The Brussels law firm Dentons organized a lecture on gender quotas last Friday, followed by a debate about the sense or nonsense of quotas for women in the legal sector. Is it necessary to impose such quotas for the purpose of gender equality? And: is it compatible with the law? Or is it merely a feminist symbol?
Lamin Khadar, pro-bono lawyer and diversity manager for Dentons Europe, led the debate. He questioned the usefulness of quotas. Khadar is an expert in international law and European human rights, and has extensive expertise in the field of European Union law and international disputes.
Ester Vets, a lawyer at Dentons, organized this debate together with her partner Yolande Meyvis and agreed with Khadar’s reservations. Guest speaker Stella Bida, international business consultant and strategist, does not have a clear opinion about quotas, but believes that women should take control of their own future. Bida regularly promotes women’s rights. Anna Duron, pro bono lawyer and European lawyer at Ashurst agrees.
Woman and black
“Women need someone to look at, a person who inspires them,” says Stella Bida. “As an IT consultant, I was one of the few women in a men’s sector and, furthermore, I was still black. So I embodied a double minority. During meetings I only advise male lawyers. Sometimes people think I am bringing the coffee while I walk in to chair the meeting. Very miserable and clichéd. ”Bida’s story shows that women are struggling with stereotypes of this kind. Gender quotas can have a symbolizing power in such a case. They can also serve as a sign of awareness, and can be a wake-up call, which shows that there is a problem.
According to lawyer Ester Vets, quotas will not solve anything as long as the structural and social problems in legal or other sectors are not addressed. “Even though you have a high position, you are often ridiculed and objectified. In addition to our work, we women also have to do the washing and peeing. As a woman you assume that you have to combine household tasks with family life and men confirm this. The problem comes from both genders who continue to reinforce the role pattern. “Vets states that it is an ideological problem. That women are considered inferior in business, regardless of their position. She therefore argues for an ideological change before there can be a question of gender quotas.But lawyer Anna Duron is again in favor. According to her, a woman never wins in the story: “If a woman has a family, we assume that she cannot handle the work or cannot combine it. A woman who has no family is then seen as a workaholic, as someone who misses something in life. ”
Article 10 of the Belgian constitution guarantees equality between men and women and Article 11 assures Belgians of rights and liberties, without discrimination. In addition, anti-discrimination legislation also exists at European level. Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that the rights and freedoms of people must be guaranteed, without discrimination based on race, gender, color, language … etc
In principle, the introduction of gender quotas is legal to combat the prohibition of discrimination. But one must take into account some elements. There must be an apparent inequality.
The quota must make this inequality disappear. The measure must be of a temporary nature until the objective is achieved and must not limit other people’s rights. The last element is crucial when introducing quotas. For example, when an application procedure still involves two candidates – a woman and a man – the woman cannot be hired simply because she is a woman and forms part of a minority group. That would then limit the right of the man in question.