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Political parties and women’s political representation

Report | Doc. 13022 | 18 September 2012

Committee
Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination
Rapporteur :
Ms Maria STAVROSITU, Romania, EPP/CD
Origin
Reference to committee: Doc. 12453, Reference 3741 of 28 January 2011. 2012 - Fourth part-session
Thesaurus

Summary

Although it is widely acknowledged that the low proportion of women in parliament affects its representativeness, introducing and implementing effective measures to redress this imbalance has proved to be a major challenge.

As key protagonists in pluralist democracies, political parties have a decisive role to play to enhance women’s political representation: in addition to ensuring strict compliance with electoral legislation, including on legislated quotas, and introducing voluntary measures, they are well placed to promote a change of culture conducive to gender equality, in politics and in society at large.

On the basis of the positive experience of some of them, the Parliamentary Assembly should recommend good practices on how to increase women’s representation in parliament to political parties in Council of Europe member and observer States, as well as partners for democracy.

A Draft resolutionNote

1. In Council of Europe member States, women represent approximately 51% of the population and yet only approximately 23% of members of national parliaments are women. This average figure hides a huge gap, between a handful of countries in which women’s representation in parliament exceeds 40% (Andorra, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden) and many more countries in which it is under 20% (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Turkey), or in some cases even under 10% (Georgia, Hungary, Malta, Russian Federation, Ukraine).
2. Although it is widely acknowledged that the low proportion of women in parliament affects its representativeness, introducing and implementing effective measures to redress this imbalance has proved to be a major challenge.
3. Thirteen member States have tried to tackle it by introducing in their electoral legislation the obligation for electoral lists to include a minimum proportion of women (legislated quotas), a measure that has been repeatedly supported by the Parliamentary Assembly in numerous texts including Resolution 1706 (2010) on increasing women’s representation in politics through the electoral system.
4. In addition, many political parties from approximately 30 member States have voluntarily introduced gender quotas in order to promote women’s chances of being elected, or other equivalent tools such as “all-women lists”. Political parties have also resorted to a wealth of other measures to ensure women’s active participation in their internal structures, place them in positions of visibility and responsibility and support their development.
5. The Assembly believes that, as key protagonists in pluralist democracies, political parties have a decisive role to play in enhancing women’s political representation: in addition to ensuring strict compliance with electoral legislation, including on legislated quotas, and introducing voluntary measures, they are well placed to promote a change of culture conducive to gender equality in politics and in society at large.
6. On the basis of the positive experience of some of them, the Assembly recommends the following good practices to political parties in Council of Europe member and observer States, as well as partners for democracy:
6.1 introducing a formal commitment to gender equality and gender mainstreaming in their statute;
6.2 organising campaigns and activities to attract women’s membership;
6.3 setting up women-only structures and allocating them with adequate funding, and giving them control over how to spend it;
6.4 ensuring that party structures which select candidates to stand for election are fully representative of society, and therefore include a proportional presence of women;
6.5 ensuring maximum transparency in the procedure for the selection of candidates to stand for election;
6.6 introducing a minimum quota of 40% of the under-represented sex in their executive decision-making bodies at all levels;
6.7 in the case of proportional electoral systems, introducing a minimum quota of 40% of the under-represented sex in the electoral lists, accompanied by special gender safeguards as regards the ranking order and the positions at the top of the list, preferably through a zipper-system;
6.8 in the case of majoritarian electoral systems, encouraging the shortlisting of candidates of the under-represented gender, if appropriate through “all-women shortlists” or priority lists with an equal number of people of either sex;
6.9 setting up mentoring and training programmes to enhance the capacity of talented women to take up positions of political responsibility;
6.10 setting up training programmes to strengthen women’s media skills and ensure that women members are given a fair chance to speak on behalf of the party on a broad range of issues;
6.11 ensuring that, during electoral campaigns, the broadcasting time allocated to the party is proportionally shared by men and women candidates;
6.12 setting up measures to enable members to reconcile political engagement and family commitments, for instance by providing free childcare during important party events or during electoral campaigns, and avoiding in so far as possible that party meetings take place at unsociable hours;
6.13 setting up systems to regularly assess and discuss gender distribution in political party structures and party mandates, for instance by foreseeing that the party leader reports on this matter on an annual basis;
6.14 trying to reach cross-party agreement on the need and ways to enhance women’s participation and representation in politics.
7. Furthermore, the Assembly calls on member States to:
7.1 introduce legislation which makes it possible for parties to resort to positive action in support of the under-represented sex, also in the electoral field;
7.2 set up special financial allocations for political parties which take positive action to promote women’s representation or participation, such as the introduction of gender quotas;
7.3 introduce and consistently implement an effective system of sanctions against political parties which do not comply with gender-related obligations;
7.4 conduct a gender audit to assess to what extent the electoral system is geared towards achieving gender equality;
7.5 widely publicise the Guidelines on political parties, published in 2010 by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), which include examples of good practice while reviewing the main human rights instruments relevant for the issue of women’s political representation.
8. Finally, recalling that women represent only 31% of its members and that they are under-represented in all the main positions of responsibility in the Assembly and its structures, the Assembly calls on its political groups to:
8.1 take into account gender distribution in the context of the negotiations for the allocation of seats in committees’ bureaux and the appointment of candidates to be put forward by the groups, so as to ensure that the overall gender breakdown of committees’ bureaux includes 40% of the under-represented sex, both amongst committee chairs and vice-chairs;
8.2 pay increased attention to gender distribution in relation to all appointments/elections which take place within the groups, for group, Assembly and committee positions, with a view to achieving equal representation between women and men in all key positions of responsibility;
8.3 ensure that the gender dimension is taken into account in all group discussions (gender mainstreaming);
8.4 if they have not already done so, consider setting up an all-women structure;
8.5 hold regular discussions on how to improve women’s participation and representation in the work of the Assembly and its structures.
9. Finally, recalling its Resolution 1781 (2010) “A minimum of 30% of representatives of the under-represented sex in Assembly national delegations”, in which it decided “to strengthen its dialogue with national parliaments on this question” and considered that “awareness-raising activities targeted at certain national delegations could also serve a useful purpose”, the Assembly proposes to organise seminars on women’s political representation for the parliaments of member States in which women’s representation is below 10%.

