There is a “gender gap” in European politics. We may have the most gender-balanced European Commission in history, but the distribution of political, economic and social power is still where the European Institute for Gender Equality registers the biggest gap between men and women across the EU.
Women have had the vote in much of Europe for a century (though some EU countries only adopted women’s suffrage as late as the 1960s). Yet representation is still far from equal in most Member States; in 2019, 72% of ministers in EU Member State governments were men and 70% of members of parliament were male.
The gender gap in political participation is closing. Historically, fewer women have participated in European elections than men (with a great deal of national variation; for example, in France during the 2014 EU elections, men were 11% more likely to vote than women, while in Sweden women were 16% more likely to vote than men). Overall, the gender participation gap in European elections shrank from 4% in 2014 to only 3% in 2019. Despite more equal rates of participation, difference in representation persist.
Do men and women see politics differently? There have been studies suggesting differences in voting behaviour between men and women. However, it’s important to stress that the research suggests a great deal of regional and national variation. In Western Europe, for example, women tend to vote for more leftist political parties than men, while in post-Communist countries the gender difference is reversed (with women voting for more right-leaning parties). This would suggest differences based on society not biology, with the biggest drivers being “resources, economic development, gender role socialisation, and political context”.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from HJo, who believes that men and women are “fundamentally different”. Not “better” or “worse”, just different. But is he right? Or is it all about social context? And do male and female politicians have different political styles?
To get a response, we spoke to Věra Jourová, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency in the new Von der Leyen Commission. How would she respond?
To get another perspective, we also put the same comment to Serap Altinisik, Head of Office and EU Representative at the Plan International EU Office. What would she say to HJo?
Does a politician’s gender affect their politics? Why is political representation still so unequal across the EU when it comes to gender? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!