Men in charge: V4 politics still a men’s club

When it comes to balanced gender representation in politics, V4 countries fall far below the EU and world average. While other European countries have minimized the gender gap in leadership, women still absent from political decision-making in Central Europe. Why?

Photo: M.Śmiarowski /KPRM

When it comes to balanced gender representation in politics, ehtV4 region falls far below the EU and world average. While other European countries have minimized the gender gap in leadership, women are still absent from political decision-making in Central Europe. The only exception is Poland with 27% women in Sejm, the lower house of the parliament, which makes it the regional champion.

When former Czech Minister of Education Petra Buzková, was leaving politics in 2006, she had a message for women who wanted to become politicians: “[she] must be ready for absolutely everything. When she needs a helping hand she will find it at the end of her own arm. She cannot rely on others to make it easier, just because she’s a woman. And if she wants to be taken at least a little bit seriously, she will have to prove she is better than most of her male colleagues.” 1

Even though the media and the general public are not always enthusiastic about all male ministers, their criticisms or doubts are never based on these legislators’ gender. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of Business Psychology at the University College in London, says the constant questioning of women’s ability to manage leadership positions is caused by society’s widespread “inability to discern between confidence and competence.”  2 When it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women is that male manifestations of hubris – often masked as charisma or charm – are commonly mistaken for leadership potential. 3

However, balanced representation of women and men in politics is crucial, because this is exactly the arena where decisions affecting our everyday lives are made. Gender expert, Petr Pavlík, a lecturer at the Department of Gender Studies at Charles University in Prague, comments on this: “Male politicians make decisions about issues concerning women, children and other dependent family members without their better knowledge.” 4 And herein lies the problem.

V4 countries well below the world average

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union database, the V4 region’s national parliaments have under 19% female representation, combined, 5 falling below the 22.8% world average, and surprisingly below that of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, while only slightly above the 18.4% of women active in the parliaments in the Arab States.

Women’s representation in European Parliament fares better. Data gathered from a survey for the V4Revue shows that since 2004, all V4 countries have achieved more than 20% average female representation in their MEPs (see graph 2). In Slovakia’s case, the proportion of elected women MEPs has not yet fallen below 30%. 6 However in Poland and the Czech Republic the proportion of women elected has not yet broken the 24% threshold, while in Hungary it dropped from 38% in 2004, to 19% in only 10 years.

Being on the list is not enough

With over 27% of its MPs being women, Poland is the regional champion for female representation in national parliament. At the opposite end, we find Hungary with women only constituting 9.6% of its MPs. The number of women nominated in elections in all V4 countries is significantly higher than the number of those actually elected. There is evidence that this disproportion is caused by parties’ placement of women nominees towards the bottom of the ballot list, significantly decreasing their chances of getting elected. An analysis of the ballots for the 2014 Czech elections revealed that the first five places on the candidate lists were predominantly held be men, while women were typically at the 21st place or lower. 7

Nevertheless, the numbers are not always so cut and dry, which can be illustrated by the 2010 data for the Czech Republic (see graph 3). That year, although less women were nominated than had been in previous elections, a record number of women won parliamentary seats, increasing female representation in Czech parliament to 22%. In the previous election, women won more nominations, but only 15% of the MPs elected were women – so obviously 2010’s increase was not the result of political parties’ efforts to give women a chance.

According to the analysis produced by Fórum 50%’s, a Prague-based NGO specializing in women in politics, this anomaly was the result of the wide use of so-called preferential voting 8 in 2010, which allowed voters to change the order of candidates on their ballots, ranking them by preference. In many cases voters supported candidates, who were at the bottom of the list and/or specifically women – 14 of the 44 women MPs were elected due to voters’ direct support. 9

The story behind the numbers

Since Poland is the only country in the region using gender quotas for their legislative candidate ballots, it is no surprise that the country has the largest female representation in their lower house. The quota, adopted in 2011, is embedded in electoral law and is therefore binding for all political parties, and it states that ballots must include no less than 35% of both male and female candidates, regardless of their order. 10

Even though the law passed through the standard legislative process, public pressure was crucial for its adoption. “Gender quotas are a result of women activists’ hard work. (…) A whole new movement has risen in relation to such efforts,” says Małgorzata Fuszara, professor of Social Science at Warsaw University. 11

Although you couldn’t tell from the numbers (see graph 3) the situations in the Czech Republic and Hungary regarding provisions that guarantee women and men the same conditions, are quite similar. In both countries we find political parties using voluntary quotas  12 or similar measures, such as internal party regulations or recommendations. 13

So far attempts have been made in both countries – three in Hungary and two in the Czech Republic – to push through electoral gender quota legislation  14. Réka Várnagy, a professor at Corvinus University in Budapest published a 2013 paper that maps the history of the debate around the Hungarian bills. 15 The discussion offers insight into the political elite’s view of the question – and reveals that most parties had not developed a clear stand on the issue. 16

Várnagy said the arguments against the quotas included fears: that “token-women” would get elected instead of women who deserve to be because of their merit; that it would limit the rights of voters to decide who they send to the parliament; that political culture should not be changed by one act; and that other underrepresented groups would start asking for similar rights.

The arguments in support of the quotas touched upon the democratic deficit created by women’s underrepresentation, the effectiveness of quotas and their relevance to the promotion of gender equality.  17 According to Várnagy the common denominator in all failed attempts to introduce legal gender quotas in Hungarian politics, were the bills’ introduction by individual MPs that lacked party support, so legislative pushes were not even taken seriously. 18

In an interview with the V4Revue, Jana Smiggels Kavková, chair of Fórum 50%, describes a very similar story with the Czech Republic’s two failed bills, both of which were initiated by men – the previous and current minister for human rights. The first bill was not submitted to the government, and the second made it further, but according to Smiggels Kavková, after the inter-ministerial consultation process, it was revised to better correspond to the ruling party’s newly endorsed internal party quota.

So while the government legislative council approved the bill, it was voted down in June 2015.  19 Very similar arguments to those posed in Hungary emerged in the Czech debate. On one hand, Human Rights Minister Dienstbier stressed that women and men should be treated equally in politics, that gender-based barriers should be eliminated and that society’s full capacity should be utilized.  20 On the other, Andrej Babiš, chair of the second biggest coalition party, the centrist ANO, called gender quotas “nonsense,”  21 and then the second vice PM and leader of the Christian Democratic Party went further, calling the bill “anti-constitutional,”  22 and saying women shouldn’t be “pushed” into politics.  23

Although numbers in Slovakia are very similar to the ones in the Czech Republic, women’s representation in national parliament oscillates between 15% and 20% – there are no quotas whatsoever and a bill introducing them has not been submitted either. Professor Darina Malová based at Comenius University in Bratislava told the Slovak online magazine Ženy v meste that it was unfortunate that, “a debate about (gender) quotas in Slovakia had not moved beyond the traditional perception of men as active beings and women as passive ones.”  24

Women, know your place!

When we look at even higher positions, especially state leaders, the situation across the whole region is even worse. There have never been any women presidents in the V4 countries, no matter the electoral system. Be it direct election as in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic,  or indirect election as in Hungary, where parliament decides on that office – not one woman has been elected even though they run for president.ref] Among others Magdalena Ogórek and Henryka Bochniarz in Poland; Iveta Radičová or Magdaléna Vášáryová in Slovakia; Zuzana Roithová or Jana Bobošíková in the CR; and Katalin Szili and Krisztina Morvai in Hungary were all candidates for the position. [/ref]

A few women – three in Poland and one Slovakia – have managed to infiltrate the region’s prime ministerial ranks. However the Czech Republic and Hungary are still waiting for their first woman in this office. Poland’s Hanna Suchocka was the first woman PM elected in the region, serving between 1992 and 1993. The next women to hold this office in the region was Slovakia’s Iveta Radičová, serving between 2010 and 2013, more than 15 years after Suchocka. In September 2014 Ewa Kopacz took office in Poland, and then handed it directly to current Polish PM Beata Szydło in November 2015.

It seems that more women in politics increases the chances of women getting elected to the top positions. In Poland’s last election both major parties nominated women for the prime ministerial post.  25 In a global context the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s numbers confirm this correlation. IPU’s ranking focused on women’s representation in parliaments is led by very similar countries as its ranking focused on ministerial positions and head of states. 26

When it comes to ministerial positions in the V4 since 1990, women have usually been responsible for “soft” ministries. In her analysis for the European Parliament, Kristina Koldinská, an instructor at the Faculty of Law at Charles University in Prague, states that while men are associated with so-called “power departments” like economics, women are associated more with humanistic and social spheres, which are generally perceived as less powerful and prestigious.  27 On the one hand, the survey prepared for the V4Revue confirms the assumption that most women ministers have been responsible for social affairs, family, education, healthcare, culture or regional development; however on the other hand, we do find several exceptions. 28

Why are there so few women?

In the V4 countries it is apparent that most structural factors, like access to education and paid work  29 do not adequately explain women’s underrepresentation in politics, but others can help us understand the discrepancies. One structural roadblock is the current political culture, i.e. openness to gender equality, and institutional factors such as legislation, party and electoral systems or nomination processes. 30

Ágota Scharle illustrates that gender stereotypes still prevail in the general publics of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (Slovakia was not included in her research).  31 The numbers also confirm the presumption that proportional systems are more open than majoritarian ones  32 to women’s participation and supports US-based political scientist, Miki Caul Kittilson’s assumptions about factors that influence women’s representation in specific political parties.  33 Barriers on the side of society or the political system are closely intertwined with several individual ones such as the above-mentioned gender biased competences assessment, women’s self-confidence or their relation to power.  34

So few women and so much to do

As Professor Fuszara notes, the number of women in politics and the actual representation of women are two different things.  35 Swedish political scientist Drude Dahlerup agrees, saying that activists often blame women politicians for not sufficiently promoting feminist demands. At the same time, when women politicians create non-partisan caucuses around women’s issues, parties are quick to accuse them of betraying the party line. Dahlerup further points out that various women understand “female interests” differently according to their own situations, experiences and opinions.  36 In short, even though there are salient women’s issues, like domestic violence, sanitary product taxes and reproductive rights, different women have various stances on them.

A very current example of this principle in action in the V4 region involves Polish PM Beata Szydło of the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). Back in March a heated discussion about the absolute ban of abortions took place, with women’s rights activists strictly rejected this eventual step.  37 Nevertheless, Szydło supported the motion, and voted for it without explaining her reasons.  38

However, Professor Malová, believes that both conservative and liberal women MPs could agree on issues such as higher spending on education or healthcare.  39 Similarly, Petr Pavlík thinks that if women were adequately represented they would bring new topics, other than men, and that the level of corruption would decrease.  40 He points out that these policy and process changes would not be caused by women’s inherent difference from men, but because they have been socialized differently.  41

Women should not be the only ones expected to promote “women’s interests” or gender equality, and there are also men supporting such causes. A recent example of this is President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who called for more female commissioner candidates and then delivered on his commitment.  42

Diverse paths to equality

Figures capturing the situation in the V4 region, as well as in the world, prove that gender quotas are a proven and reliable tool for making politics more equal.  43 Ten out of 11 EU countries with women making up at least 30% of their national parliaments, use some type of gender quota; Denmark, the eleventh country, used them until 1996. 44

Nevertheless, gender quotas solely work on their own. Together with them – or as their alternative – various supporting measures are introduced in order to eliminate prevailing gender specific barriers. The first step a state or party can make is to proclaim their support for gender equality. Among other measures belong addressing potential women members or candidates, offering mentorships, networking opportunities, trainings and capacity building exercises and simply promoting women in the media, etc.

Parties can also establish special factions or committees for women’s issues and gender equality, build a databases of women interested in political posts and formalize internal party processes and procedures in order to ensure their transparency.

Petr Pavlík points out the how necessary awareness raising and education are to gender inequality’s eradication.  45 Also important is what Réka Várnagy calls the “gender mainstreaming of parliamentary procedures, activities and budgets,”  46, in other words insuring that all activities, procedures and decisions are gender sensitive. She also stresses the need for balanced political and private life (the avoidance of late-night parliamentary sessions or childcare provisions), gender-balanced appointments to parliamentary committees, and also gender-sensitive language. Várnagy assures that such measures are helping both women and men. 47

Apparently, there are many ways to increase women’s representation in politics. And of course the old saying “where there is a will, there is a way” applies here too. When it comes to officiating gender equality, it remains to be seen whether the V4 countries’ representatives and political parties will follow the rest of the EU’s lead.

The full data visualisation is available here. In case you would like to receive the full data set for either country or the whole V4, send us an email at rebecca(at)

The article is part of the project “Learning about causes and effects of gender (im)balance in Central Europe” funded by the European Union flag_yellow_high
The content series was created by the V4Revue, not by the funder.


