Unlike the sixth parliamentary convocation, which consisted of 20% of women, the 2011 election has resulted in the disappointing percentage of 19.8. Only 30 female representatives will take part in the new convocation, which is 10 representatives less than in the previous convocation. Awareness-raising activities carried out by women’s civil society organizations, aimed at political party leaderships in the critical period of list making, have obviously failed to produce an effect. For that reason, there is a necessity of implementing sanctions for failing to comply with the balanced representation provision, as well as introducing a legal provision of alternating positioning of male and female candidates in electoral lists, which, if combined, could lead to a higher representation of women in parliament.
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!
Although she received the mandate of the Ombudsperson for Gender Equality at the end of October, Višnja Ljubičić’s hands are already full. In the Parliament’s newest convocation there is a record low number of women, while, at the same time, the future ministers, especially those prone to sexist remarks, will be kept under scrutiny. Regarding the number of women in the newly elected Parliament, the Ombudswoman pointed out the bad statistics: there are now only 19.8% of women in Parliament, which is the lowest percentage since 2000. She also stressed that the number of 30 women in Parliament will grow slightly after some of the male party colleagues go into the executive branch and send their female colleagues to Parliament. Source: T-portal
In an interview for the website Libela, the Ombudswoman for Gender Equality Višnja Ljubičić commented on the record low number of women in Parliament in the last 10 years and on the quota system regulated by the Gender Equality Act:
In the last parliamentary elections once again no attention was paid to the legal provisions on the percentage of women (at least 40%) on electoral lists. The Gender Equality Act, passed in 2008, had given the parties three election cycles to adapt, which means that the punitive measures will ensue in the following local elections. Do you think this is a good solution and how would you comment on the fact that women occupy only 20% of parliamentary seats?
The practice of the EU is to provide a minimum of three election cycles in order to see the effect of introducing political quotas. A European research has shown that it takes 15 to 20 years for quotas to take hold. The expectations from this law were great and we thought that the proportion of women in Parliament would grow, not fall, as was the case after the last election. Some parties did include 30 or 40% of women on their lists, but they were ranked low, so it was apparent that they would not get into Parliament.
When misdemeanor provisions start being applied, I would not like to see parties rather pay fines than include women in higher positions, as some French parties do. The introduction of quotas is a good thing and I believe it will take hold, but we will not succeed if we are only going to repressively penalize parties. It is more important to work on raising awareness in society and providing equal opportunities for women to be active in both politics and business. And that is not possible as long as women have to work the double shift – at work and at home.