A QUOTA for the participation of women in politics as a temporary tool to increase their representation in parliament was rejected by MPs in a March 9 vote on the new election law.
Liberal MP Jozef Heriban from the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party proposed the quotas, arguing that women must be helped to enter top politics, which is still a male domain.
Although quotas had been discussed prior to Heriban's proposal, the idea had never won enough support under the general argument that Slovak women's chances of becoming MPs are equal to those of men, and that quotas are discriminatory.
Activists had predicted that Heriban's initiative had little chance of success.
"I am afraid the quotas have little chance of being approved, and that attitude testifies to the character of our society," Oľga Pietruchová from the Možnosť Voľby (Pro-choice) activist group told The Slovak Spectator before the decision.
Among those who rejected the temporary quota, a law similar to those approved decades ago in some Scandinavian states such as Sweden, were not only male conservative MPs but, paradoxically, female politicians.
"I personally am not at all happy about this proposal despite the fact that I am a woman," said Monika Beňová, deputy chair of the opposition party Smer.
"I feel completely equal to my male colleagues in parliament," she said.
The country's Justice Minister, Christian Democrat Daniel Lipšic even said that, should the quota pass in parliament, he would turn to the Constitutional Court and challenge it as an unconstitutional discriminatory measure.
But Heriban, the author of the proposal, argued that voters would not be forced to elect the women on candidate lists, and the measure was only to encourage parties to open the doors to more women among their parliamentary candidates.
Some MPs, such as the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia MP Irena Belohorská, later accused Lipšic of maintaining a backward image of women as people who "raise children and stand behind the stove".
"Everyone is just shouting that there are too many women in the Slovak courts, but when you look at the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court [the highest judicial authorities] there are no women there," said Belohorská.
She added that there was a similar situation at Slovak schools, where a majority of teachers are women but, almost as a rule, "when there is a man, he is usually the school principal."
"We are good enough to be their wives, lovers, and perhaps secretaries and advisors, but we're not good enough for the gentlemen to sit at one table with us on equal terms," Belohorská told the Slovak daily Nový deň on February 25.
Compared to the last election term, 1998 - 2002, the new Slovak parliament has less female MPs. While females previously made up 20 percent of the legislature, currently there are 25 out of the total 150 MPs, or 16.7 percent.
The Slovak cabinet has no female ministers, compared to three in the previous one.
Many male politicians said that they did not think there were barriers keeping women from entering politics, and that it was often hard to persuade women to do so due to their lack of interest in active politics.
Female activists rejected such statements, insisting that women were at a disadvantage when trying to enter top politics.
Pietruchová said that women were still expected to be good mothers and wives, while at the same time working in their regular jobs. The double load prevents many from entering top politics.
"There are quite a few women in politics but you don't really see them because they rarely make it to the top," she said.
She also pointed out that the interest of women in politics was ą evident from the proportion of female assistants to Slovak MPs.
"Looking at the list [of MP assistants] you'll find that 40 percent of them are women.
Were women not interested in politics, they would probably not want to do this job," said Pietruchová.
Christian Democratic MP Mária Sabolová, however, was still against the quotas.
"I am against the quotas because usually what is created as an artificial measure does not last very long," Sabolová said.
"I am convinced that women can make it to big politics even without having their seats secured with quotas," she said, adding "I do feel sometimes that it was not easy for women in politics.
However, the quotas won't solve the problem - a natural change in society will."
Pietruchová, meanwhile, hopes that Slovakia's entry to the EU will raise the awareness of gender equality and help local women become more accepted in politics.
15. Mar 2004 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová