Barriers to women`s participation

Enlargement, Gender and Governance (EGG)
EU Framework 5, Project No: HPSE-CT-2002-00115
Work Package 5 (Executive Summary):
Identifying Barriers to Women’s Participation
Hana Haskova, Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Barriers to women’s participation
Institutional, systemic and individual barriers limit women’s influence in decision-making structures
in most walks of life, including economic and political institutions, trade unions, the media, and
religious bodies.
Individual and systemic barriers
Czech women politicians identify the inequality in the perception of motherhood and fatherhood and
the role of a woman and a man in the family in combination with work conditions in politics, which
include unsocial work hours and business trips, to be one barriers to women’s political participation.
Some women politicians also have personal experience with discrimination in politics, and many
others believe that women in politics are discriminated against even if they do not claim to have
personal experience with it. A portion of Czech women politicians believe that women do not enter
politics because they perceive it to be dominantly masculine; the other portion believes that women
are not allowed into the system of active political participation due to the existence of men’s
solidarity, networks and interest groups.
The Czech public perceives women active in politics differently (better and worse) than men.
Characteristics such as decisiveness, aggressiveness and intransigence are the traits most frequently
associated with male politicians. Furthermore, the Czech public consider as their great asset that male
politicians are more independent from the family and thus can dedicate themselves fully to political
activities. Women’s main asset is seen in sensitivity, the ability to empathise and understanding.
Women politicians are also perceived as prudent and pragmatic. Compared to men, women are more
often considered to be conscientious, reliable and responsible (CVVM 2004). Characteristics that are
generally considered to be feminine and masculine are not reflected only in the assessment of female
and male politicians but also in the sectors for which women and men are responsible.
Czech men and women have a different attitude toward political participation. While one fifth of
women are not interested in politics at all, among men it is less than one tenth. Similarly, only 3 % of
women are very interested in politics while among men it is 8 %. More than 90 % of women and 77 %
of men, however, consider the inclusion of women in public functions to be positive (CVVM 2004)
and 4/5 of women (but less than a half of men) believe that the government would work better if there
were more women (Faktum Inventio 2004).
Generally, women politicians think (and statistical data confirm) that the lower the political position
and the “weaker” the department or area, the greater the chance a woman has to reach such a position.
As members (in the given environment) of a minority, women, according to women politicians’
opinions, have to exert “twice as much effort” as men to push forward their opinions. Also according
to women politicians, the fact that women are a minority in politics means that they have to adapt their
behaviour to a given situation. Some emphasise the necessity to learn “masculine methods of
behaviour”, while others emphasise the advantages of “a feminine style of behaviour” in a “masculine
Institutional barriers
In the Chamber of Deputies, which is elected based on a proportional system, the percentage of
women increased from 10.5 % in 1992 to 17.0 % in 2002. In the Senate, however, the percentage of
women has oscillated between 11 and 12 % since 1996. This comparison supports the theory that the
proportional electoral system has the effect of increasing the percentage of women in political
There are today fourteen constituencies of difference sizes in the Czech Republic. In some small
constituencies the electoral system functions almost as if it were a majority system. But, the largest
constituencies are located in Moravia where the support for traditional values and the percentage of
religious people are greater. Thus, in the Czech Republic, the expected positive correlation between
the percentage of elected women and the size of a constituency from the perspective of a party is
reduced on account of two factors: The percentage of women does not increase with the size of a
constituency in Moravia and the percentage of elected women is unequally distributed among
individual parties. Moravian regions have a significantly lower percentage of women on the candidate
lists while left-wing parties (Communist and Social Democratic party) have a greater number of
women among elected MPs. Although the proportional electoral system has an influence on a greater
representation of women in elected political positions in the Czech Republic, this influence is
contingent upon how many seats each party win in each individual constituency. Nevertheless, the
percentage of women among candidates to the Chamber of Deputies increased by 6 % and the
percentage of women among elected MPs increased by 2.5 % between 1996 and 2002. On the other
hand, we are seeing a continual fall in the ratio between the number of women candidates and the
number of elected women. This is due to the minimal willingness of political parties to nominate
women to the 1st rank on candidate lists and to electable positions in general. Furthermore, an increase
in the percentage of women on political party candidate lists is greater in political parties that are not
represented in the Parliament than in parliamentary parties.
