Both of these models for instituting gender parity are meant to advance women's standing and decision-making capability in political and economic spheres.

While these forms of parity programs enable the empowerment and agency of women, other forms focus on education, literacy, and the lack of gender parity with respect to basic skills and human rights. As a part of tracking the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations tracks disparity in education rates between boys and girls. Looking at attitudinal norms in the domestic sphere, the United Nations also tracks data on women’s property rights and the division of domestic labor. More broadly, the 1995 UN Human Development Report introduced the Gender-related Development Index, which measures achievement in the same basic capabilities as the Human Development Index does, but takes note of inequalities between women and men. These parity programs focus on building capability rather than its exercise.

Regardless of whether the parity program is designed to build or exercise female capability, there are important issues that need to be addressed with regard to the use of the parity model to achieve gender equity. Parity programs raise philosophical questions about democratic legitimacy and gender essentialism, as well as practical questions about the selection of evaluation variables and the utility of prioritizing gender participation as a metric. Parity programs demonstrate a country’s basic commitments to women’s equality but also implicate certain theories of governance, gender, and equal citizenship.

This conference on gender parity – taking as a starting point programs that have been established in these areas of both public and private concern – provides a forum for scholars to discuss the impact of, as well as the challenges posed, by parity models. Because parity is advocated as a tool for achieving gender equity and is the subject of critique, the aim of this conference is to probe the contributions and the questions that parity programs entail. In order to facilitate this understanding, the conference will interrogate the notions of parity, both as a marker of success and as a model of organization in locations and sites that are diverse – geographically, politically, and imaginatively.