Is Gender Equality Possible in Ukraine? Lessons from the Last Municipal Elections

August 2017
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With 12.3% of women members in the Verkhovna Rada,1 Ukraine ranks 146th in the world for women’s representation in national government. The number of women in local government varies, but it is not much greater than the national numbers. In July of 2015, a municipal gender quota was adopted, seeking to improve the number of women elected to municipal level governments around Ukraine. The amendment was added in the second reading to the Law on Local Elections with 197 other amendments.2 Similar to quotas in other countries, it was not identified specifically as a quota and instead stated that representation of persons of the same sex in the electoral lists of candidates must be at least 30 percent. By not using the word quota and by being one of many amendments to the Law on Local Elections, the quota provision did not have the same kind of obstacles as the ten previous attempts to pass a quota law in Ukraine.  Although 118 countries around the world have some sort of gender quota for elected office, Ukraine is one of eight countries in the world that currently have legislative candidate gender quotas for local (subnational) level elections without passing a similar policy for national level elections.

Women's activists in the country viewed this as a significant step toward gender equality, but the implementation of this quota did not compel significant changes in the political landscape regarding women in Ukraine. Instead, the lack of sanctions for not complying with the quota meant that many political parties, including the ruling Poroshenko Bloc,3 did not follow the law. This significantly lessened the impact of the gender quota.

Why did Ukraine adopt a Gender Quota?

Ukraine needed to adopt a gender quota in order to adhere to its international obligations prescribed in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals stipulated that by 2015 at least 30 percent of seats held in political bodies must be held by members of both sexes. However, the parliament waited until the end of the parliamentary session to adopt this local election legislation. Gender quotas were not in the original version of the bill. The amendment was sponsored by the Equal Opportunities Inter-Fraction Union, whose declared goal is to promote the equal rights of men and women in accordance with European Union requirements. This, coupled with the international obligations Ukraine faced under the MDGs, and the fact that the new government was trying to appear more democratic and pro-Western after the Euromaidan Revolution, all facilitated the adoption of the quota.

However, the adoption of a municipal level gender quota did not result in significant changes during the first election after its implementation. The quota amendment seemed to be an afterthought for most involved in the establishment of electoral laws. The inclusion of the language was a victory for women’s equality groups and they hoped to capitalize on language that included enforceable penalties to non-complying parties to ensure compliance with the quota. Simultaneously, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) adopted a resolution stating that failure to comply with the quota requirement was not enough to cancel a party’s candidate list for the 2015 elections. This resolution was challenged in court and initially overturned. This decision was later appealed in the High Administrative Court of Ukraine which upheld the initial decision. Adding a toothless gender quota law to a newly established electoral system provided little motivation for parties to seek more women to run and win in local elections.

Implementation of Gender Quotas and Sanctions

In Ukraine, women were traditionally better represented at the lowest political tiers, averaging 18 percent on different levels of elected councils. Table 1 shows that women did marginally better on the oblast (an overall increase of 3 percent) and rayon levels (an overall increase of 1.1 percent),4 but that they did much worse on the oblast level city councils with an almost 10 percentage point decrease. In the election of 2015, there was a relationship between city size and women’s representation, as the bigger the city the fewer women elected and the higher the level of political power the fewer women elected to political positions.

Table 1: PERCENTAGE OF ELECTED WOMEN IN LOCAL COUNCILS IN UKRAINE 2010 AND 2015

 

 

 Oblast Councils City Councils Oblast level  District or Rayon Councils   Village Councils Small Village Settlements 

2010 Local Election

 12%

 28%

 

 23%

 

 51%

 46%

2015 Local Election

 

 15%

 18.1%

 24.1%   NA  NA

Percent Change

 

 +3%  -9.9%  +1.1%   NA   NA
Only eight oblasts met the 30 percent gender quota for candidates in the oblast councils, and no oblasts elected more than 30 percent of women in 2015.5 However, overall oblast councils saw an increase in women’s representation from 12 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2015. The oblast city council level saw more women candidates, but cumulatively they still did not surpass the 30 percent gender quota, while also seeing a decrease in the number of elected women. Despite the fact that Chernihiv was the only city council to exceed the 30 percent gender quota, 11 of 22 city councils improved their gender balance.

On the rayon level, the average of women’s representation increased slightly to 24.1 percent. Figure 1 displays the aggregate rayon council average across each oblast. Donetsk oblast had the highest level of women’s representation in rayon councils with 32 percent followed by Kherson, Luhansk, and Mykolaïv with approximately 30 percent. These four oblasts were the only oblasts that met the gender quota on the rayon level. A closer look at the political parties that won seats in this region shows that the Opposition Bloc6 won nearly all of the rayon councils in these two oblasts and they were responsible for 54 percent of the women that were elected to the rayon councils. It is surprising that a party that did not embrace European and Western values complied with the gender quota legislation when the ruling parties did not and produced a number of rayon councils which on the aggregate average oblast level elected more women. Unfortunately, it is difficult to narrow down the cause for this above average gendered representation on the rayon level in Eastern Ukraine. Some potential causal factors for this could include that fewer men ran for political office because they are possibly serving at the front or because elections were held in only a portion of those oblasts.

