Watchdog opposes reliance on quotas

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The Independent Online

The UN report confirms that the UK is near the bottom of the European sexual equality league, particularly in childcare and pay, the Equal Opportunities Commission claimed yesterday.

Peter Smith, EOC Commissioner, said that "much more needed to be done" to further equality in Britain. But Mr Smith disagreed with the assertion of Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's woman Prime Minister, that quotas were the way to increase women's influence and promote equality.

"The EOC advocates the use of targets as a basis for setting goals and measuring progress," he said. "Targets should not result in positive discrimination and merit should be the criterion for selection/participation in decision making."

The EOC says positive discrimination or quotas are against the principle of equal opportunities and unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act. But it says legislation makes an exception for political parties - like Labour - who want to draw-up all-female candidate lists to satisfy internal dissatisfaction with the level of female political participation and raise the number of women in parliament.

The Human Development report has drawn up a five point strategy for change which includes a demand that governments take serious steps to reach a previous UN target of female participation in national decision- making of 30 per cent. But the report states that opinions differ about whether affirmative action - quotas - should replace targets to achieve this.