B Explanatory memorandum by Ms Stavrositu, rapporteur

1 Introduction

1. In the Council of Europe member States, women represent approximately 51% of the population and yet only 23.4% of members of national parliaments are women. To be precise, in only four member States do women hold more than 40% of seats in parliament, in eight States, women’s representation ranges from 30 to 40%, in 15 it ranges from 20 to 30%, while in the remaining 20 it is below 20%.Note

1.1 Table showing the proportion of women in national parliaments

Proportion of women in national parliamentsNote

Council of Europe member States

Above 40%

Andorra, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden,

Between 30% and 40%

Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Serbia, Spain, “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Between 20% and 30%

Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Under 20%

Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine

2. Even though it is widely acknowledged that the under-representation of women affects the representativeness of democratic institutions, an easy-fix solution to redress it is yet to be found. So far, the debate on how to enhance women’s representation in parliament has focused mainly on safeguards to be introduced in electoral legislation, in particular a certain minimum percentage of women candidates to be placed on each party’s electoral list (hereafter “legislated quotas”).Note At the moment, legislated quotas are in operation in 13 member States.
3. The Parliamentary Assembly has consistently taken position in favour of such measures, including recently in Resolution 1706 (2010) on increasing women’s representation in politics through the electoral system.Note In this text, as far as countries with a proportional representation system are concerned, the Assembly recommended:
  • the introduction of legislation imposing gender quotas, ideally of at least 40% of female candidates;
  • recourse to a rank-order rule (for example alternating male and female candidates);
  • the introduction and implementation of effective sanctions for non-compliance.
4. With regard to countries with majority or plurality systems, the Assembly recommended:
  • introducing the principle of each party choosing a candidate amongst at least one female and one male nominee in each party district;
  • finding innovative ways of ensuring increased representation of women in politics, such as, for example, applying innovative mandatory gender quotas within political parties, “all-women shortlists” or “twinned” constituencies;
  • the introduction and implementation of effective sanctions applicable to party structures which do not comply.
5. With the present report, I intend to contribute to the reflection on how to improve the representativeness of national parliaments, highlighting the key role that political parties can play to promote women’s chances to stand for election, get voted, and play a leadership role in politics. This report will look at the wide range of measures that political parties can take, on their own initiative, to increase women’s political participation and representation, with a focus on parliamentary elections. Although most considerations are also applicable to local and regional elections, I have not developed this aspect, which will be dealt with in Ms Pourbaix-Lundin’s opinion on the report “For more democratic elections”. The findings of the present report will integrate the Assembly’s previous work on legislated quotas and should be taken into account in the context of the award of the next Gender Equality Prize.

2 Methodology of the report

6. For the preparation of this report, I have relied on desk research and an exchange of views with two experts, Professor Joni Lovenduski, Anniversary Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and Dr Saskia C.I. Ravesloot, Gender Expert at the Belgian Development Agency, held during the meeting of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in Paris, on 8 December 2011.
7. Reports and research conducted by international organisations have also been an important source of information. Indeed, bodies such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Commission and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) are increasingly turning their attention to the role of political parties in achieving a balanced representation of women and men in politics.5
8. A key contribution to the report has also been provided by the replies to a questionnaire, which was addressed to the political parties represented in the Assembly. The main added value of the questionnaire is that it enabled me to use first-hand information and to identify examples of good practice. A total of 45 replies from 20 Council of Europe member States have been received and taken into consideration.Note

3 The internal functioning of political parties: between self-regulation and law

9. Political parties are key players in pluralist democracies. Their existence is a direct expression of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of association, of assembly and of thought, which are recognised by modern constitutions and enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, “the Convention”). As a result of this close link with fundamental political freedoms, political parties have a great deal of autonomy in regulating their structure and internal functioning: normally, the law does not interfere with the internal regulation of political parties but it may do so to protect the general interest or to ensure the respect of fundamental democratic principles.
10. The OSCE/ODIHR and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) have elaborated a set of Guidelines on political parties regulations, aimed at promoting best practices.Note Although this document has a very wide scope, it also covers the issue of women’s political participation and representation.
11. As a background, the Guidelines recall some basic legal instruments in this area, namely:
  • the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which imposes on States parties the obligation to take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women, specifically indicates the possibility for them to introduce positive action;Note
  • the 2009 Committee of Ministers’ Declaration “Making gender equality a reality”, which urges member States to introduce positive action or special measures in order to achieve balanced representation of women and men in political and public decision-making.
12. According to the Guidelines, the selection of candidates is a critical stage in ensuring women’s balanced representation: “Recognizing that candidate selection and determination of ranking order on electoral lists is often dominated by closed entities and old networks of established politicians, clear and transparent criteria for candidate selection is needed, in order for new members (including women, and minorities) to get access to decision-making positions. Gender-balanced composition of selecting bodies should also be commended.”
13. Furthermore, the Guidelines mention a range of measures that political parties can introduce to ensure that women have an adequate opportunity to compete in elections and to be represented in elected bodies. Amongst such measures are:
  • the creation of specific women’s wings, which enable women to discuss issues of common concern;
  • requirements for gender balance in boards;
  • the introduction of voluntary quotas;
  • the organisation of training and capacity-building programmes for female candidates prior to their selection;
  • the organisation of gender-sensitive training for party members and staff;
  • the adoption, implementation and evaluation of gender equality strategies;
  • the introduction of gender-sensitive working methods and hours, enabling women to reconcile political and family responsibilities.
14. Many of these measures are already being applied by political parties in member States. However, it is important that the OSCE/ODIHR has gathered them in specific guidelines, as this gives them greater authority as a source of inspiration for other parties. I encourage both the Council of Europe and the OSCE/ODIHR, in the context of their work to strengthen democratic institutions in their respective member States, to set up activities in order to promote and monitor the introduction, implementation and impact of such measures by political parties. The Council for Democratic Elections plays a key role in advising Council of Europe member States in the area of electoral law and should further develop its work in the area of women’s representation.