Existing positive actions
Even though results of the public opinion surveys suggest that the Czech population is generally
becoming more gender sensitive, is prone to perceive the existence of discrimination based on sex in
various spheres of life, and leans toward the necessity of women’s political participation, the majority
of the Czech population refuses the concrete mechanisms of affirmative action. However, in 2004 the
Czech cabinet was preparing to negotiate an introduction of 30% quotas for women on the candidate
lists. But, at the end of the year the ruling coalition postponed the proposition.
Women account for 10 % maximum of the wider leadership of all parliamentary political parties,
regardless of the left- or right-wing orientation - although women account for 26 % to 52 % in the
membership base of these parties. Especially in the last few years, some political parties have realised
the lack of women in their parties and have established women’s party groups (the Social Democratic,
Communist and Christian parties) or decided to introduce intra-party quotas for party bodies (the
Social Democratic and Communist parties).
In 2004 the Equal Chances Party, a so-called women’s party, was registered as a political party by
women who are active in culture. Since its start the project has been presented rather negatively by the
media and has spurred the first big discussion since 2002 when a group of Social Democratic women
established a Women’s Shadow Cabinet in response to the absence of women in the cabinet. Today,
Social Democratic women plan to demand adoption of the parity law and transformation of the
representative function of women politicians who should be responsible to women voters.
Although women’s NGOs formed in the Czech Republic as early as the beginning of the 1990s, civic
activities aimed at supporting the political participation of women appeared especially in the last few
years. They aimed to increase the electoral turnout of women; address women politicians at all levels
from local to central, from left-wing to right-wing; create an information and awareness-raising media
campaigns about the representation of women in politics; and to increase the visibility of women
active in politics or those running. They concentrated on media coverage, created flyers encouraging
the public to vote for women, organized role model round tables with Czech and foreign women
politicians, etc. Although so far it has not been customary for Czech women’s NGOs to get involved
in pre-election campaigns, 2004 - when the elections to the European Parliament and to regional
boards of representatives were held - saw the first engagement of this sort.
Women as MPs change legislation
It is relatively difficult to identify in politics to what extent women contribute directly to the adoption
of bills, decrees or other provisions. Party politics interfere with local as well as national politics. A
proponent of a bill or regulation does not necessarily have to be the person who originally proposed or
initiated the creation of a bill. Similarly, voting for a certain bill of law or regulation is strongly
influenced by party politics. Thus far, there have been only a few cases of women politicians who have
taken up the issue of women’s rights and gender equality as their main political goal.
The truth, however, is that a discussion on equal opportunities and the position of women in Czech
society was launched in 1997 in the Parliament when a female Social Democratic MP made an
interpellation. She reproached the Prime Minister that the Czech Republic does not pay enough
attention to the issue of the position of women in society, which the country pledged to do by adopting
the Beijing platform for action. Although women did approach this topic more seriously and without
denigration in the parliamentary discussion on the topic than did men, women on the right side of the
spectrum adopted a stance that relativised the situation in the Czech Republic by pointing to the dire
conditions facing women in “developing countries” and by referring to problems facing women in
Western Europe.
Until the launch of the EU accession negotiations, parliamentary debates related to the position of
women in society were limited to the role of mothers. The approach to this issue was structured
according to political orientation rather than sex, but if the relative representation of women in the
Chamber of Deputies is taken into account, women communicated on the issue more often than men.
In connection with the launch of the EU accession negotiations, amendments to laws related to equal
treatment, elimination of all forms of discrimination, etc. started to be discussed in the Parliament. It is
likely due to their low representation in the Chamber of Deputies and their low participation in
decision-making positions that women’s contributions did not appear to significantly influence the
content of the debates. Although the content of discussion contributions made by men and women was
again largely given by party affinity rather than sex, the form of presentation did partially reflect the
sex of the speaker. Male right-wing MPs were more insensitive than female right-wing MPs toward
the topic.
Women as MPs and Women as NGOs representatives
The relationship between women’s NGOs and politicians/ governmental officials was formed quite
recently. It started mainly on the basis of the relationship between women’s NGOs and newly
established governmental bodies for gender equality because these government bodies were also made
responsible for communicating with women’s NGOs as part of implementing gender equality policies.
The existing forms of co-operation as well as conflicts that have occurred in these interactions
document the insufficiently negotiated rules of co-operation. Women’s non-profit organisations see
themselves as weak partners in the area of influencing the political process because of the incessant
struggle for funding their activities, a lack of appreciation of their work and expertise, and their
dependence on the willingness of state officials and politicians to co-operate and accept their
comments. In 2004, as a result of their dissatisfaction with the governmental approach to the
implementation of gender equality policies, they prepared the Shadow Report on Equal Treatment and
Equal Opportunities for Men and Women.
