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Internal gender equality work and external conditions yield balanced parties

In the late 20th century several European political parties achieved gender equality, with the same number of women as men in their party group in parliament.

In a dissertation in political science, Emelie Lilliefeldt, Södertrön University, in Sweden, shows that there are several different formulas for achieving gender balance in political parties. The parties’ own preconditions are fundamental, but they are combined with external conditions like the election system and gender equality in the wider society.

Different types of parties in Europe have attained balanced representation n different ways. In her dissertation in political science, Emelie Lilliefeldt compared a large number of parties that were active in Western Europe in the 1980s with parties in Central and Eastern Europe today.

“The parties’ own work for gender equality is central,” says Emelie Lilliefeldt. “But a society that makes it easier for parties to get more women elected enables more parties to achieve balance.”

She shows that when the surrounding society did not encourage efforts to balance the number of women and men in the party group, gender equality was created in small leftist and green parties through the use of quotas, and that the parties had full control of the order of candidates on ballots.

In Western European countries where women were equally active in the labor force and in higher education, parties that were not leftist or green also attained gender balance. This was the case for large parties that selected their candidates at the local level, but also for parties of varying sizes in countries where voters could not alter the parties’ selection of candidates by voting for individual candidates. It was also the case with parties where many candidates were elected in the same election district and where voters could alter the parties’ ballot lists by voting for individual candidates.

The formulas for gender-balanced parties in the East are similar to those in Western Europe. In Eastern and Central Europe women participate equally in the labor force, and women often outnumber men in higher education. By comparing gender-balanced parties in today’s democracies in Eastern and Central Europe, the dissertation shows that the balanced parties’ own efforts were key also in the newer democracies. Several of the parties studied were leftist or green in ideology. They also had women’s organizations or gender quotas among candidates for elections.

One example is the Latvian governmental party, Jaunais Laiks, which has had an equal number of women and men in several elections in a row. Emelie Lilliefeldt’s research shows that the large proportion of well-educated women in the country entailed that the party had access to many well-qualified women who could recruited for the party work. Several of these women could later benefit from the fact that the party had constructed its ballot lists strategically and that Latvia has a system where citizens can vote for individual candidates, thus exerting considerable power regarding who gets elected.

“Elections where people can vote for individual candidates was both good and bad for gender equality,” says Emelie Lilliefeldt. “How such a system impacts gender equality in the party groups is highly contingent on the voters themselves.”

When parties make room for women, they generally receive support from voters. The study of Latvian parties shows that well-known women politicians can attract votes just as much as men.

Emelie Lilliefeldt is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, and BEEGS, Baltic and East European Graduate School, Södertörn University.

The dissertation is titled European Party Politics and Gender: Configuring Gender-Balanced Parliamentary Presence.

The external examiner will be Professor Richard Matland, Loyola University, Chicago.

Contact: Emelie Lilliefeldt: tel: +46 (0)8-608 45 90 or e-mail

Eleonor Björkman, information officer, Södertörn University: tel: +46(0)8-608 50 62 or mobile: +46 (0)70-286 13 32

Eleonor Björkman | idw
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