Gender Equality in Elections: Q&A with Ukrainian Central Election Commissioner Viktoriia Hlushchenko

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Viktoriia Hlushchenko, 29, is the youngest member of the Central Election Commission and one of three women holding management positions in the commission. © CEC

On December 19, 2019, the Verkhovna Rada approved a new electoral code, a significant step for democratic progress and elections in Ukraine. The code introduced important changes, including new mechanisms to ensure equal representation of women and men in elections.

Ahead of International Women's Day, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) spoke with Central Election Commissioner Viktoriia Hlushchenko, who leads gender mainstreaming and gender equality in organizing elections and referendums in Ukraine.

Hlushchenko spoke about women's access to electoral processes in Ukraine and how the new electoral code will ensure gender equality in politics.

In your opinion, do men and women have equal access to political life in Ukraine?

The Constitution, which has the highest legal force, enshrines the principle of equality and the right to vote. Although, from a legal point of view, men and women are equal in their rights and capacities, I believe, that Ukrainian society remains subject to certain stereotypes about social roles that create artificial barriers to women's participation in politics.

Also, some women lack confidence, which stands in the way to participation in political life. Experience in previous election campaigns, including parliamentary elections using a mixed electoral system, shows that women are rarely self-nominated in single-member constituencies. When women’s opportunity to be elected is driven by their desire to run, they do not always actively participate.

At the same time, the socio-political processes that have taken place in Ukraine in recent years and systemic changes to electoral legislation have led to a significant increase in women's participation in political life. Today, in quantitative terms, Parliament has 424 MPs (members of Parliament) elected in the nationwide multimember and single-member constituencies and 87 are women. This is the highest number of women in Parliament since Ukraine's independence.

Speaking of local elections, there are many MPs in city, town, and village councils, but women's representation is still 15 percent in regional oblast councils.

Viktoriia Hlushchenko and her fellow commissioner Vitalii Hren at a meeting of the Central Election Commission. © CEC

The new electoral code introduces tools to ensure gender balance in all elections. What are the tools and how will they affect the electoral process?

The task of the state is to create favorable conditions for improving women's access to politics.

Preconditions for women's parity in Parliament and local self-government have been established. The Law on Political Parties stipulates that statutes of political parties should contain an electoral quota of at least 30 percent women’s and men’s representation on the candidate lists for the Verkhovna Rada and local councils. The same quota was envisaged in the Law on Local Elections. Unfortunately, political parties have not always complied with these requirements due to the lack of effective sanctions.

Today, the electoral code’s parliamentary nomination quota is 40 percent. When nominating candidates for the Rada during the formation of national and regional candidate lists, political parties must ensure the presence in every five seats of each electoral list at least two candidates of each gender – seats from one to five, six to ten and so on.

Violation of this requirement by a political party gives the Central Election Commission a legitimate reason to refuse to register MP candidates nominated by this party.

Although the procedure for parliamentary candidates’ nomination is regulated, we cannot influence the will of the citizens. Nobody can predict how they will vote and choose candidates from open regional election lists. Therefore, it is only after the parliamentary elections that we will be able to assess, in practice, the results of implementing gender quotas. It is important to realize that despite creation of a legal basis, much depends on changing voters’ mentality.

To my mind, setting a 40 percent gender quota at the nomination stage is already a significant step toward increasing women's participation in politics.

As different electoral systems are applicable in parallel at local elections, 40 percent of the gender quota is in formation of electoral lists of deputies to regional and city councils for cities with 90,000 or more voters. The ratio of candidates in the list will be the same as in parliamentary elections – two candidates out of five should be of the opposite gender. This requirement applies to both the single electoral list of candidates from a political party and the regional lists of that party.

As for the electoral system for other councils, a political party must retain a 30 percent gender quota when forming the electoral list of candidates for deputies in cities with fewer than 90,000 voters, as well as district, city, village and town councils.

That is to say, a differentiated approach to formation of electoral rolls is applied in local elections. Again, we're talking about the nomination phase, not the election.

In my opinion, another positive aspect of the electoral code to facilitate women's participation in the election process is the requirement to avoid discrimination and sexism in the coverage of election information. This should affect campaign ethics and accuracy.

The electoral code authors have likely secured a ban on sexism because the gender quota was raised and because of the need to enhance the understanding of legal aspects among participants in the election process.

CEC members Oleksandra Karmaza, Viktoriia Hlushchenko and Andrii Hevko lead a meeting with women's civil society organizations with the goal of increasing gender equality in the electoral process.

In addition to legislative changes, what other measures do you think should be taken to ensure gender equality in the electoral process?

First of all, voter education – increasing willingness to vote for women candidates.

Recently, I came across interesting research on whether there is a difference for voters regarding who they vote for based on gender: whether they choose a man or a woman, given that potential candidates have equal qualifications. The statistics were very pleasing. For the average voter, it is not the gender that matters but the fundamental personal qualities of the candidate.

Recently, with IFES’ assistance, a meeting with leaders of women's civic organizations was held at the CEC. Representatives of women's movements formulated their needs and voiced problems they are facing as well as the roadmap of activities that we will be implementing. For example, cooperation between political parties and civil society must be established.

Moreover, despite establishing a framework for women's representation in the electoral code, and given its novelty, many have not yet been informed of gender quotas and that women and men should be represented equally in local governments and Parliament. Elections affect many factors, so people need to be socially active. I am confused by the passivity of some groups to participate in elections. We need to inform the public about the electoral code, gender quotas, the procedure for forming electoral lists and the importance of participating in elections. This education will increase trust in the authorities.

What advice would you give to other women working in the sector of democracy-building and governance?

Do not be afraid, be more active, constantly work on self-improvement. Do not be afraid of self-realization, do not be afraid of stereotypes, do not be afraid to overcome them, go beyond your comfort zone and participate in elections.

IFES’ cooperation with the Central Election Commission is made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), Global Affairs Canada and UK aid. Established in 1995, CEPPS pools the expertise of three premier international organizations dedicated to democratic development: IFES, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. CEPPS has a 20-year track record of collaboration and leadership in democracy, human rights and governance support, learning from experience, and adopting new approaches and tools based on the ever-evolving technological landscape.

Since 1994, IFES has played a key role in the emergence of democratic electoral processes and institutions in Ukraine. Through this period, IFES has developed a reputation as a reliable source for impartial analysis and high-quality technical assistance in the fields of electoral and political finance law reform, election administration, civil society capacity building, civic education and public opinion research.

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