Sortition and feminism

Through a pingback to a 2013 post of mine on this subject, I became aware of two pieces on the issue of sortition and feminism. The first is “Random Voting and the Path to Gender Equality”, a recent post by Mariam Nasser on the website of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut. Here is an excerpt:

We desperately need women in politics. Through sortition, no candidate is at an unfair advantage that usually breeds sexism and/or different forms of discrimination. Women no longer have to fear biased public opinion or the inability to procure campaigning funds due to a lack of bank and corporation backing, with sexist political justifications, of course. The corporations need the candidate to push their agenda, and if the voters are not supporting the female candidate, the corporations lose their money on a failed campaign. Women no longer have to fear misogynistic “she only got there because she slept around” remarks from others. They become free to exercise their political rights in a positive, engaging environment that fosters communication and wants what is best for society as a whole.

Nasser’s post cites a 2015 paper by Arina Antonia Iacob from the National University of Political Science and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania:

A feminist perspective on political sortition

Abstract: In this paper, I will try to analyze the extent in which feminists might take part in the political comeback of sortition. In the first section I will discuss the political implication of this mechanism and the arguments raised by those in favor of a political lottery. In the second section there will be an emphasis on the importance of descriptive representation in general, focusing on the feminist perspective, while talking about the idea of implementing gender quotas. Also, I will put forward a discussion surrounding various empirical studies that revealed the effects of gender quotas. At last, in the third section, I will try to point out the negative effects of gender quotas and the manner in which these can be avoided by using sortition, by referencing the basic principles of this random mechanism which can be used in association with the feminist principles.

9 Responses

  1. We need women in this blog. I believe they could be instrumental in the spread of sortition.


  2. Yes – it would be great to have more people, and a diverse crowd, discussing and advocating for sortition. Groups that are oppressed by the current system have the most to win by changing it – and women are one such group.


  3. *** Women given biological factors will be a majority of citizens in modern societies (excluding occurrence of selective abortion). On the other hand some various factors lessen their weight in the “political class” of polyarchies, if there is not formal or informal quota. Therefore Iacob 2015 defense of sortition democracy on feminist bases is very understandable. A truly democratic power would be a strongly female power.
    *** What is surprising, what needs thinking about, is the exceptional occurrence of this “feminist discourse for sortition” . Sortition is a minority propension among culture elites, sure, but it seems as small a minority, or even less numerous, in the elite feminist circles, where “politics of presence” is favored (= polyarchic ways, including “representative elections”, but with gender quota).
    *** One possible explanation. In contemporary Western societies the feminist activists within the culture elite have specific niches, protected from the other gender; institutional ones, as “women’s history departments” or “feminist studies departments” in universities, or informal niches in media. These circles are predisposed to supply the women quota in polyarchical bodies, and they will lean to prefer “politics of presence” rather than mini-populus model. Support for sortition will be even more difficult than among the other elite circles.
    *** Among more ordinary women sortition may be somewhat less attractive than among men, because of some specific amount of distrust with everything radical – and sortition would be a radical shift. But this is not an explanation for the elite feminist activists, who are often very radical-minded – but inside the polyarchic ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Andre,

    > One possible explanation. […]

    This explanation seems valid, but too narrow, since the phenomenon of implicitly or explicitly rejecting sortition is not limited to Liberal feminists. Leaders and intellectuals of supposedly democratic causes (very noticeably, Marxists) have all been very silent on the idea of sortition. The obvious explanation – which does not contradict your explanation, but generalizes it – is that elites within those groups are not democratically minded at all. Regardless of the details of how privileges are obtains and maintained, application of sortition would weaken, if not eliminate, established privileged positions within those groups. This is an outcome which intra-group elites definitely do not want to occur, and thus their silence (if not outright rejection of sortition) is to be expected.


  5. seems to me that sortition undermines the very notion of elites. By definition the elites are the people who always occupy the most powerful and enviable positions, no surprise they don’t want others (chosen randomly) to access these positions.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sociological factors may explain the rarity of pro-sortition stances among feminists in the culture elites of our polyarchies. But a pure ideological factor may add its effect. Sortition will lead to a female majority in political bodies, but without looking to the gender of the citizens. Whereas the feminist circles are centered on the difference of gender and its effects. Therefore sortition by itself, whatever its statistical consequences, may be a displeasing idea, as any “universalist” one. The same for marxist circles, centered on the class structure: even if sortition would lessen strongly the social power of the upper classes, it will have this effect without considering class, a displeasing idea.


  7. *** Iacob, and now Nasser, are exceptional pro-sortition stances among feminists.
    *** There are, too, such exceptional stances from people belonging to the Marxist tradition. We may mention « Postscript to Gastil and Wright: The Anticapitalist Argument for Sortition » Politics & Society 2018, Vol. 46(3) pp 331 –335

    Liked by 1 person

  8. > a displeasing idea

    For those elites, the idea that their intellectual treasures are of no particular importance and should offer their carriers no particular privileges is certainly a displeasing idea.

    > exceptional pro-sortition stances

    Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule that individuals and, even more so, groups tend to adopt ideologies justifying their privileges. It is rather unsurprising when such exceptions are minor figures in the relevant groups. It would be much more impressive if such an exception would be a major figure – a leader with significant political power. Other than Cleithenes, do we have historical examples of such exceptions?


  9. […] of Donald Trump and the Gilets Jaunes protest in France. Academics have continued publishing papers and opinions on the pros and cons of sortition (unfortunately often rehashing very well hashed […]


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