No. 32




Strategies of Political Parties for Increasing the Representation of Women in the Riigikogu: Case Study 2014

14 December 2015


RiTo No. 32, 2015

  • Sirje Rist

    Manager at NPO Abja Koolituskeskus, Master of Social Sciences

Women’s representation in the Riigikogu is low, flating at around 20%. Theoretically proven critical mass of women, which is also recommended by the United Nations, is 30%.

The question under research is whether and how the political parties represented in the Riigikogu enhance or inhibit female representation in the Riigikogu, and what strategies the parties implement. In order to achieve gender equality in political representation, the following three types of strategies (Lovenduski and Norris 1993, 8; Norris 2004, 190) are pointed out:

  • Rhetorical,
  • Equal opportunity policies
  • Positive action policies, the so-called „positive discrimination,“

Rhetorical strategies are the weakest of the three strategies. Equal opportunity strategy is aimed at creating equal opportunities for female candidates to support women in electoral campaigning. Equal opportunity strategies can be gender-neutral by their design (Norris 2004, 191). Positive action policies strategy, the so-called “positive discrimination” is directly aimed at increasing the representation of women in elected bodies and can be summed up in the word “quotas”. Quotas can be established by law or be voluntary quotas of political parties. One part of the research is focused on the voluntary party quotas, in particular, on the zipper system, which the following four parties – the Centre Party, the Reform Party, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union and the Social Democratic Party – have agreed to use in the memorandum signed in 2012. If all political parties used the zipper system when drawing up their election lists, as does the Centre Party, women’s representation in the Riigikogu would increase. Creating equal opportunities while drawing up a common list through the implementation of a zipper system could be written into the electoral law – until all Estonian political parties are ready to implement it on a voluntary basis.

Closed lists of political parties are the main agents which help women get elected – if the parties so wish. A political recommendation to the Riigikogu is the following: not to abolish common lists for parties since this would result in lower representation of women. A suggestion for political parties is: the use of zipper method in common lists. Women’s increased representation in the parliament would strengthen the attitudes supporting equality in the whole society and improve democracy.

Full article in Estonian