4 The European Court of Human Rights and the case of Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij v. the Netherlands (10 July 2012)

15. In the replies to the questionnaire, my attention was drawn to the Reformed Political Party (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, SGP) in the Netherlands, which does not allow women to stand as candidates for election (until 2006 this party did not even admit women as party members).
16. The SGP is a confessional political party rooted in historical Dutch Reformed Protestantism, which rejects the idea of absolute equality of human beings as a false teaching of the French revolution. This party affirms that, although being of equal value before God, women and men are different in nature and talents. Its statute spells out that, as a result, women should not be eligible for public office.
17. Following legal action brought forward by a number of non-governmental organisations, in 2010, the Dutch Supreme Court found that the Dutch State was under an obligation to take measures that would lead to the SGP granting the right to stand for election to women. However, even though such an obligation was based on the Dutch Constitution (Article 4), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 25 together with Article 2) and the CEDAW (Article 7), the Dutch Supreme Court underlined that it was not within the courts’ remit to indicate what specific measures the State should take to this end. In fact, the Dutch Elections Law does not include any requirement as regards the gender composition of the lists or the obligation for political parties to allow candidates of both sexes to run.
18. In February 2011, the SGP appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (“the Court”) against the judgment of the Dutch Supreme Court, arguing that it was in breach of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, respectively on freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association
19. Although this case was found inadmissible, it is of great interest for my report because for the first time the Strasbourg Court was called to examine a case on political parties and women’s participation in politics. Amongst the main remarks made by the Court are that:
  • “the advancement of the equality of sexes is today a major goal in the member States of the Council of Europe. This means that very weighty reasons would have to be advanced before a difference of treatment on the grounds of sex could be regarded as compatible with the Convention”;
  • “nowadays, the advancement of the equality of the sexes in the member States of the Council of Europe prevents the State from lending support to views of the man’s role as primordial and the woman’s role as secondary.”
20. Finally, recalling the judgment of the Dutch Supreme Court and its conclusion that “the SGP’s position is unacceptable regardless of the deeply held religious conviction on which it is based”, the Court stated that the same conclusion can be drawn on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular from Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, on free and fair elections, taken together with Article 14 on non-discrimination.Note

5 Progress in women’s political representation: different paths

21. There is no single formula on how to enhance women’s representation in politics. Each country has followed its own path, strongly influenced by different political traditions, political and electoral systems, the different degree of awareness of the importance of gender equality also in the area of political decision-making, and many other considerations. Without any pretence of being exhaustive, in this section I provide examples drawn from the experience of different regions or member States.

5.1 Nordic countries

22. The Nordic countries have amongst the highest proportion of women in parliament in the world.Note This result has been achieved in different ways: Finland has never applied either legislated or voluntary gender quotas, while Denmark only resorted to the latter option for a short time; in Norway and Sweden, on the contrary, most political parties have introduced voluntary quotas applying to the composition of electoral lists. A common element to all these countries is that, in their political culture, gender equality is an issue of the highest importance.
23. Irrespective of these different strategies, the current level of women’s representation is the result of a complex process which started for all the countries of the region in the 1920s, when some political parties established women’s wings to exchange and influence opinions, as well as to strengthen the capacity of women members in political matters.
24. In Norway and Sweden, particularly from the 1970s, the women’s movement applied pressure to all political parties, asking for quotas. The proposal met with some resistance, as certain parties viewed quotas as illiberal. However, resistance was overcome: the Norwegian Socialist Left Party (SV Sosialistisk Venstreparti) introduced a 40% minimum quota in 1975 and in 1983 the Norwegian Labour Party did the same for candidates of either sex at all electoral nominations.Note In Sweden, the Liberal Party introduced a policy of a minimum of 40% of either sex in internal boards and committees in 1972.Note In 1994, the Swedish Social Democratic Party introduced the principle of “a woman every second candidate on the list” (zip-list).
25. The introduction of voluntary quotas was a ground-breaking step which brought decisive progress in women’s political representation. However, quotas would not have succeeded alone. As Birgitta Dahl, former Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, said: “We did not start with a quota system. First we laid the groundwork to facilitate women's entry into politics. We prepared the women to ensure they were competent to enter the field; and we prepared the system, which made it a little less shameful for men to step aside. Then we used quotas as an instrument in segments and institutions where we needed a breakthrough.”Note
26. In Norway and Sweden, voluntary quotas are formulated in a gender-neutral way, requiring a minimum and a maximum quota for both sexes. As a result, there have been cases in which men have been moved up the list in order to fulfil the quota requirement.Note Also in Denmark, for the period in which voluntary quotas were applied, they were gender neutral (the Socialist People’s Party from 1977 to 1996 and the Social Democratic Party from 1983 to 1996 applied a 40% quota).Note