When it comes to lobbying, NGO representatives admit that it is possible to attain one’s goal mainly
through a personal approach and contacts with influential politicians and/or through the membership
in governmental and political structures. Examples of successful lobbying by women’s NGOs are
rather exceptional, and they depended primarily on a personality that managed to combine several
strategies, contacts and positions, and the general constellation of the political scene.
Women MPs’ perception of their own role
The role of female politicians in promoting gender topics in the Czech Republic can be characterised
as very fragmented and impeded by the low percentage of women in top politics. This often results in
the membership of a single woman in various committees and bodies, which in and of itself
establishes her position as token and does not give any possibility to efficiently promote women’s
rights. The lack of visibility and marginalisation of women politicians who promoted gender equality
and related issues, however, seems to be disproportionate in view of the fact that during the period of
the Social Democratic government and the time of EU accession, both the Prime Minister and the head
of delegation of the European Commission in the Czech Republic were in favour of promoting gender
equality. During this whole period, there were very few (usually left-wing oriented) women politicians
who managed to introduce a gender perspective into politics.
Based on interviews with Czech women MPs, we can say that a large majority of them do not consider
themselves to be primarily representatives of women’s interests. When the MPs were asked to choose
whether – as public representatives – they address primarily a) issues relating to all voters generally,
b) women’s issues, or c) issues of other social or professional groups, two thirds of the respondents
selected a) and one third selected c). Furthermore, the female MPs were asked to make hypothetical
decisions where, on the one hand, there was an opinion that the MP felt to be beneficent for women
and, on the other hand, there was the opinion of their own party. In such a case, one quarter of MPs
could not decide how they would vote, another quarter would vote according to women’s interest (or
would abstain), and one half of the MPs would vote according to the interests of their political party.
It is undoubtedly necessary to develop further the national discussion launched in 2004 on the
necessity and importance of women’s participation in public and political life, to create mechanisms
and a infrastructure conducive to women’s greater inclusion in political life and, last but not least,
create institutional and social pressure on representatives of political parties and political elites in
general to actively take up the issue of gender equality in all spheres of life.
One of the concrete steps for how to increase the participation of women in leading and decisionmaking bodies may be the application and observation of affirmative action measures, such as quotas
(or better parity) for members of intra-party bodies and the zip system for candidate lists in elections at
various levels of the political system. The problem with the implementation of affirmative action
measures in the Czech Republic is, however, the general low support for such measures both among
politicians and the electorate. An increase in the number of women in politics is not therefore
contingent only upon institutional changes but also on a change of female and male politicians and the
electorate. Voters can clearly show that a political party that does not have female candidates in front
positions and that does not address gender equality policies in its party programme and strategies is
unacceptable. In such a case, the education system and a repeated, general as well as targeted media
campaign that will, among other things, present foreign experience with affirmative measures and
explain the importance and necessity of gender equality and political participation of women, can play
a positive role.
Woman politicians are often in the position of tokenism, which does not give the possibility to
efficiently promote women’s rights. In order to strengthen women politician’s electability, party
positions and their willingness and ability to promote gender equality, it is also important to strengthen
activity, visibility and influence of newly created women’s intra-party bodies and to create active
women’s interest pressure groups. Role model seminars with foreign and national women active in
politics may also help.
Schools and the media should also strive to change traditional ideas about the gender organisation of
family obligations and the roles of women and men in general. On the labour market (as well as in
politics) a family-friendly environment that does not discriminate against those caring for a family
should be implemented as a generally valid standard.
The efficiency of newly established government institutions for promoting gender equality is
contingent upon an immediate change in the situation, so that these institutions are not at the very
beginning of their existence negatively affected by inefficiency and the resignation of those holding
these position due to the fact that in principle they have very limited power, no financial budget, and
activities that have been degraded since the start by insufficient appreciation and insufficient work
capacity. It is also necessary to strengthen the independence of the women’s non-profit sector from
governmental institutions through diversified financial sources; at the same time it is necessary to
clarify and monitor the rules of co-operation between the governmental and non-governmental sectors
so that critical activities, positive interactions and their real impacts may be increased – e.g. defining
how much in advance women’s NGOs should receive legislative proposals for comments,
identification of women’s NGOs as formal partners of the government in order to ensure that they are
informed about all legislative negotiations and have an option to participate in them efficiently, etc.
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