Europeans believe women in politics positively impact on decision-making, surveys show. However, they do not support mandatory quotas to boost gender representation in the European Parliament, a measure generally favoured by female politicians.
As political parties across Europe gear up for the European elections in June, a new Eurobarometer survey commissioned jointly by the EU executive and the Parliament, published on Wednesday (4 March), shows that more women (67%) than men (59%) prefer non-intrusive methods, like quotas, to boost women’s representation in the European Parliament.
Quotas or not quotas?
However, female politicians argue that without some structure in place, women will fail to fill half of the hemicycles, as sough by 70% of women across Europe.
“I believe in quotas,” said Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström, presenting the survey to the European Parliament. “I see it as a way of correcting an existing imbalance and injustice. Unfortunately, we need those practical tools” to involve more women in decision-making, she added.
Labour MEP Mary Honeyball noted that “certainly in the UK women representation would not happen overnight; you need to have structures, quotas”.
According to the survey, there is a low level of support for quotas: only 10% of women and 12% of men think they are the answer.
Likewise citizens, researchers seem sceptical about using quotas to promote the role of women in politics. “More than quotas, it is important to make politics tangible to women’s daily lives,” said Claudia Fenor of TNS opinion.
Susan Banducci, a professor at the UK’s University of Exeter, noted however that institutional mechanisms are extremely important in countries where the political culture is not friendly towards women candidates.
Is politics interested in women?
In addition, the survey showed there is a wide consensus that women can introduce a different style in politics. “A democracy which does not make enough room for 52% of the population at the decision-making table is no real democracy at all,” said Wallström, commenting on the discovery that 77% of women and 71% of men believe politics is a male-dominated field.
Experts analysed the findings, saying it is important to raise the visibility of issues that are the most appealing to women. The ‘what’s in it for me’ factor will play a decisive role in engaging women voters, they believe.
According to the Eurobarometer, most women want the next European Parliament to guarantee equal pay for equal work, promote day care facilities for children, treat child-minding years as working time towards their pension and combat violence towards women.
“The European elections are clearly not yet at the forefront of citizens’ thought even if certain campaign themes emerge,” said TNS Fenor, which stressed that candidates should talk about tangible proposals to tackle daily life problems such as rising prices, unemployment, welfare and healthcare protection.
Women candidates will attract female voters
Analysing the survey results, Banducci offered the explanation that unless women candidates are given adequate visibility, not the least by political parties themselves, the likelihood for women across Europe to turn out at the elections will be minimal. “Politics is not perceived as a women’s world unless they are represented and visible,” she said.
“So, if women are more visible in politics, women will be more interested in politics,” added the British scholar, explaining there is a positive correlation between women representation and engagement.
According to the survey, almost half of women (46%) felt that women’s interests were not well represented by the EU, but 29% are satisfied with the situation.
Role of media
While the role of political parties is key to raise the profile of women candidates, the role of the media was singled out as crucial to engage more women into voting.
As women are more likely than men to postpone their voting decision until the last the last few weeks of an election campaign, experts note candidates should claim for coverage. “If there is not media coverage, women lack the information they need to make informed decisions,” warned Banducci.