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EWL review: Women’s representation in European national parliaments increased in 2011

[Brussels, 22 December 2011] In the end of 2011 there are more women in the national parliaments of EU member states than ever before, thanks to the progress made in most parliamentary elections organised in 2011.

Women and men in seven EU member states elected new national parliaments in 2011.

The greatest progress was made in Slovenia, where the representation of women in the national parliament tripled to 32% (+18.7). Clear progress was also made in Poland (+3.5), where the new quota law adopted earlier this year was put in practice for the first time. Women’s representation also increased in Ireland (+1.8), Denmark (+1.7) and Finland (+0.5).

Women’s representation decreased significantly in Estonia (-5.2). There are less women in parliaments also in Portugal (-1.3) and Spain (-0.3), despite the quota laws in place.

Campaign victory for women’s organisations in Slovenia

The most progress was made in Slovenia, where the representation of women nearly tripled from 13.3% to 32%.

Part of the progress can be pointed to the quota legislation adopted in 2006 that sets 35% minimum for each sex on electoral lists, and that was fully applied for the first time in the parliament elections in 2011. Nearly all political parties placed more than 40% of women on their candidate lists. However, the electoral system, a mixture of proportional representation and single-seat constituencies makes the application of the law difficult.

The good result owes also to the efforts of women’s organisations. Before the elections, the Slovenian Women’s Lobby published a research that revealed that political parties have in the previous elections systematically discriminated against women candidates by placing them in electoral units where the party is not expect to win. Thanks to the strong publicity campaign of the Lobby and the consequent public attention, three main political parties placed more women in winnable seats. The number of women MPs of the right wing Democratic Party of Slovenia tripled from 2 to 6, and the pensioners who previously did not have any women elected from their lists now have 3 female MPs.

Although the results of the 2011 elections were positive, Slovenian Women’s Lobby stresses that Slovenia needs to change its electoral system in the future in order to reach parity in the parliament.

New quota law increases women’s representation in Poland

The Polish gender quota bill, passed in January 2011, was applied for the first time in parliamentary elections in August 2011. The quota regulation stipulates that 35 percent of all nominated candidates must be women. In all, 110 women were elected to the Sejm, and women now account for 23.9% of parliamentarians in Poland. However, the increase is modest, amounting to 3.5 percentage points.

The quote law was based on an initiative from the Polish Women’s Congress, supported by the signatures of more than 100,000 citizens. Although the initial proposal was for a 50 per cent quota, parliament lowered the figure to 35 per cent. The quota law also applies to European Parliament elections.

Women’s representation decreases in Estonia

In the March 2011 parliamentary elections, the representation of women in the Estonian national parliament (Riikikogu) decreased by more than 5 percentage points, from 24% to 18.8%. On a positive note, the President and the First Vice-President of the Riigikogu are now women.

The decrease in the number of women in the Riigikogu has not generated much debate outside of women’s organisations.

The Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable (EWAR) explains the decrease by the still prevailing traditional patterns of gender relations and the masculinization of power. Also the insufficient resources of women’s organisations play a role. EWAR conducted an analysis of political parties’ responsiveness to gender issues prior to the elections, but women’s organisations were not able to run visible pre-election campaigns.

Estonia does not have legislated quotas to increase women’s political representation, neither do political parties apply voluntary quotas or have action plans to reach gender balance. Gender quotas are a highly sensitive issue. Attempts to advocate for the introduction of gender quotas in politics have failed so far. Having served in the Soviet time as a tool for a “fake” democracy, quotas are perceived not as compensation for structural barriers to women’s political representation, but working against fair competition.

Sources: Estonian Women’s Associations Rountable, Sonja Lokar, Inter- Parliamentary Union

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