How to create a gender balance in political decision-making


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A guide to implementing policies for increasing the participation of women in political decision-making
Social policy
Fundamental rights



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How to create a gender balance
in political decision-making
Employment &. social affairs At the 1996 'Women for the renewal of politics and society'' conference in Rome,
women ministers of 13 Member States signed the 'Charter of Rome'. The text of
the Charter is published in this guide.
© Carletti Photo Center, Roma How to create a gender balance
in political decision-making
A guide to implementing policies for
increasing the participation of women
in political decision-making
by Monique Leijenaar
in collaboration with the European experts network
'Women in decision-making'
Employment & social affairs
Equal opportunities
European Commission
Directorate-General for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs
Unit V/D.5
Manuscript finished in March 1996 Monique Leijenaar is Professor of Political Science at the University of Nijmegen, Netherlands.
She specializes in local politics, election studies and women and politics and has published sev­
eral articles and books on these topics. She has worked as a consultant for the Dutch government
as well as intergovernmental organizations. From 1992 to 1996 she was the Dutch representative
in the European experts network 'Women in decision-making'.
This guide was financed by and prepared for the use of the European Commission, Directorate-General
for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs. It does not necessarily represent the Commis­
sion's official position.
A great deal of additional information on the European Union is available on the Internet.
It can be accessed through the Europa server (
Cataloguing data can be found at the end of this publication
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1997
ISBN 92-827-9833-X
© European Communities, 1997
Reproduction is authorized provided the source is acknowledged
Printed in Italy Table of contents
Introduction 5
Historical background
Objective and contents of this guide 6
Part I — Background 9
Chapter 1 The importance of a gender balance: defining the
1.1. Figures on women in political decision-making 9
1.2. Arguments underlining the importance of women in
political decision-making 12
Chapter 2 Explaining the under-representation of women:
relevant factors6
2.1. Pathways into legislation6
2.2. Recruitment 18
2.3. Selection 21
2.4. Election3
Conclusions Part I5
Part II — Tools7
Chapter 3 How to create a gender balance:
policy instruments 27
3.1. Research, statistics and monitoring 29
3.2. Awareness raising 31
3.3. Enlarging the recruitment pool4
3.4. Adapting selection procedures within political parties 39
3.5. Legislation 43
Chapter 4 An integrated gender balance approach:
comprehensive policy programmes 47
4.1. National policy plan: contents7
4.2. Policy programme of Belgium 51 4.3. Policy programme of the Netherlands 52 of Sweden4
4.5. Activities of the European Commission5
Concluding remarks 59
Notes 61
I. Council Recommendation of 2 December 1996 on the balanced
participation of women and men in the decision-making process 67
II. Charter of Rome — Women for the renewal of politics and society 73
III. List of references to relevant texts 76
IV. List of relevant European publications8 Introduction
Historical background
The problem of ensuring that women are at the centre of political decision­
making is now very topical in Europe. In the EU countries the average percentage
of women in parliament (lower and upper house) is 15% and in cabinet 16%.
However, there is considerable variation between countries in numerical repre­
sentation as well as in the willingness to improve the political participation of
women. In Belgium, for example, the government has introduced legislation
demanding that political parties nominate 33% women on their list of candi­
dates. In Italy comparable legislation for candidates in elections at the local level,
which was introduced in 1993, was declared unconstitutional in 1995. In
Luxembourg, there was, until 1996, not one single policy to address the
situation. However in March 1996 the Luxembourg Parliament adopted a motion
which paves the way to introducing quotas in the constitution in order to achieve
a gender balance of 40-60%.
In most European countries women won the right to vote around 1920. By then
the struggle for women's suffrage had taken many years, due to opposition
based mainly on the conception that a woman's proper role was in the family.
The advent of suffrage for women raised questions about the consequences of
doubling the electorate. Since then, there has been an ongoing debate on the
role of women in politics. Compared to 75 years ago, however, the general
attitude towards the political integration of women is much more positive and
these days there are few who hold the view that women do not belong in
politics. It is even widely admitted that unbalanced representation in political
decision-making embodies a deficit for democracy. The current debate thus
focuses primarily on the question of how, not whether, to increase the
participation of women in politics.
