IT IS not news that women are underrepresented in public decision-making all over the world – in parliaments, political parties, election bodies and public administrations.
Countries in eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are no exception: 16 countries in the region are still below the global average of 19 percent of women’s representation in national parliaments. (The range is wide however, from 6.5 to 31.8 percent.)
In Slovakia, women’s participation in parliament now stands at 16 percent, with women holding 24 out of 150 seats in the new parliament. As in other eastern European countries, women’s representation in Slovakia saw a steep decline after 1989: In 1990, women’s representation in parliament fell from 29 to 12 percent.
Since then, the proportion of women in parliament has varied between 14 and 19 percent, and 2010 saw the country’s first woman prime minister.
When women participate in politics, the state is able to profit from all the skills, talent and contributions available in society. The alternative is wasted potential. Parliaments have the power to back policies and laws that promote equality and make a difference in people’s lives.
What are the challenges that women face when they want to enter the political arena? Why are women still underrepresented?
Challenges include cultural attitudes, balancing public and private responsibilities, biased reporting in the media, a lack of support provided by political parties, and a shortage of financing and campaign support.
One solution is legislated quotas. Existing research shows that quotas continue to be the most efficient means of increasing the number of women in politics.
In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, legislated quotas were introduced prior to the 1998 elections after a vigorous campaign led by civil society; and today women’s representation in the national parliament stands at 30 percent.
Other countries with legislated quotas in the region include Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo (referred to in the context of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, 1999), Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Poland and Uzbekistan.
In addition to legislated quotas, some political parties in a number of countries in the region, including Slovakia, have adopted voluntary quotas.
Women’s caucuses and alliances have also proved to be an important tool for promoting gender equality in parliaments. In Ukraine, a newly established women’s parliamentary caucus brought women from different political parties together to address inequality between men and women in the country.
Jens Wandel is the UNDP Deputy Regional Bureau Director and Director of UNDP Bratislava Regional Centre.