5.2 The United Kingdom

27. The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy with a strong civil society and an extensive range of women’s advocacy groups. Traditionally, State interference with the party system is minimum. The electoral system for the House of Commons is majoritarian uninominal, with no specific obligations set out in the law as regards either the gender composition of the lists or the ranking order.
28. Since the 1980s, all the political parties in the United Kingdom have announced their commitment to improving the level of women’s political representation. Most parties encouraged women candidates to come forward and called on local branches to give them fair consideration. However, the overall improvements were negligible at first.Note
29. A turning point in women’s political representation occurred in 1997, when 120 women parliamentarians were elected to the House of Commons, doubling the number of women in parliament. The main reason for this sharp increase was the Labour Party’s decision to shortlist only women to stand for election in half of what were considered as winnable seats. The strategy succeeded, with 101 women Labour candidates being elected (as opposed to 37 in the previous election).
30. “All-women shortlists” were the climax of an internal party policy aimed at boosting women’s representation, including gender quotas in decision-making bodies and committees selecting candidates, training in gender equality for selectors and training for women candidates. This wide range of measures was introduced following pressure from the women’s wing of the Labour Party.Note
31. Despite their positive impact, all-women shortlists had detractors: many, including within the Labour Party itself, considered them as anti-democratic and discriminatory. As a matter of fact, the party abandoned this policy following the decision of an industrial tribunal, which found that the exclusion of male party members from the shortlisting was in breach of anti-discrimination law.Note
32. At the following general elections, held in 2001, political parties did not put in place such far-reaching mechanisms for fear of legal challenges. As a result, the number of women elected went down for the first time in over twenty years, to 118 (of which 95 Labour, 14 Conservatives and 5 Liberal Democrats), out of 459 members of the House of Commons.Note
33. In 2002, the Sex Discrimination (Elections) Act permitted an exception to the obligation of non-discrimination to nominate women candidates, including the use of all women shortlists, until 2015.Note The Equality Act adopted in 2010 extended this possibility until 2030.Note
34. The positive trend in women’s representation reappeared in 2005 with 128 women MPs elected (including 98 Labour, 23 of whom were elected on the basis of all-women shortlists, 17 Conservatives and 5 Liberal Democrats) and in 2010 with 143 (including 81 Labour, 49 Conservatives and 7 Liberal Democrats).
35. During the 2011 elections, the Labour Party relied on all-women shortlists. The Conservatives’ Central Office set up a priority list (A-list), including an equal number of women and men and a significant proportion of people from minority groups, and encouraged local associations to choose from this list would-be candidates for 140 winnable seats.
36. The Liberal Democrats have never introduced either all-women or priority lists. In 2001, the Liberal Democrat annual conference considered a proposal to impose an all-women shortlist in each constituency being left vacant by a Liberal Democrat MP. The proposal was rejected as illiberal and no similar measure has been proposed since then.Note

5.3 Belgium

37. Also in Belgium, the issue of women’s under-representation in politics emerged on the political agenda in the early 1980s. In the framework of Belgium’s proportional electoral system, legislated quotas were deemed the most effective tool to redress it. In 1994, Parliament adopted a law prohibiting political parties from forming electoral lists comprising more than 66% of candidates of the same sex.
38. In 2002, a constitutional reform incorporated the principle of gender equality into the highest level source of law. Following the reform, several pieces of federal legislation were issued to increase the number of women in legislative assemblies at regional, federal and European level. A new gender quota was also introduced, requiring parties to put forward an equal number of women and men as candidates. Non-compliance with these rules is sanctioned with the invalidation of the electoral lists.Note
39. Even before the legislated quotas were introduced, the three major Flemish parties (Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists), the French-speaking Christian Democrats and both green parties applied their own voluntary quotas.
40. Against this background, in January 2007, 10 Belgian political parties signed a Charter of Political parties on “Gender equality as a permanent objective of political parties in Belgium”.Note The Charter’s nine articles laid down standards to which the political parties commit themselves in order to ensure gender equality within their structures.
41. Despite being an important symbolic document, the Charter avoids taking a position on the issue of gender parity and quotas in the decision-making structures of political parties and neither does it establish a common monitoring mechanism or sanctions for non-compliance. As a result, its impact remains very limited.Note
42. The example of Belgium, however, proved successful as far as legislated quotas are concerned, with women’s representation passing from 23.3% in 1999 to 35.3% in 2003, and being maintained above 30% thereafter.

5.4 Post-communist countries

43. In central and eastern European countries, the communist ideology of equality and the way in which it was perceived have deeply affected women’s representation in politics, also after communist regimes gave way to democracy.
44. Prior to the Second World War, western, central and eastern European countries did not differ substantially as regards women’s political participation in public life: everywhere, traditionalist attitudes prevailed, with home being considered as the natural place for women. With the outset of communist regimes, however, the situation started to diverge, at least formally. One of the most important principles of communist ideology was to empower groups that had been historically disadvantaged, including women. As a result, throughout the period 1945-1989, women’s representation in parliament soared to around 30%, while it was much lower in many western European countries.Note
45. Women’s formal participation in parliament, however, did not imply real empowerment, as the truly ruling body was the communist party, in which women were seldom represented at decision-making level. It did not even imply a radical change in gender roles, as women carried the multiple burden of reconciling family, professional and sometimes political life, while retaining the main responsibility for domestic tasks. The fact that a few of them managed to reach leadership positions did not imply an improvement in the situation of ordinary women.
46. With the transition to democracy, in 1989, women’s representation in all the post-communist countries declined sharply. Following the first democratic elections in Poland, women represented only 13.5% in the Sejm and 6% in the Senate. In Hungary, they were 7.3%.Note In Romania, the proportion of women in parliament fell below 5%.Note
47. This phenomenon may be due to the emergence of new political priorities – especially tackling the transition to market economies – and to the open return to traditional attitudes on men and women’s respective roles. Paradoxically, as a major element of communist propaganda, with the advent of democracy gender equality was perceived as an artificial and forcibly enforced objective and a return to the past, as opposed to a political priority for the future or an issue that would attract votes.
48. Throughout the ‘90s, women’s representation in parliament remained very low. For some countries, namely Romania, Poland and the Baltic States, it started to rise only in the following decade, perhaps also in response to the process of European Union accession, as gender mainstreaming and equality were amongst the yardsticks against which the progress of candidate countries would be measured. In Hungary, however, the proportion of women in the national parliament has always remained very low, and is currently only 8.8%.
49. It is also interesting to note that, for all the central and eastern European countries which are European Union members, women have a higher representation in the European Parliament than at national level. This difference has been explained in various ways: perhaps political parties are more prepared to put women candidates forward on electoral lists for the European Parliament because they want to appear modern, or because within the same party there is less competition to run for the European Parliament than for national parliaments.
50. In Romania, legislated quotas have never been introduced but some political parties have applied voluntary quotas since 2001. In that year, the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR, later PSD) announced that it would introduce a 25% quota for women in its electoral lists; the Democratic Party announced a quota of 30%. These declarations were not translated into concrete actions: the number of women on their electoral lists fell short of what was promised and they were not placed high on the lists. Prior to following elections – in 2004 and 2008 – a number of political parties announced recourse to voluntary quotas but the impact on the number of women in parliament has not been of great significance.
51. In my opinion, the case of Romania shows that, to be effective, voluntary party quotas should be strictly implemented and be accompanied by a commitment to place women on winnable seats or according to a favourable ranking order on lists of candidates.
52. While a number of political parties in central and eastern Europe have adopted voluntary quotas, legislated quotas are rare, having being introduced only by Poland in 2011. It is still too early to assess the impact of this new legislation, even if it is worth mentioning that the Polish quota system does not foresee any safeguard as regards the ranking order on electoral lists, a major weakness that might affect its effectiveness. At the moment, a proposal to introduce a 20% legislated quota on electoral lists is under discussion in the Ukrainian parliament.