This positive attitude can be found also in official statements and resolutions
from international agencies. Already in 1960, the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights stated: The States party to the present covenant undertake
to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and
political rights set forth in the present covenant'. At the European level, the
Council of Ministers adopted the following resolution on 27 March 1995: 'The l affirms that balanced participation in decision-making ... in every sphere
of life constitutes an important condition for equality between men and women.
It is necessary to make every effort to bring about the changes in structures and
attitudes which are essential for genuine equality of access to decision-making
posts for men and women in the political, economic, social and cultural fields'. The most recent world-wide statement can be found in the Platform for Action
based on the Fourth World Conference in Beijing organized by the United
Nations. Governments have approved the following text: 'governments commit
themselves to establishing the goal of gender balance in governmental bodies
and committees, as well as in public administrative entities, and in the judiciary,
including inter alia setting specific targets and implementing measures to
substantially increase the number of women with a view to achieving equal
representation of women and men' (par. 190a) and 'to take measures, including,
where appropriate, in electoral systems that encourage political parties to
integrate women in elective and non-elective public positions in the same
proportion and at the same levels as men'.
Finally, there is a Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on the
balanced participation of women and men in decision-making. It proposed that
the Council of Ministers recommend that the Member States adopt an integrated
strategy and develop or introduce suitable legislative or regulatory measures or
incentives for achieving a gender balance in. Such a strategy
should cover all spheres of society in partnership with all social actors involved at
European national, regional and local levels.
Objective and contents of this guide
This guide is meant to assist governments, political parties and NGOs of the EU
countries in putting into action their positive attitude to the empowerment of
women into concrete, integrated policies leading to an increase in the number of n in political positions. In many countries governments have undertaken
activities, as is described in the next chapters, but in most countries these are ad
hoc activities and not part of an integrated overall policy aimed at increasing
women's political participation. In this guide we present a blueprint for a
national policy plan which, with a few adaptations, governments can use to
develop such an overall policy on the participation of women in political
decision-making. Besides governments, this guide can be helpful tol
parties and women's organizations in their efforts to increase the political
participation of women.
The guide consists of two parts. In the first part, in Chapters 1 and 2, we sketch
the context for a national policy plan. We start in Chapter 1 with an analysis of
the problem: an outline of the present numerical situation in EU countries and
arguments in favour of women's participation in political decision-making. This
is followed in Chapter 2 by an overview of explanations of women's under­
representation in politics. The distinction between individual and institutional
characteristics is used to categorize the different barriers for women trying to
enter the political arena. Based on the numerous studies of the under-represen­
tation of women, especially in legislative bodies, it is possible to present an
aggregate overview of the factors which may help women to enter high level
political decision making. These include the social and political climate of a country, gender equality, the electoral system and the selection processes and
selection criteria used in political parties. We conclude Part 1 by arguing that
increasing the number of women in political decision-making is also a way to
solve the current crisis of (party) politics that concerns all Member States.
The second part describe the tools. The main part of a national policy plan is a list
of concrete activities and plans that the government should undertake in order
to reach a gender balance in political decision-making. Since the choice for
specific measures is country-specific, we present in Chapter 3 many different
instruments a government can introduce. To stress the practicality of this guide
we discuss the pros and cons of these policies and give many examples of
countries where these instruments have actually been introduced. Although
governments are the primary movers in empowering women, political parties
also play an important role. This is because in most countriesl parties not
only select the political personnel for cabinet and parliament, but often also
make the selections for elective positions at regional and local level. As is the case
with governmental activities we find in some countries that political parties have
an overall programme to mobilize women within its ranks, while in other
countries political parties have not been very active in this regard. Because of the
pivotal role of parties, some of the instruments that are described in Chapter 4
are directed at them.
In Chapter 4 a blueprint of a national policy plan will be presented. With a few
adaptations by national governments, this plan can be used in every EU country.
Three examples of relevant policy programmes are presented here: plans made
by the Belgium Government, by the Netherlands Government and by the Swedish
Government. The last part in this chapter consists of presenting activities
promoted by the European Commission in this field.
The guide concludes with the argument that engaging more women in political
leadership can also be helpful in restoring some of the belief in politics and