On the 23rd of May, we will once again have the opportunity to let our voices as citizens of
the European Union, be heard with the upcoming European Parliament elections. We get to
decide, at the hand of our vote, which direction that we wish the European Union to head
into. The European Parliament is the only directly elected governing body within the
European Union, and is responsible for legislative as well as supervisory tasks. They work,
together with the Council of the EU, to pass laws. Additionally, they also decide on
international agreements and member requests, and as a supervising body they approve
budgets, appoint the president of the European Commission and approve of the makeup of
the European Commission. Within such an important body of the European Parliament, a fair
representation of Europe’s citizens should be present to ensure a well-functioning democracy. Research has shown that political institutes that represent the democratic makeup of society, tend to be seen as more legitimate. While the European Parliament tries to do this by representing every country that is part of the EU, it does not reflect the European demography in other matters. Women for example, are still majorly underrepresented in positions within the Parliament. With women making up only 37,3% of all representatives in the current European Parliament. The realisation of the low representation of women, and the negative effects it might have on democracy, has led to the creation of initiatives to vote more women into government bodies worldwide, such as Stemopeenvrouw in the Netherlands and WomenVote! in the USA. This essay will be dedicated to showing the importance of female representation in the European Parliament and provide information on how we as voters can increase female representation.
Why does female representation matter?
Academic research has shown that even though women’s education levels and economic participation have been on the rise over the last 20 years, their political representation has been lagging behind in significant ways. Report by the Eurobarometer in 2009 has shown that women feel that their interests are not well-represented by the European Union and therefore are less likely to engage with European politics. The reason women’s interests and political opinions are not well-represented is, according to academics such as Norris as well as Karp and Banducci, who have studied the representation of women within politics and society at large, argue that the reason women’s interests are not well represented is because male politicians often have different perspectives on what is important and what deserves attention on the political agenda. As mentioned above, research by the European Parliament has shown that women are more likely than men to feel that their concerns and political interests are not met. Increasing the representation of women in parliament has shown to have positive effects on engaging female citizens into politics more. Firstly, this is because when women get elected into office they bring these different values to the table, such public health, unemployment and consumer protection on the political agenda, creating focus on issues that a significant part of the population considers important, but have not been given the same amount of attention on the political agenda. Secondly, as is pointed out by academics such as Norris, have pointed out that having female representation in politics can increase the awareness and participation in political institutes by women, and increase discussion of political topics in the private sphere. Thus establishing a more healthy and legitimate democracy. However, voting a few women into the parliament might not be enough. Academics have observed that even if some women are present in political bodies, if they are still strongly outnumbered, female politicians are not able to represent the concerns by women and put them on the political agenda, as they lack political power. They argue that female politicians need to make up a significant part of the political representative before they will they be able to put concerns of women on the agenda and find the support to create legislation out of these proposals.
How can the representation of women be increased?
Understanding why female representation in the European Parliament is important is one thing, however, the second question this raises is, how does one increase female representation in the European Parliament? As voters we have the ability to not just elect a party into the European Parliament, but also specific individuals. This can be done through the principle of preferential voting, where you can vote for any person on the voting ballot, and if they get enough votes on them as a person they can be given a position in parliament. When trying to use preferential votes to get a person elected into parliament, it is important to remember that this will have the most effect if its someone from a lower position on the list, as people in the top 5 are already very likely to get a seat in parliament if the party manages to win a part of the votes. Thus voting for women lower on the list will Positive results of this tactic have already been noted during elections in the Netherlands, as the organisation Stemopeenvrouw claims that this has led to dozens of extra women in municipal governments, 42 extra women in provincial governments and a few extra women in national governments. It doesn’t end (or start) with voting however, increasing awareness about the existing female candidates is also important. By sharing information about female candidates and their standpoints within our networks, and discussing their particular political stances, these candidates might get noticed too by people who would have otherwise not considered voting for these candidates.
Through this article, I have attempted to raise awareness about why female representation in the European Parliament, and politics is such a serious issue, and I hope I have convinced you of this and that you might be inspired to vote for a woman this upcoming May 23rd.