5 things that stand in the way to women’s participation in decision-making

While share of women is only 11.6 per cent in the Verkhovna Rada, women make up 54 per cent of Ukraine’s 44 million population. Why do we still lack women in politics and at high-level positions?

We were digging into this issue at the panel discussion on women empowerment in Ukraine. The event brought together determined and successful women and men working in public administration. These are the main takeaways from this remarkable discussion.

Photo credit: Tetiana Yasynska

1. Majority of the population hardly make a quarter in politics. How strange is that?

  • It’s not only true for parliament, but also for the top management positions in public administration. Women make up only 12 per cent of the Cabinet of Ministers, and 16 per cent of all the positions in public administration bodies.

Having more qualified women in politics creates new opportunities for Ukrainian society. That will help change politics in times when citizens mistrust politicians in general. And it’s high time now to raise up such uneasy discussions,” said Olga Bielkova, MP, Deputy Head of Fuel and Energy Committee of the Verkhovna Rada.

This issue is relevant not only for Ukraine, Olga continues. It’s part of a larger evolutionary process, and it could take us fifty years to remove the gender gap in political representation. What is needed, therefore, is a political will of those in power to reduce this power imbalance.

You have a lot of barriers in your heads, but you have a lot of possibilities in your hands. It’s a right time to start now and to change something,” shares Anna Vronska, Judge of Supreme Court of Ukraine.

2. The higher you go, the less you see women in power

  • At the subnational level, only 9.6 per cent of women is elected city mayors, while 19.3 per cent are village mayors.
  • In the 2015 local elections, women, on average, received 18 per cent of seats in the city councils and 15 per cent of seats in the oblast councils. This indicator reached an average of 23 per cent in the rayon councils, and 51 per cent in the village councils.
  • Only 9.5 per cent of women are employed in 28 parliamentary committees (45 women out of 419 public servants).
  • At the low- and medium level of public service, the share of women is 74.8 per cent.
Photo credit: Andrey Krepkikh

One of the explanations to this is an “ambition gap” between men and women that needs to be addressed, comments Annika Weidemann, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Ukraine. This phenomenon of men tending to be more ambitious was analysed in a well-known case study at Columbia Business School. It showed that, regardless of professional qualifications, people expect to see men in top managerial positions as it fits their gender stereotypes.

However, far more important logic behind is that when there are more financial resources, the female leadership at political level becomes really rare.

“There’s a very interesting correlation between the level of integrity and effective possibility for women to participate. So here we run into question about money and politics,” commented Marcus Brand, Democratic Governance Advisor and Team Leader of Democratic Governance Team, UNDP Ukraine.

3. Gender quotas in politics is not enough

  • The quota system was applied for the first time during the 2015 local elections. According to the law, the same gender representation in the electoral lists for members of local councils should be not less than 30 per cent of the total number of candidates. However, at the national level, there is no obligatory quota requirements. Yet, there is a bonus system for political parties to include 30 per cent of women in party lists, envisaging additional 10% funding for political parties from the state budget.

Ukraine is far behind the European average on women’s representation in politics, and it’s even lower than the average for the Arab world. Gender quotas alone are not effective. The change in political culture is also necessary. We need not just commitments and references to the international law. We need very practical and inclusive plan to ensure equal participation of women in decision-making,“ commented Marcus Brand.

Sustainable Development Goal 16 is focused on peace, justice, and strong institutions, and it also means equal participation in decision-making of all citizens and substantial reduction of corruption. This Goal, along with Goal 5 designated for gender equality, cannot be possibly achieved without equal representation of women.

4. Unlike men, women tend to run for political offices when they are supported by their families and communities

What stands in the way to higher participation of women in the democratic processes, specifically in higher political positions, is a patriarchal culture, lack of political will, and deeply-rooted gender stereotypes. Women still need to prove their qualifications and often work harder than their men counterparts.

“Unconscious bias is very hard to change. It’s difficult to change in an individual and even more difficult in organizations,” explains Annika Weidemann. The first step is to be aware of this issue and start changing processes in place.

Like it was done in American orchestras back in the 1970s. After the blind auditions have been introduced, the share of women musicians spiked from 10 to 40 per cent. All because the recruitment process became more objective. “That’s an example of how promotion processes in organizations could be more effective. After all, the more diverse is your team, the better is the result.

Lack of role models is an impediment,” added Helen Fazey, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Kyiv. What can help, she suggested, is a system of mentoring where men in senior positions make it a point to include women in their teams.

Serhiy Zamidra, Nemishaevo City Mayor, Kyiv oblast, shared his observation that among the school youth girls are more proactive. However, to foster a young leader, informal civic education is needed to complement the school curriculum.

5. The added value of having more women in politics

So why the participation of women is such a big deal? Serhiy Zamidra knows the answer. “Participation of women in the village or city councils is essential since — as we can see in our city councilwomen often raise the issues that men fail to notice.”

He also gave an example of a recent contest for participatory budget projects. While the share of projects submitted by men and women was roughly the same, the majority projects that were eventually selected for implementation were the initiatives put forward by women, and many of those were socially focused ones.

“My message for men in power is the following one: by helping more qualified and talented women to get into politics you will also create opportunities for yourselves and society at large. Women are the most natural allies to change politics in our country at the time when the citizens mistrust politicians in general,that’s an advise from Olga Bielkova, MP.

The event was organised by Professional Government Association with the support of UNDP in Ukraine and Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Text: Tanya Kononenko, Oksana Khomei; photo credit: Tetiana Yasynska, unless stated otherwise