6 Good practices

53. As I mentioned earlier, voluntary quotas are only one of many measures that political parties can introduce in order to enhance women’s active political engagement. In this chapter, I would like to describe a wide range of good practices for promoting women’s political participation and representation, as indicated by the replies to the questionnaire.

6.1 Statutory commitment to gender equality

54. In recent years, some political parties have introduced a commitment to gender equality in their charter and statute, in addition to referring to it in their electoral programmes. For instance, in 2010, the Austrian Social Democratic Party changed its statute to include a commitment to gender equality, introducing also the obligation of a 40% gender quota in all the party’s decision-making bodies and the zipper system for the composition of electoral lists.
55. Most parties, however, have included in their statute a commitment to gender equality and mainstreaming, without specifying quota requirements. This is the case, for instance, for the Greens in Germany, the Republican People’s Party in Turkey, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova, the New Azerbaijan Party and the Greens in Iceland. The Dutch Christians have no statutory commitment to gender equality but have instead adopted a resolution on it.

6.2 Encouraging recruitment of women party members

56. Women’s membership in the political parties that replied to the questionnaire ranges from a minimum of 25% (the Democratic Liberal Party in Romania, the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands) to a maximum of 52% (the Union for a Better Future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, SBB-BIH).Note Despite this broad span, as far as I aware, only the German Greens have organised a campaign to promote women’s membership.Note In all the countries covered by the report, women-only and other structures play an important role in mobilising support and encouraging women’s membership.

6.3 Women-only structures

57. The existence of women-only structures within political parties is instrumental in giving impulse to discussions on the selection of women candidates, their participation in decision-making bodies and their access to financial resources. However, the power of these structures greatly depends on their relations with the decision-making bodies of the party. Often, they remain only advisory structures with a limited budget. As stressed by Dr Ravesloot, there is a “need to strengthen the power basis of the women-only structures”.Note
58. The first women’s political organisation in the world was the United Kingdom Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO), a structure which is still active today and which forms “the grassroot network that provides support and focus for women, campaigning on particular areas of concern and encouraging women to become politically active. The organisation is also instrumental in ensuring that the women’s perspective is taken into account”.Note
59. With the exception of the Green Party in Iceland, all the parties that replied to the questionnaire confirmed that they have all-women structures. To give an example, in the Austrian Social Democratic party, there are women wings at national, regional and local level. All women members of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) are also members of the SPO women’s organisation and are invited to participate in its activities.
60. Most importantly, the women’s organisation of the SPO has its own budget, which is used for enhancing women’s capacity and training to take up leadership positions. Similarly, the women’s organisation of the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands is given a yearly allocation, which it can spend as it deems fit (this allocation amounts to 28 000 euros for 2012). The women’s branch of the Flemish Socialist Party of Belgium has its own budget and can raise external funds, in addition to receiving a contribution from the party. The women’s branch of the Conservative Party in Norway, the Høyres Kvinneforum, also has its own funding. In Switzerland, the women’s wing of the Socialist Party has a budget equivalent to 4.3% of the total party budget. In the majority of the other political parties that replied, the women’s branch of the party does not dispose of its own independent funding but receives allocations according to its needs.
61. In some cases, membership in all-women structures is voluntary, and not automatic for all women with party membership (this is the case, for instance, for the Cyprus Green Party, the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands, the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova). In the Women’s Union of the Party of the Communists of the Republic of Moldova, participation is voluntary and open also to non-party members.

6.4 Other structures to promote women’s political representation

62. It is more rare, but some parties have specific gender-mixed structures to promote women’s political participation. The British Conservative Party, for instance, explains that it trebled the number of its women MPs during the last election also as a result of the impact of the Women2Win organisation,Note which is described as: “a broad cross section of men and women from across the Conservative Party who have come together in a recognition that the Party constantly needs to change in order to win the trust and confidence of the British people. The aim of Women2Win is to continue wholeheartedly in sourcing and helping more women of high calibre into Government.”Note

6.5 Gender quotas in executive boards

63. Some political parties have introduced internal quotas for their decision-making bodies. For instance, in Germany, the Greens apply a 50% quota.Note In Italy, the Democratic Party does the same.Note Other examples include the Republican People’s Party in Turkey, which applies a quota of 30%; the German CDU and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, which apply a minimum quota of 30%.
64. The majority of the political parties that replied to the questionnaire do not foresee special quotas for decision-making bodies. Some of them have a very good representation of women anyway, sometimes approaching gender parity (the Greens in Iceland and in Cyprus, for instance). In other cases, there are quotas but they do not apply to all decision-making bodies (this is the case for the Flemish Socialist Party).

6.6 Voluntary gender quotas in electoral lists

65. In about 30 Council of Europe member States, one or more political parties have adopted voluntary quotas in order to guarantee that a minimum proportion of candidates are women.Note Such quotas sometimes vary, as the decision to introduce them is taken by party decision in advance of elections. There have been, therefore, cases in which quotas have been discontinued.
66. Voluntary quotas range from a minimum of 33% (the Republican People’s Party in Turkey) to a maximum of 50% (the Greens in Germany, the Socialist Party in Switzerland). As already mentioned, in some countries they are formulated in a gender-neutral way.

