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It won’t work without quotas

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It is as if you wanted to pass a difficult maths exam but only switched half of the brain on. This is the exact feeling one experiences when one comes across the current list of lower house candidates. Out of the 13 ODS leaders’ positions only one is taken up by a woman. Social Democrats have a similar proportion. Even though it was hard to imagine it, it is in fact worse than it was in the parliamentary elections three years ago. The key question is what prevents the women in ODS and ČSSD to get into the leading positions? And what can be done about it?

It is not easy to look for an explanation of what is going on on the Czech political scene. The argument of women not being interested in politics has been heard around for long. The simple examples, however, show what we have long been suspecting – it is not this simple. What rings true more is that the men applying for positions in the lower house have sensed that their female colleagues, often untouched by scandals, present a threat to them. Let’s take Central Bohemia for example. Some 16 candidates out of 51 were chosen by the ODS onto the final list. “We chose a non-public agreement over an open competition,” Eva Dundáčková, departing Central Bohemian MP told Respekt. She said the men did not allow the female candidates on top of the list because the “competing women were more convincing and promoted clearer opinions”.

This is not a rare case. “Political agreements worked out. Men have hard times accepting female competitors,” Alena Páralová, Pardubice region MP told Respekt some time ago. She experienced a similar thing to that described by Dundáčková at the last parliamentary elections. She was moved to the fifth position on the list, though in the end she surpassed everyone thanks to the preference votes she received. Many of her female colleagues weren’t and aren’t so lucky.

To put it simply, men have for long perceived female politicians as a strong competition and they unite against it (even though they fail to unite and agree on almost anything else). Since it is mainly men who run the politics, when they choose not to let someone in, there is very little chance that someone will break through. It is not only the fear of better offer. Women do not get onto the higher levels of politics for other reasons too. “I had no time keeping the inner-party relations, such as going to the pub or football,” Eva Klačíková, former successful deputy of Plzeň governor told Respekt when asked why she failed to stay in the politics. There is something that rings true about this. The way political scene works here is adjusted to favour the men. Long meetings ending late at night, never-ending behind-the-scenes negotiations, sharp conflicts. It is difficult to compete in this rhythm in a country where most still believe it is mainly the woman who should look after the kids and the family.

Male politicians often downplay these arguments. “This topic is artificially opened here by militant female organisations, it is not something people perceive as an issue,” said MP Marek Benda. A CVVM survey shows almost 60% of men and 85% of women consider the female proportion in the politics insufficient. These numbers continue growing when compared to the beginning of the 1990s. The men figures are growing more significantly than the women ones. Why can’t it be opened up in the politics too? “The stereotypes casting women into the roles of cooks and mothers have not changed much yet,” said Lenka Bennerová from the women’s Forum 50%.

And we are back at the start. What needs to happen for the situation to change? Many gender experts, both male and female, think we should introduce quotas of equal share of women on the candidate lists, just as is the case in countries with high ratio of women in the politics. That is how many western countries managed to change the phenomenon of male politics into a more inspirational environment where both halves of the brain are taken advantage of. The trouble is that not only men but a number of women too reject this solution as “undignified”. In the meantime, they do not come up with an alternative except for a sigh noting how many ideas and impulses we lose when only men run the politics. The time has come to either reconsider this negative approach or stop complaining. The two things together fail to bring a change.

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