Symbolic illustration of gender gap

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While the proportion of women in the legislative bodies of the member states of the European Union has grown over the years, access to key positions of political influence is still limited — in some member states more than in others.

11/03/2021 -  Openpolis

(This article was originally published by Openpolis  as part of our EDJNet project)

Over the last twenty years, in almost all EU countries, a system of gender quotas has been introduced, either legislatively or voluntarily, for parliamentary elections. This tool obliges political parties to present lists of candidates where there is a balanced presence of men and women. These measures have undoubtedly led to an increase in the presence of women in European parliaments, but in no EU country have they translated into effective gender parity within legislative bodies.

Italy has gone from having 9.9 percent female members of parliament in 2004 to 35.8 percent in 2019. This is an increase of 25.9 percentage points, the largest in Europe. Italy is followed, with increases of more than 20 points, by France and Portugal.

As was the case earlier, here too it should be noted that Italy started with one of the lowest quotas in Europe (9.9 percent), higher only than Malta, Cyprus and Hungary.

Looking at the 2019 data, it is once again northern countries that record the highest percentages, with Sweden and Finland at 47.6 and 46.5 percent respectively. It should be noted that these same states were also at the top in 2004, when they already had high female quotas.

At the other end of the scale, we find mostly Eastern European countries. In particular, Hungary has the lowest share in Europe at 12.2 percent in 2019. Then there are Malta, Cyprus, Romania, Croatia, Czech Republic and Slovakia, all with percentages around 20 percent — a gap of over twenty points compared to the quotas of the Scandinavian countries.

In 3 out of 28 EU countries, the number of female MPs has fallen over the selected timeframe. First of all, Sweden, dropping by just -0.3 percentage points. An insignificant change, especially given that the country ranks first in terms of female presence in parliament, both in 2004 and 2019.

The other two nations where the number of female parliamentarians fell are Bulgaria and the Netherlands. In the case of Bulgaria the change seems small (-0.9 points), but reflects the lack of progress in a country that ranks 17th with only 27.1 percent female parliamentarians in 2019. In the Netherlands the drop is more significant (-1.2 points).

Access to key parliamentary roles

We have already looked at the presence of women occupying key positions of executive power in Europe. Now let's look at positions of legislative power.

What are the key positions in parliament? We can consider two in particular, which are common to all EU countries:

  • Parliamentary committee chair, responsible for representing and overseeing the work of the committee he or she heads. Committees are groups of parliamentarians who discuss and examine specific subjects or issues.
  • Chair of a parliamentary group, generally called group leader, or, depending on the country, spokesperson. He or she is the head of the parliamentary group to which he belongs, represents it in parliamentary debates and acts as its spokesman.

In order to compare the proportion of women in these roles at the EU level, we consider the legislative bodies of the major EU Member States (France, Germany, Spain, Italy) and the European Parliament.

In line with what we have seen above, in both government and parliament, Spain is one of the countries where the presence of women in politics is highest. Both at the overall level and in key roles of power.

In the case of committee chairs, the Spanish parliament excels again with 48.8 percent of women currently holding this role. The European Parliament and the French Parliament follow, while Italy and Germany close the ranking with quotas of less than 40 percent.

However, it should be stressed that the number of standing committees varies widely among the parliaments under consideration. Spain has the most committees, 80, spread between the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. In the German parliament there are 40; 28 in the Italian parliament; 27 in the European Parliament; and 15 in the French parliament.

Looking at the number of women among the current presidents of parliamentary groups, Spain again leads the way, and by a wider margin than in previous rankings.

41.2 percent of group leaders are women in the Spanish parliament. This is around 10 points ahead of the European Parliament (30 percent) and Italy (29.4 percent), more than 20 points ahead of Germany (20 percent), and 30 points behind France (11.1 percent).

As to the selection processes for leaders, we should highlight how three groups currently working in the lower house (Bundestag) of the German parliament tackled the issue of gender equality; they are Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens), Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) and Die Linke (The Left). These groups, in accordance with their own internal regulations, have two group leaders instead of just one, one of whom is a woman and the other a man, so as to always have equal representation of both genders in their leaderships.

This article is published in collaboration with the European Data Journalism Network  and it is released under a CC BY-SA 4.0  license.

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