Gender Quotas in Ukraine: To Be or Not To Be?

By Tamara Martsenyuk, PhD in Sociology, Associate Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

On October 25-26 2011, Ukraine hosted the international conference “Current Trends of Development of National Gender Mechanisms in European Countries,” which took place within the framework of the Ukrainian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers [1]. The conference, co-organized by the United Nations Development Programme and the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, bore congenial news to the Ukrainian NGO community. In his opening speech Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Serhii Tihipko announced the government decision to implement the 40 per cent female quota in Ukraine’s political parties.

The Minister’s concern for increasing women’s representation in Ukrainian politics has been informed by several salient features of the country’s socio-political environment. Ukraine’s commitment to promoting gender equity is attested by the issue’s recent placement under the purview of the Ministry of Social Policy. The urgency of the problem is evident from the fact that in Ukraine there are virtually no women holding positions of political power. In addition to female under-representation in government, the sexist rhetoric of some of Ukraine’s most prominent political figures, which include its president Viktor Yanukovych [2], have fostered a political climate that is inhospitable for women’s active involvement in governmental decision-making. The consequent problem with female empowerment is one of the reasons why, according to the Gender Inequality Index issued by the Human Development Report 2011, Ukraine is ranked only 57th out of 146 surveyed countries [3]. Similarly, due to the fact that for the last twenty years women’s representation in parliament has not managed to rise above 10 per, the Inter-Parliamentary Union database of Women in Parliaments positions Ukraine in the 115th place among 188 countries arranged in descending order [4]. In Ukraine, equal gender participation in politics exists only at the lowest level of governance.

This year’s announcement that the country will implement the gender quota is not the country’s first attempt at instituting reform that would promote female participation in politics. Ukraine has made approximately ten legislative attempts to introduce gender quotas in political parties in the past. Each of these attempts failed and those legal measures that were enacted, such as the 2006 law “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Men and Women,” contained no mention of gender quotas. Ukraine’s failure to implement measures that would substantively promote gender equity also compromises its international obligations. In particular, Ukraine’s ratification of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, which must be achieved by 2015, entails implementing international norms on gender equality and specifically requires that at least 30 per cent of seats held in political bodies must be held by members of both sexes. This means that in the near future, women’s representation in such governmental bodies as the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers must increase substantially.

Ukraine’s national gender equality experts believe that in order to remedy the contemporary situation of women’s under-representation in Ukrainian Parliament, government legislation implementing gender quotas in political parties would be an appropriate step in the right direction. Such ‘positive actions’ might serve as a temporary tool to overcome discrimination towards women in the political sphere of Ukrainian society. In pursuit of this end, the fulfillment of Mr. Tihipko’s promise would serve as a critical stepping stone. It may be that that his promise was made in view of the upcoming election in 2012 and thus might never materialize. The promotion of women from subordinate and servile to top party positions raises the obvious problem of ensuring that women will hold real and not simply nominal power. While that may be a whole other issue, the first essential step towards greater gender equality is breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ that inhibits many women from advancing to the top of the political ladder. However, one thing is clear: in a democratic society, where women are well-educated and actively involved in the labour market, it is unfair that Ukrainian women are mostly excluded from the political decision-making process at the top levels of government.

[1] http://www.undp.org.ua/en/media/41-democratic-governance/1211-ukrainian-and-european-politicians-and-experts-discuss-current-trends-in-the-development-of-national-gender-equality-mechanisms

[2] https://ukrainewatch.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/yanukovych-invites-to-ukraine-for-sex-tourism/

[3] http://www.undp.org.ua/en/media/45-prosperity-poverty-reduction-and-mdgs/1212-ukraine-is-ranked-76th-out-of-187-countries-the-2011-human-development-report-says

[4] Situation as of 31 August 2011

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