Figure 1: WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION IN RAYON COUNCILS IN THE 2015 MUNICIPAL ELECTION BY PERCENTAGE

Sources: The data for this map were gathered utilizing Central Election Commission election data. Rayon council data was compiled and displayed as averages across the oblast level in order to show regional differences in women’s representation across Ukraine.

With the exception of the Volyn oblast (27.2 percent), all of the oblasts in Western Ukraine were approximately 10 points lower than their counterparts in Eastern Ukraine. Although Ukraine’s East is predominantly populated by Russian speaking Ukrainians, these regional differences have to do with the political parties that dominate the respective regions. At least on the rayon level we can see oblasts in the East electing more female representatives than the electorate in Western Ukraine.

Again, it is difficult to determine from data why Eastern Ukraine elected more women on numerous levels of municipal governments. Potential hypotheses could be linked to the Soviet legacy which is embraced more enthusiastically in the urban and industrial East than in the conservative and agrarian West. This Soviet tradition includes pseudo gender equality and forced gender quotas and could explain Eastern Ukraine’s acceptance of municipal quotas. It also could have to do with the conservative and right-wing political parties in the West where women are marginalized into more traditional roles.

Most parties adhered to the quota for party lists but the party that had the fewest women on their lists, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity,” performed the best in the election. Most parties increased the number of women candidates compared to past elections, but the smaller parties showed a higher rate of compliance with the 30 percent quota. Overall, 18 percent of women were elected across Ukraine in the local elections while 32 percent were nominated as candidates.

Although there have problems with the implementation of gender quotas on the municipal level, quota discussions continue to be present in Ukrainian politics. Amendments on ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men in the electoral process were introduced to the agenda of the sixth session of the Verkhovna Rada in January 2017. If adopted these amendments look to bring quotas to the national level with no more than 70 percent representatives of each gender among the top ten candidates of the electoral list. This bill was introduced in 2014 and never made it out of committee but perhaps the visibility and mixed successes of the municipal election will give this bill the push it needs to become a law.

Conclusions

The introduction and implementation of gender quotas in Ukraine shows the complexity of Ukrainian political institutions. An unambitious quota rule with no sanctions for non-compliance led to little change in the number of women elected at the local level. The adoption of gender quotas sought to demonstrate that the new regime was more democratic and egalitarian than its predecessor by attempting to align itself with perceived European and International standards. However, in the end, the ruling political party did not comply with the gender quota. For a quota provision to work in Ukraine, a strong compliance mechanism needs to be put in place. Unless parties are convinced that they must promote women’s representation, they are likely to ignore the call for more women in elected government.

The authors would like to thank Kostyantyn Bondarenko from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute for his help in generating the map for this article.

A longer version of this article entitled “The Implications of Gender Quotas in Ukraine: A Case Study of Legislated Candidate Quotas in Eastern Europe’s Most Precarious Democracy” was published in a special edition of Teorija in praksa, no. 2 (2017).

  • 1.Verkhovna Rada [Ukr. Supreme Council], Ukraine’s parliament consisting of 450 members elected in a mixed proportional representation (through party lists) and single-member plurality voting system.
  • 2.Law on Local Elections 2015, No. 37-38, article 366. Text of the law can be found here in Ukrainian.
  • 3.The Poroshenko Bloc, political party of Ukraine’s current President, Petro Poroshenko, formed in August 2014 (full title: Petro Poroshenko Bloc "Solidarity").
  • 4.Oblast is Ukraine’s primary administrative unit (corresponds roughly to “state” or “province” in English), inherited from the Soviet period (the first oblast in Ukraine was established in Soviet Ukraine in 1932). Each oblast is subdivided into rural districts called rayon (raion), units of the secondary administrative division (corresponds roughly to “county” or “district”) that provide certain local governmental services.
  • 5.The eight oblasts include Volyn oblast, Zaporizhia oblast, Lviv oblast, Mykolaïv oblast, Poltava oblast, Kharkiv oblast, Kherson oblast, and Khmelnytskyi oblast.
  • 6.The Opposition Bloc is a merger of the six political parties that did not support the Euromaidan revolution. They identify as center-left and are widely recognized as the successor to the Party of Regions, party of the former deposed president Viktor Yanukovych who fled Ukraine after the revolution.
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