What did the parliamentary elections in December 2011 bring us?
What can women expect from the new government?
Following the parliamentary elections at the end of last year, we are faced with a lower number of female representatives in Parliament and the second lowest result since the introduction of the proportional representation system in 2000. This is a consequence of an inconsistent implementation of regulations which are supposed to ensure adherence to the principle of balanced representation in politics and a frivolous understanding of participative democracy. Finally, it is a consequence of power relations in politics, which men are not yet ready to release from their grip.
We know that women’s participation in political decision-making is a prerequisite for the implementation of any public policy that contributes to changing the unequal position of women and men in society and is able to respond to women’s needs. The Gender Equality Act stipulates quotas and even prescribes monetary sanctions if less than 40% of women or men are represented on the lists. That Act was passed for the second time in 2008. It was first passed in 2003, but without the necessary qualified majority, since it was a fundamental law which works out the constitutional values. The 2008 Act prescribed that through three mandates the proportion of women represented in political bodies of decision-making on the local, regional or national level be adequate to the representation of women in the general population of the Republic of Croatia, which is 52%. These provisions may at first glance seem almost ideal, and that is probably one of the reasons why no one takes them seriously, why not one sanction has been imposed, or why the Electoral Commission has not, since the passing of the Act, returned even one list. So the question is, what is the use of the Gender Equality Act and the quota provisions?
Further, this means that the Political Parties Act needs to change, because the parties must be democratized, and also the Electoral Law, which must clearly prescribe the application of quotas. Ahead of us are the EU Parliament Elections and we need the experience of our colleagues from other EU countries, because a real threat exists that among 12 representatives from Croatia, not one will be a woman. Electoral quotas for women in politics are not questionable, except for those who do not have enough experience and have not, during their political career, faced the process of creating electoral lists and allocating party and government functions.
The parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2011 and the local elections in 2009 have shown that politics is still a desirable place of social power that belongs to men. Meanwhile, for two years Croatia has had a woman prime minister. Jadranka Kosor was not elected but put in that position by the Prime Minister who had resigned from office. In the previous presidential elections, a woman, Vesna Pusić, achieved great results and had the best program. All the more, it is interesting that the position of women in politics, but also in society in general, has not improved. On the contrary, we are facing not only stagnation but a sort of regression of women’s rights (the closing down of shelters and counseling centers for women victims of violence, the abolition of funding for employment programs for women as a particularly vulnerable group, the passing of the law on medically assisted fertilization, smaller representation of women in parliament, etc.)
In late December, a new coalition Government of, so to say, the Center-left, was formed, in which only 4 out of 22 ministries are headed by women. One of the Deputy Prime Ministers and the Minister of Social Policy and Youth is a woman, Milanka Opačić. The other three women are Vesna Pusić, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mirela Holy, the Minister of Environment and Nature Protection, and Andrea Zlatar Violić, the Minister of Culture. It is interesting to note that all three, aside from holding doctoral degrees, are known as declared feminists and collaborators on numerous feminist projects and campaigns. Mirela Holy is an advocate of eco-feminism and has, along with Domine and other European Feminist Initiative members, participated in the seminar “Women and Politics: Are women’s rights possible to debate in the political sphere?” in Alexandria in September 2010, organized by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria and the Swedish feminist organization “Kvinna till Kvinna”.
Feminist organizations in Croatia, but also women politicians and party members are facing the challenge of putting the issue of women’s rights back on the political agenda and preventing yet again, for who knows which time, the repression of women from the political scene by using platitudes such as a lack of qualified female politicians or women’s interest in politics. No matter how gender-sensitive men in politics are, they can hardly represent Croatian women, who are in all fields, in both public and private spheres, in the subordinate position. In a difficult economic situation, gender equality and women’s rights are of secondary importance as political issues. Serious politicians take care of serious socio-economic issues, and women will somehow find their place in the kitchen, in the home, in social and family care. Except if they decide that politics does concern women! Because they have learned a long time ago that only they themselves can fight for their rights!