Women make up 53.6 percent of Ukraine's population. In spite of that, they hold only 20.8 percent of the seats in parliament, and 35.9 percent of those in oblast and town councils. Women are therefore underrepresented in the representative authorities.
How can these statistics be changed, and how can women be encouraged to go into politics and to actively participate in policy and decision-making? What do women who have just been elected to local councils need, and what challenges are they facing? What knowledge, abilities and skills do they lack? A study on women’s political participation and representation at the subnational level: background, challenges and needs conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine with support from the Norwegian government provides answers to this and other questions.
The 2020 local elections proved that women actively participate in politics – more than a third of them were elected to councils at various levels. This was largely due to the legally imposed 40 percent mandatory quota on nominating candidates and drawing up political party lists. What is more, the active women who were elected to local councils in the 2015 elections, when a gender quota was also applied, by 2020 were in charge of party branches that were drawing up party lists, thus encouraging women to go into politics by their own example. The state can also motivate political parties to ensure the gender balance during elections by providing additional financial support to those parties that have won seats in parliament and met the gender quota – and indeed such a practice exists in Ukraine. Political parties that have met the gender quota receive additional funds from the budget to finance their statutory activities, and thus are encouraged to involve women.
Apart from the legally imposed quotas, parties can also choose to impose additional intra-party quotas on the drawing up of election lists or to select party officials. Such quotas help support women’s leadership in these parties.
The gender policy of political parties
Intra-party quotas demonstrate the important role of political parties in involving women in politics at various stages. Conducting a gender audit in a party can reveal opportunities for growth in managing branches, as well as show how diversity and the involvement of women can help the party in the political arena. The results of such audits provide the basis for developing programmes and policies that enable and help women move up the career ladder and become more publicly visible and recognizable. As a result, politics becomes more diverse and loses its stereotypical “masculine” image. Parties, among other things, can also set up various funds to support women who have children and need help with looking after their children when they are doing party work.
Inter-factional associations and groups
The common stereotype that politics is a “man’s world” is rather difficult to overcome if it is mostly men who talk about politics in the media, and it is they who run the state, oblast, city or community.
Inter-factional associations and groups that aim to ensure gender equality help women champion important issues in politics, become publicly visible, support other women MPs and councillors, and respond to sexism, gender discrimination and so on. Such associations are an important platform for providing mutual support and developing gender equality solutions.
The fear of “big politics,” self-doubt, stereotypes and other reservations prevent women from going into politics. Special mentoring (tutorship) programmes (including those developed by political parties) help such women get support from more experienced women politicians, gain the necessary experience (for example, that of being an MP (councillor) assistant), and improve their skills. Political (party) mentoring programmes can also be beneficial to women who are already MPs (councillors) – they can help them realize their potential and become leaders, rather than just functionaries.
Training and leadership programmes for women
One should also pay attention to various training and leadership programmes for women – for those who are already in office and those who are only planning their political activities. These programmes not only teach women how to understand the budget or draft decisions, they also help them create communities, become self-confident, learn the mechanisms of self-defence against oppression, and be more confident and determined, thus playing an important role in the making of women politicians.
In 2021, with support from UNDP, newly elected women representatives will be able to unite around the values of equality, non-discrimination and the development of their communities. The Enhancing Women’s Political Participation at the Subnational Level project provides for the development and holding of offline and online training events for newly elected representatives, as well as for the conduct of an educational campaign about the need to ensure the full, free and democratic participation of women in political and public life, on an equal footing with men.
Written by Nadiya Babynska-Virna
Edited by Yuliia Samus, UNDP in Ukraine
Translation from Ukrainian: Kristina Zasypkina