Ukrainian local elections: do gender quotas work?

The first elections in Ukrainian history held with gender quotas have ended. This was the time when the possibility for women to become not just participants, but decision-makers had grown much.

The updated election code has a requirement for political parties to follow the order in the lists of candidates – there must be at least 2 men or women in every five members of the list. This way the gender quota reached 40%. This rule was applicable for communities with 10 thousand or more voters, and for the district and regional councils.

What does statistics state?

According to the Ukrainian Women’s Foundation monitoring, gender quota changed the situation a lot, and in election lists for 22 regional councils, there were 43% of women, while the current composition of these councils has only 15% of women.

A similar situation is with election lists for 24 big Ukrainian cities, Kyiv, Kramatorsk, and Bakhmut, where there were 43% of women too, while current councils have only 20% of women.

However, 43% of women in the election lists do not guarantee the same number of them among local deputies. Preference in the distribution of mandates is still given to the first candidates of the unified electoral lists of parties.

So if the political party follows gender quota, but women have 3rd-5th positions on the list, they have fewer chances to be elected. Disproportion in the positions in the lists between men and women, and men “sitting on the top of the list” looks unfair towards women who count 54% of the population of Ukraine. It looks less likely for them to be elected and limits female influence in making important decisions for the local communities. These are the conclusions of the monitoring held by the organization mentioned above.

Gender expert opinion

Larysa Kobelianska is the candidate of philosophical sciences and the coordinator of the public council for gender issues in the inter-fractional association “Equal opportunities”. According to her, unless we have the final results of the elections, we cannot analyze the digits we have, but we can consider the processes that influenced women’s engagement in the elections.

The expert thinks that the implementation of gender quota is caused not only by the aim of modern democratic standards but by the response to the currents request for increasing the number of women among the decision-makers and the raise of their political significance.

«However, political parties were mostly not ready for this. Following gender parity across the list was an extremely difficult, and even impossible task for many of them. This is the proof of their weak human resources policies and ignoring the party-building logic by their managers», – Larisa Kobelianska admits.

She also paid attention to the absence of clarifications for the gender quotas rules, so there had been many manipulations when after registration of election lists the change of female candidates was performed. This way in fact the gender quota was not kept in almost 1 thousand lists.

The Central Election Committee has not yet given explanations for this phenomenon, but it is now clear that the election law is imperfect, and this fact is the basis for numerous manipulations and misuses. Parties also included women as “technical” candidates in the lists.

«This fact both greatly compromises the very idea of empowering women and devaluing those women who have consciously fought for their mandates», – she adds.

The process of integrating women into politics is incredibly challenging and could be even traumatic for women regardless of the local or state level of authorities. Women are often the targets for dirty political technologies, objects for sexist statements, and even actions.

Along with election campaigns, women must fight against gender stereotypes and social prejudices. Women with disabilities, internally displaced persons, LGBT community representatives are especially discriminated. It had become an unpleasant tradition to use dirty technologies, cyberbullying, and psychological pressure against women.

So the elections with gender quotas have been challenging for women candidates.

«On one hand, the quota revealed new possibilities, but on the other hand women had to prove that they had not been just a matter of quota, but professional and worthy candidates. This was not an easy task according to the experience of some women candidates», – says the gender expert.

The elections have become an exam for the society where everyone had to decide if they are ready to accept the female deputy as an equal participant in the political process.

Surely, these elections have not ruined all the stereotypes about women in politics, but they claimed the start of overcoming the historical injustice and isolation of women from political life.