6.7 Ranking order in electoral lists

67. The order in which candidates appear in the electoral lists can influence their chances of being elected. This is why a number of political parties have voluntarily introduced the zipper principle (A-B-A-B), which involves alternating women and men candidates (the Greens in Switzerland, Germany, Austria; the Swedish Moderate Part; the Labour Party in the United Kingdom). The Green Party in Iceland applies a system by which every two posts there must be one man and one woman (A-B-B-A). Despite these safeguards, it often happens that men are placed as heads of the lists more often than women and that, in the case of uneven-numbered lists, there are more men than women.

6.8 Mentorship/leadership programmes

68. Although not a widespread practice, some political parties organise mentorship or leadership courses for women in politics. For instance, in Sweden, for many years, the Moderate Party Women’s League has organised special leadership training for women. These two-year training courses start every year and each group includes 20 participants nominated by the party’s local associations. The purpose is to strengthen women’s capacity and prepare them to take on more responsible political assignments for the Moderate Party. Funding for this training is included in the support from the State to the Moderate Party Women’s League. Course fees are covered by the participants' associations.

6.9 Access to financial resources

69. Unequal access to financial resources is one of the major obstacles to women’s active participation in politics. Without financial resources, women politicians cannot campaign successfully and progress in their political career; they cannot get a nomination for which they have to travel, participate in party meetings, network in their constituency and organise a campaign team. The lack of financial resources for women candidates can slow down their progression within political parties and therefore their access to elected positions. In addition, women face various obstacles when fundraising: “Male politicians are better networkers, and manage to mobilise resources outside the political parties more easily.”Note
70. Women’s fundraising organisations have been influential in raising and mobilising funds for women candidates in the United States. The American organisation Emily’s list, founded in 1985, supports women candidates of the Democratic Party in the pre-nomination stage. Once screened and selected, a candidate would receive funding to start campaigning for nomination.Note No similar organisations exist in Europe.
71. A particularly good practice occurs in Sweden, where parties represented in the Riksdag receive financial support from the State for activities targeting women. The Swedish Moderate Party has informed me that, relying on State funding and on its own resources, it spends the equivalent of 2.5% of the total party budget on capacity-building activities targeting women. The party’s women’s associations cover the costs of additional activities at regional level.Note
72. In Turkey, the Republican People’s Party lowers the cost of being a candidate for women. At the last parliamentary elections, women candidates paid 2 000 Turkish liras (approximately 870 euros) while men paid 3 000 liras (approximately 1 230 euros).

6.10 Measures for the reconciliation of family and political life

73. Conscious of the fact that, on average, women take up a greater share of family responsibilities than men, some political parties apply incentives to help women reconcile their political ambitions with their private life. The most common measure is the provision of child-care during party conferences and important Party events, as it is the case for the Austrian Social Democratic Party and the Greens in Germany.
74. Looking at the reconciliation challenge in the United Kingdom, the Fawcett Society suggested having childcare costs included in the campaign financing covered by political parties. “Assistance for candidates in financial difficulty and an understanding for candidates with caring responsibilities are essential if genuine equality of opportunity is to be achieved.”Note
75. In general, however, the replies to the questionnaire highlight that internal party policies in this area have been so far largely neglected.”

6.11 Media access and training

76. Political parties have adapted their media strategies to new media. With the development of the Internet, social networks, blogs and online forums of discussion, men and women party members have an opportunity to be on a more equal footing when communicating information and launching web campaigning.
77. Nevertheless, both new and traditional media (press, television and radio) often convey a stereotyped image of women politicians, commenting on their looks, lifestyle and family choices rather than on their political programmes and proposals. The media and the public opinion sometimes hint that women holding high profile political posts may have obtained them for reasons other than strictly their professionalism and expertise.
78. Many political parties provide media communication training to their members embarking on an electoral campaign. The strategies often include information on the use of the new social networks and the interest for a politician to maintain a blog and provide information about his or her activities via regular feeds to a twitter account.
79. Media training sessions specifically addressed to women politicians have proved to be a good practice, providing them with advice and tips on how to use the media time allocated in the most efficient way and on how to avoid being trapped in gender-biased questions.
80. In the Swedish Moderate Party, media training for women is organised both centrally and regionally. The Conservative Party in Norway also organises specific media training for women. In most parties surveyed, media training for women is organised by the women’s party wing (for instance, the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands) or by foundations linked to the party (the Socialist Party in Austria, the Greens in Germany).

7 State funding and women’s representation

81. In July 2012, Ireland introduced a groundbreaking piece of legislation: political parties that do not include at least 30% of women on their lists for parliamentary elections will lose half of their State funding, for the entire duration of the legislature. This quota will be raised to 40% in seven years’ time.Note
82. Although the law stirred controversy and caused much debate, it received cross-party support from the main political forces; it was initiated, promoted and defended by men holding key political responsibilities; and was proposed and discussed not so much as a tool to improve gender equality but as a means to strengthen democracy and good governance.Note
83. Linking the failure to meet electoral quotas to financial sanctions is not a new idea; this already happens in France. However, what is interesting about the Irish legislation is the size of the sanction: while in France fines are modest and political parties prefer to pay them rather than comply with quota regulations, for Irish political parties the risk of losing half their State funding is bound to have a much greater dissuasive effect.
84. From 2012, financial incentives will also be applied by Georgia – the Council of Europe member State with the lowest representation of women in parliament: according to new legal provisions, the State’s financial allocation will be increased by 10% for political parties that present at least 20% women in every 10 candidates.Note

