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Ministry wants one in three politicians a woman

THE INTERIOR Ministry is working on a proposal aimed at achieving greater representation of women in top politics.
The ministry proposes a change in the country's election law that would force political parties to make one out of every three nominees on their candidate lists a woman. Voters use party candidate lists during elections to select representatives to the legislature.
Although all political parties are currently dominated by men, the proposal, if approved in parliament, would effectively introduce a 33.3 per cent quota system for women.

THE INTERIOR Ministry is working on a proposal aimed at achieving greater representation of women in top politics.

The ministry proposes a change in the country's election law that would force political parties to make one out of every three nominees on their candidate lists a woman. Voters use party candidate lists during elections to select representatives to the legislature.

Although all political parties are currently dominated by men, the proposal, if approved in parliament, would effectively introduce a 33.3 per cent quota system for women.

Should a party fail to meet the quota on its 150-member candidate list, the Finance Ministry would be entitled to fine the party Sk100,000 ($2,080) for each candidate below the one third minimum.

A similar measure decades ago helped Swedish women to gradually gain a current 43 per cent share of the country's parliamentary seats and 50 per cent in the cabinet. However, the Slovak ministry's bill has met with considerable opposition among members of parliament (MPs).

Some MPs have said the measure represents 'reverse discrimination', while others call the step populist and hypocritical. Some opponents have even argued that it is unconstitutional.

Daniel Lipšic, head of office with the Justice Ministry, said: "The Constitution guarantees every citizen equal access to elected posts. If a law grants a certain advantage to a specific group of citizens, then it's unconstitutional".

Women's activists, however, said statements that the measure was unconstitutional showed ignorance of the international agreements signed by Slovakia on greater female representation in politics.

"Years ago Slovakia signed a United Nations agreement saying that if temporary measures are needed to eliminate discrimination against women in politics, these should be applied without being considered discriminatory. A quota measure is one such example," said Oľga Pietruchová, an activist and head of the Opportunity of Choice civic organisation.

Interior Minister Ivan Šimko argued that the law was indeed meant to be a temporary measure, and that "with respect to how politics developed here after 1989, in my opinion it's necessary to create a better starting position for women."

Representation of women in Slovak politics has remained low since the fall of communism in 1989. While in 1985, 29 per cent of Czechoslovak MPs were women, five years later the figure had dropped to 12 per cent. It is now around 14 per cent.

Šimko added that the ministry was not saying that 33.3 per cent of MPs must be women, but rather that women should be made more visible on parties' candidate lists.

"This is not a quota system which would limit citizens' voting freedom," Šimko continued. "When voting, citizens will be able to circle the name that they want."

The head of the opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), Anna Malíková, said the measure was "hypocritical".

"We should first solve problems related to women's status in society and only after that talk about their political representation," Malíková said.

But the gremium of the third sector (G3S), an NGO umbrella body, advised political parties that a quota system could increase female representation in parliament.

Of Slovakia's 150 parliamentary seats, 21 are held by women. After Finance Minister Brigita Schmögnerová resigned from her Finance Ministry post and was replaced by a man in January, out of 20 cabinet posts only one is held by a woman - Privatisation Minister Mária Machová.

"Women make up half of the country's population, and democracy can't afford to be gender blind if it is to represent all layers of the population," Pietruchová said.

Jana Halušková, vice-chair of the parliamentary women's committee and an MP with the ruling coalition Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), welcomed the initiative although she was skeptical about its acceptability for the majority of her male colleagues in parliament.

"The time has not yet come in Slovakia to approve such measures. But it's good that the proposal was born and that a discussion will finally start. Even though women work hard in parties' regional structures, they don't get upper placements on candidate lists," she said.

Activist Pietruchová believed that women must be helped to play a more important active part in the country's political life soon.

"If women are trusted to raise our younger generation I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be trusted to take on greater responsibility in the country's decision-making process as well," she said.

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