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Flowers or weeds on political stage?

"SINGLY, a woman in parliament is like a flower, but en masse they are like weeds," German politician Michael Horlacher was once quoted as saying.
Though statements like this are not very common on the Slovak political stage - at least not in recent years - there is still a difference in the perception of men and women in politics in Slovakia, according to a project entitled "Slovak Parliamentary Elections 2006 - Gender Views".

A high-profile female politician, ex-minister Iveta Radičová.
photo: Sme - Pavol Funtál

"SINGLY, a woman in parliament is like a flower, but en masse they are like weeds," German politician Michael Horlacher was once quoted as saying.

Though statements like this are not very common on the Slovak political stage - at least not in recent years - there is still a difference in the perception of men and women in politics in Slovakia, according to a project entitled "Slovak Parliamentary Elections 2006 - Gender Views".

Aspekt, a feminist publishing house and educational group, carried out the project during Slovakia's 2006 parliamentary elections. The aim of the project, supported by the Slovak-Czech Women's Fund, was to study the ways women are used and abused in politics, and how their work is sometimes undermined by their own parties as well as by the media.

The project was summarised in a book called, A Feminist Invisible Hand Reasons Behind the Voting Screen: Aspects of Parliamentary Elections. The book suggests individual elements of the Slovak electoral system do not put women at a disadvantage.

But even though there are no legal obstacles preventing women from getting into parliament, the number of female MPs is still low, say the authors, Ľubica Kobová and Zuzana Maďarová.

The book examines ways women can get into politics (or fail to do so), along with the candidates' lists and programmes of all the political parties involved in last year's elections. It also analyses print media from March to August 2006.

Even though the theme of "women in politics" was one of key themes of pre-election discussions, and some parties even took up "a woman's face" as an indicator of a moral platform, the elections did not bring a significant change to the number of women in parliament, the book says. In 2006, 24 women were elected to the 150-seat parliament, up by two compared with 2002.

Sociologists say that the situation is not likely to change until the way women are seen in society changes.

"The public sees the burden of family duties as a significant barrier to women's participation in public and political life," sociologists Zora Bútorová and Jarmila Filadelfiová were quoted in the book. "Most people in Slovakia are critical of the low participation of women in political decision-making and think that women inadequately defend their rights. At the same time, they do not regard the role of women in politics as being as important as their role in families and at work."

The media analysis showed that journalists in fact have been helping preserve the prevailing stereotypes of males and females in politics, and that their activities are often shown through stereotypical portrayals.

The authors suggest that there is still a gap between the perceived dissatisfaction with the low participation of women in politics, and a movement to defend of their rights and create a real support for changes. They call for a more active approach from political parties and NGOs.

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