8 Women’s representation and participation in the Parliamentary Assembly

85. Over the years, the Assembly has introduced and successively strengthened measures to ensure a balanced representation of women and men and to promote women’s participation in its structures. Even though the modalities for the election/appointment of national delegations to the Assembly are decided by national parliaments, the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, as revised in 2007, require that “[n]ational delegations should include members of the under-represented sex at least in the same percentage as in their parliaments”. In addition, following a further revision of the Rules in 2010, national delegations should at a very minimum include “one member of the under-represented sex appointed as a representative”.Note This latter requirement was introduced in response to women’s under-representation amongst full members, which was an obstacle to their participation.
86. On a few occasions, credentials have been challenged for non-compliance with the gender requirements, and the situation has been subsequently redressed.Note Even if they are not subjected to the ratification of the credentials, also delegations of partners for democracy are required to include at least the same percentage of the under-represented sex as is present in the parliament and in any case one representative of each sex.Note
87. The Rules of Procedure also require that, in the context of the appointment of rapporteurs, gender-balanced representation be taken into account, after competence and availability and fair representation of political groups (and before geographical and national balance).Note Similarly, as regards the election of bureaux of committee and sub-committees, the relevant rules provide that elections should be held while taking into account the principle of gender equality.Note Finally, in the context of the 2011 reform of the Assembly, the requirement for candidates to committee bureaux to be full members of the committee as opposed to alternates was waived. The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men had proposed such a measure, with a view to removing an indirect discrimination against women who, as mentioned earlier, were under-represented amongst full members.
88. Although welcoming these safeguards, I cannot but consider them as a minimum standard. While recommending that members States introduce gender quotas, the Assembly has never had the boldness to demand the same of its national delegations. On the contrary, on several occasions, proposals to impose a minimum of 30% of the under-represented sex in Assembly national delegations have been rejected.Note
89. Similarly, the Assembly has always shied away from introducing quotas for its own decision-making structures or positions of responsibility. The most comprehensive Assembly text in this area is Resolution 1585 (2007) on gender equality principles in the Parliamentary Assembly, which asks Assembly members to support the candidate of the under-represented sex for all Assembly or committee positions when candidates are of equal merit.
90. Despite this resolution, and the indisputable progress in women’s representation in the Assembly over the years, women are under-represented in all posts of responsibility. Following an initiative by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, in 2011 the Bureau of the Assembly agreed that more transparency in this area was necessary and decided to publish, on a yearly basis, the gender breakdown of Assembly positions. Thus, in 2011, women represented overall 31% of the members of the Assembly, 15% of the vice-presidents, 17% of the Presidential Committee and 19% of the Bureau of the Assembly. At committee level, women represented 20% of chairpersons, 28% of committees’ Bureau members, 37% of rapporteurs for report and 32% of rapporteurs for opinion.Note
91. Already in its above-mentioned Resolution 1585 (2007), the Assembly acknowledged the key role played by political groups in giving women greater opportunities for visibility and responsibility. I fully share this point of view. Political groups have in their hands the promotion of women’s chances in the Assembly: they decide candidatures for chairmanships of committees, membership in election observation missions; they often propose candidatures for committee rapporteurships and representatives; they discuss reports to be debated – and they can choose to take a gender-sensitive approach to them – and, in conclusion, they set to a great extent the Assembly’s agenda and priorities.
92. In this regard, I would like to recall that the Socialist Group is the only one with a specific women-only structure, which meets on a regular basis. I would like to invite also the other political groups to set up a similar structure, like the national political parties. Empowering women should be a cross-party objective.
93. Finally, I wish to underline that, also for the Assembly, quotas are not the only way to promote women’s representation and participation. There are many other measures which are liable to bring about a change of mentality and political culture, as described in the following extract from Assembly Resolution 1781 (2010) “A minimum of 30% of representatives of the under-represented sex in Assembly national delegations”:

“The Assembly therefore decides to strengthen its dialogue with national parliaments on this question and to continue its consideration of measures that could be implemented by national parliaments to increase women's representation in the Assembly. These measures might include awareness-raising programmes for members of parliament; the development of good practices in national parliaments based, for example, on closer co-ordination between their political groups when appointing delegations; or initiatives to encourage women to stand for election and encourage their active participation in parliamentary delegations. The Assembly also considers that awareness-raising activities targeted at certain national delegations could also serve a useful purpose. In this connection, it encourages its political groups and the national parliaments to promote women’s access to decision-making posts and elected office and to take part in the next edition of the Parliamentary Assembly’s Gender Equality Prize.”

9 The Parliamentary Assembly’s Gender Equality Prize

94. As part and parcel of the increased interest of the Assembly in the issue of women’s representation, which led to amendments to its Rules of Procedure in 2007, the Assembly also decided to set up a prize “to reward actions, schemes or initiatives that have been or are in the process of being carried out by political parties and have brought about a significant improvement in women's participation in elected assemblies, political parties and their respective executives”.Note
95. With this initiative, the Assembly sought “to highlight the importance it attaches to promoting women’s access to elected office and decision-making positions in political parties and acknowledge the special responsibility political parties have for fostering equal opportunities for women and men”.Note
96. According to a detailed procedure, “The political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly, in the European Parliament and in member States’ national parliaments will be able to submit a candidature file for the award, including the description of specific action taken by one or more political parties that has helped to achieve the objective of the Prize, namely a balanced participation of women and men in political life”.
97. The Prize was awarded for the first time in 2009 to the Portuguese Socialist Party, in recognition of their adopting internal quotas as far back as 1995 and then passing a parity law requiring a minimum of 33% of candidates from the under-represented sex on party lists for European, parliamentary and municipal elections. The second and third prize-winners were respectively the United Kingdom Labour Party and the Swedish Left Party.Note I hope that my report will contribute to the identification of possible winners of the next Gender Equality Prize, which should be awarded in 2014.

