Women in politics in Croatia

Mar 7, 2013

Women in politics in Croatia / Photo by: Inia Herenčić

Women, across different spectrum of political and party affiliations should build a consensus about issues that they can all support. These issues include insisting on consistent implementation of Gender Equality Act's instruction of 40% of women on electoral lists; the placement of female and male candidates according to a 'zip' principle (female, male candidates) and abolishing monetary fines for parties not respecting quota system. Instead of monetary fines, State Election Commission should not approve electoral lists that do not respect female quota, concluded participants at the round table Women in politics organized in Zagreb by United Nations and embassies of Canada and Australia.

The discussion that was organized on the occasion of the International Women's Day 2013 gathered prominent women politicians like Jadranka Kosor, Member of Parliament and former Prime Minister , Mirela Holy, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Environment and Nature Protection, Gordana Sobol, Member of Parliament, Marina Lovrić Merzel, Prefect of Sisak-Moslavina County, Josipa Rimac, Mayor of the City of Knin and Ivanka Luetić Boban, Head of the Committee for Gender Equality of Split-Dalmatia County.

"Our decision to focus this year on the theme of "women in politics" reflects a shared priority to work towards the equal representation of women in positions of power at all levels of government. The goal of equal participation in decision making is enshrined in the fundamental principles of the United Nations; it is a cherished aspiration of the European Union; and similarly it is a policy priority for our friends in Canada and Australia" - said Louisa Vinton, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia.

"The rationale is obvious: women make up 51 percent of the world's population, yet they continue to be badly under-represented in the allegedly representative bodies that make key decisions affecting their lives. Working towards parity is not just a matter of justice – it is also essential to improve the democratic quality of representation.

Vinton continued that in Croatia, the share of women in the Parliament, currently at 26 percent, is above the global average and equal to the average in the European Union. However, although Croatia's parliamentary numbers are within European averages, they nonetheless fall short of the national target of 40 percent representation stipulated in the Gender Equality Act of 2008, as well as the 30 percent set as a "critical mass" for women's representation by the United Nations. Only two out of 21 county prefects are women. Only 27 of 529 cities and municipalities (or just 5 percent) have women mayors. There are 116 local councils in Croatia whose membership includes not a single woman representative.

Head of the Government Office for Gender Equality Helena Štimac Radin stated that the share of women councilors at the local level is 35% in the EU, while in Croatia it is only 15%. Unless there are some changes at the upcoming local elections, Croatia risks to be the country with the lowest share of women councilors in municipalities, counties and cities in the EU, warned Štimac Radin.

Tajana Broz from CESI raised the issue of fines for political parties who do not respect the quota system on their electoral lists. According to their estimates political parties would have paid 2,5 million kuna to state budget in fines for not respecting Gender Equality Act. Broz stressed that the usual excuse parties propose for not including women is that there are not enough of them – which seems counterintuitive since there are 51% of women in total population. In order to help parties to find women for last local elections CESI have sent them instructions with magnifying glass.

"There is a notion that there are not enough women in politics here, and researches show that the reason for this is that they should have been more actively included in political life by their political parties, but also that women themselves should be more active," said Štimac Radin adding that the share of women candidates on the lists for local elections will be bigger.

When discussing about necessary quotas of women in the Parliament, Jadranka Kosor stressed that she does not think that quotas are necessarily needed instrument. But if they do exist, the number of women in politics should not be increased only to fill the quotas, but the selection process should be the same for all – men and women equally. Women can equally do this job as well as men. Holy responded by saying quotas are necessary or we will never achieve gender parity in politics. Moreover, as she stressed, male dominated political arena is not immune to mediocrity, on the contrary. Therefore, women have right to their own 'quota' of mediocrity.

Mirela Holy warned that women should take power in their own hands. She warned that as long as women in politics deal with „ topics men perceive as "ladylike" , men colleagues will tolerate this while if they start dealing with topics such as economy or energy, which are seen as those reserved for men, they will receive patronizing comments from their male colleagues, as she personally experienced while performing her ministerial duty.

"We still live in a patriarchal society, and women are those who raise their sons and daughters for a certain ghetto roles," warned Holy. „Until women become aware of this and deal with the patriarchal dogmas, there will be no major progress . We, women, are socialized to feel grateful if we are promoted, put high on the election lists. This gratitude is usually towards male party leader, even though in most cases we have earned the position. Our male colleagues do not have that problem. We should not feel obliged either. We need to demand what is our right."

Gordana Sobol warned about the obvious lack of the number of women in the field of politics, but the political structures are those that will determine and create conditions to enable greater participation of women in political life. She mentioned that although 33% of SDP members are women, this is not followed by adequate political power, especially at local levels.

According to Marina Lovrić Merzel, women should fight for power. "This is indeed a very frightening path. We are not aware what is ahead of us at the beginning. You and your whole family are exposed," continued Lovrić Merzel, while Josipa Rimac believes that unless women become more engaged in their political parties and fight for themselves, they will hardly make it to the top positions.

"While we are among the first ones to adopt EU or UN regulations, in practice we lag behind," commented Ivanka Luetić Boban. "We live in a state which does not have one paper bill with a female face, where less than 5% of streets and squares have women's names, and where the number of unemployed women reached 195.435."

Women in politics are underrepresented, and when they get a space to make statements, it is most often on topics of social policies or health, that their male colleagues perceive as less important, care-taking domains, while they are rarely consulted on issues like economy and energy that are seen as male realm.

The participants agreed that women do start off from less favorable positions, but that it is important to seize the chance once they have them, regardless whether it was just to satisfy quotas or not. Once in power, women should do more to fight for women's issues jointly. Perhaps convinced by Sobol and Holy about the need for quotas, Kosor suggested that a first joint initiative should be to prepare amendments of Gender Equality Act demanding 50% quota for underrepresented gender, that is women. She volunteered to draft the proposal and invited Holy to join her.

Globally, women hold on average just one in five seats in national parliaments. Only 17 of the world's 196 countries (or 8.7 percent) currently have a female head of state or government. Already in 1990, the world's countries assembled in the United Nations ambitiously resolved to achieve a target of 30 percent representation for women in leadership positions by 1995 (and to reach full parity with men by 2000). But by the end of 2012, only 33 countries had managed to clear this 30-percent threshold. There is also example of Scandinavian countries that introduced voluntary quotas in 1970's and have for decades share of 40 -45% of women in national parliaments, which makes them forerunners in living according to gender equality principles.