10 Conclusions

98. Overall, in Europe, women’s participation and representation in politics has increased steadily over the last decades. It suffices to recall that, until 1971 women in Switzerland did not enjoy active or passive voting rights in federal elections to realise what enormous strides have been accomplished in the area of gender equality in the political field.
99. Thanks to the evolution of mentalities, I do not believe anybody could deny today that women’s balanced representation in politics is at the same time an achievement for women’s rights and an essential prerequisite for the good functioning of a democracy. However, the debate on how such a balanced representation should be brought about is to a large extent open.
100. In the present report, I have highlighted that there is no one single way to improve women’s representation. Different countries may decide to opt for different approaches, according to their history, political culture and the place occupied by gender equality therein. Amongst the tools at the States’ disposal are electoral legislation – including legislated quotas requiring the presence of a minimum proportion of women in electoral lists – and financial or other inducements.
101. Although I often hear that quotas are a controversial measure, I should recall that they are in use in the majority of Council of Europe member States, either as quotas imposed by the legislation or as voluntary quotas self-imposed by political parties.
102. I must acknowledge, however, that legislated quotas do not guarantee success and that, only in a few cases they have managed to break the glass ceiling of women’s political representation. Sometimes, their limited impact has been explained with poor implementation of the relevant legislation, a weak sanction system, or lack of provisions fixing the ranking order on electoral lists. These arguments explain only part of the matter. For me, the reality is that legislated quotas are at the same time neither indispensable nor sufficient.
103. The examples of countries such as Denmark and Finland show that it is possible to make remarkable progress in women’s political representation without quotas, when the entire political culture and society are sensitive to this political objective. For countries with a different background, legislated quotas can make a breakthrough, but for this result to be sustained a wide range of voluntary measures should be taken, primarily by political parties, to promote gender equality in their internal structures at all levels and to strengthen women’s capacity and ability to take up political responsibilities. In a nutshell, the key to durable and meaningful progress in women’s political representation is political culture. Political parties have the main responsibility to lead the way and make it evolve, with a view to promoting women’s rights and strengthening the representativeness of democracy.

Appendix 1 – List of the political parties which replied to the questionnaire

Austria

SPÖ/ Social Democratic Party of Austria

Grunge/The Greens

Azerbaijan

New Azerbaijan Party

Civil Unity Party

Civil Solidarity Party

Great Creation Party

Belgium

Flemish Socialist Party of Belgium

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Serb Democratic Party

Alliance for a Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Party of Democratic Progress of Republika Srpska

Party of Democratic Action

Croatian Democratic Union

Social Democratic Party

Alliance of Independent Social Democrats

Cyprus

DISY / Democratic Rally

European Party

DIKO – Democratic Party

AKEL – Progressive party of work

Green Party

Denmark

Danish People’s Party

Finland

National Coalition

True Finns Party

Green League

Finland Swedish People’s Party

Germany

CDU / CSU / Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union

BÜNDNIS 90 / DIE GRÜNEN / The Greens

Iceland

The Left-Green Movement

Republic of Moldova

Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova

Democratic Party of Moldova

Liberal Party of de Moldova

Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova

Netherlands

Christian Democrats – CDA

Norway

Conservative Party

Portugal

PSD / Social Democratic Party

Romania

Liberal Democratic Party

Serbia

Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians

Spain

People’s Party

Sweden

Moderate Party

Switzerland

Swiss Socialist Party

Christian Democratic People’s Party

Green Party

Turkey

Republican People’s Party

Justice and Development Party

United Kingdom

Conservative Party

Appendix 2 – Synoptic table of quota systems in Council of Europe member States

Country

Women’s representation in parliament

Ranking

amongst Council of Europe member States

Legislated quotas

Voluntary quotas by political parties

Albania

15.7%

35

Yes

Yes

Andorra

50%

1

No

Yes

Armenia

10.7%

39

Yes

No

Austria

27.9% (lower chamber)

31.1% (upper chamber)

Average = 29.5%

13

No

Yes

Azerbaijan

16%

34

No

No

Belgium

38% (lower chamber)

40.8% (upper chamber)

Average = 39.4%

7

Yes

Yes

Bosnia and Herzegovina

21.4% (lower chamber)

13.3% (upper chamber)

Average = 17.35%

32

Yes

Yes

Bulgaria

20.8%

25

No

No

Croatia

23.8%

19

Yes

Yes

Cyprus

10.7%

39

No

Yes

Czech Republic

22% (lower chamber)

18.5% (upper chamber)

Average = 20.25%

27

No

Yes

Denmark

39.1%

8

No

No

Estonia

19.8%

28

No

No

Finland

42.5%

3

No

No

France

26.9% (lower chamber)

22.2% (upper chamber)

Average = 24.55%

16

Yes

Yes

Georgia

6.6%

45

No

No

Germany

32.9% (lower chamber)

27.5% (upper chamber)

Average = 30.2%

12

No

Yes

Greece

21%

24

No

Yes

Hungary

8.8%

41

 

Yes

Iceland

39.7%

5

No

Yes

Ireland

15.1% (lower chamber)

30% (upper chamber)

Average = 22.55%

22

Yes

No

Italy

21.6% (lower chamber)

19% (upper chamber)

Average = 20.3%

26

No

Yes

Latvia

23%

21

No

No

Liechtenstein

24%

19

   

Lithuania

19.1%

29

No

Yes

Luxembourg

25%

15

No

Yes

Malta

8.7%

42

No

Yes

Republic of Moldova

19.8%

28

No

Yes

Monaco

19%

30

No

No

Montenegro

12.3%

38

No

No

Netherlands

40.7%

4

No

Yes

Norway

39.6%

6

No

Yes

Poland

23.7%

20

Yes

Yes

Portugal

28.7%

14

Yes

Yes

Romania

11.2% (lower chamber)

5.9% (upper chamber)

Average = 8.55%

43

No

Yes

Russian Federation

13.6% (lower chamber)

4.7% (upper chamber)

Average = 9.5%

40

No

No

San Marino

18.3%

31

Yes

No

Serbia

32.4%

10

Yes

Yes

Slovak Republic

17.3%

33

No

No

Slovenia

32.2% (lower chamber)

2.5% (upper chamber)

Average = 15.35%

36

Yes

Yes

Spain

36% (lower chamber)

33.5% (upper chamber)

Average = 34.75

9

Yes

Yes

Sweden

44.7%

2

No

Yes

Switzerland

28.7% (lower chamber)

19.6% (upper chamber)

Average = 24.15%

17

No

Yes

“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

30.9%

11

Yes

No

Turkey

14.2%

37

No

Yes

Ukraine

8%

44

No

Yes

United Kingdom

22.3% (lower chamber)

21.9% (upper chamber)

Average = 22.1%

23

No

Yes

;