  1. “Buzková: Když neodejdu teď, tak nikdy,” Ona Dnes, March 23, 2006, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  2. T. Chamorro-Premuzic, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?,” Harvard Business Review, August 22, 2013, (accessed June 4, 2013).
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Rozhovory o ženách v politice: Petr Pavlík,” Fórum 50%, November 3, 2011, (accessed June 4, 2013).
  5. The Inter-Parliamentary Union only includes the single or lower houses of parliament in its database. See: Inter-Parliamentary Union database, April 1, 2016, (accessed June 4, 2013).
  6. The 30% threshold is believed to be a critical mass. See: D. Dahlerup, “From a Small to a Large Minority: Women in Scandinavian Politics,“ Scandinavian Political Studies, 1988, 11(4):275–298; cf. Pavlas referring to Kanter: T. Pavlas, “Nesnesitelná tíha kvót,“ Deník Referendum, April 27, 2016,  (accessed June 4, 2013).
  7. On the 21st or worse places there were 343 out 1,588 total women candidates, on the first two places there were 993 out of 4,311 total men candidates. For more details see: Kandidující a zvolení do PSP ČR 2013, Český statistický úřad, 2014, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  8. In their parliaments’ lower houses, the CR, Poland and Slovakia select winning candidates via “preferential vote,” or list proportional representation, a tool used within many proportional electoral systems, where candidates are determined from their positions on closed lists. There is one exception: voters can use their preferential votes for any particular candidate on a list, and if a candidate gets enough votes, and moves into first place of the list, they gain the mandate no matter their original position. See: Glossary of Terms, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  9. “Co nového přinesly volby v roce 2010?,” Fórum 50%, June 9, 2010, (accessed June 4, 2016); c.f. M. Stegmaier, J. Tosun, K. Vlachová, “Women’s Parliamentary Representation in the Czech Republic: Does Preference Voting Matter?,” East European Politics and Societies, 2014, 28(1):187–204.
  10. For more details see Polish Election Code (excerpts), 2011, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  11. Małgorzata Fuszara, at the international conference How to Support the Balanced Representation of Women and Men in Politics? Prague, January 25, 2016.
  12. For more details see: Global Database of Quotas for Women, (accessed June 4, 2016). According to Miki Caul Kittilson, party ideology is likely determines whether or not parties see fit to adopt quotas. See: M. Caul, “Women’s Representation in Parliament: The Role of Political Parties,” Party Politics, 5(1):83, 1991, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  13. M. Druciarek & A. Niżyńska, (No) Women in Politics is a Common Strategy for East-Central Europe Possible? Institut Spraw Publicznych, 2014, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  14. Ibid.
  15. R. Várnagy, Women’s representation in the Hungarian Parliament, OSCE, 2013, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  16. The two large parties were divided. Among the Socialists, pro and con arguments were raised by well-known female politicians, while most conservative Fidesz politicians abstained from voting. Disapproval was expressed in the ranks of the Christian-Democrats and the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), and even within the more liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) party, whose members proposed the bills. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. V. Šprincová & M. Mottlová, Kvóty a další opatření pro vyšší zastoupení žen v politice, Fórum 50%, o.p.s., 2015, pp 18n, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  20. “MF Dnes: Dienstbier: Kvóty pro ženy omezí korupci v politice,” Vlá, June 29, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  21. “Lidovci i Babiš odmítají kvóty pro ženy na kandidátkách, což chce ČSSD,”, June 24, 2015,  (accessed June 4, 2016).
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Vláda odmítla návrh ČSSD na kvóty pro ženy na kandidátkách.” Český rozhlas, July 1, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  24. “Kvóty pre ženy potrebujeme, zmenia veci rýchlo, hovorí profesorka Malová,” Ženy v mestě, November 26, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  25. “All-female fight for Polish premiership,” The Telegraph, October 25, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  26. Women in Politics: 2015 (poster), 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  27. K. Koldinská, The Policy on Gender Equality in the Czech Republic, Directorate General for Internal Policies, Policy Departments C: Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  28. Among them Slovak Minister of Finance Brigita Schmögnerová (1998–2002),Polish ministers of finance, Teresa Lubińska (2005–2006) and Zyta Gilowska (2006–2007), Czech Minister of Defense Vlasta Parkanová (2007–2009), Slovak Minister of Defense Iveta Radičová (2011–2012), Polish Minister of Interior Teresa Piotrowska (2014–2015), Hungarian Minister of Interior Mónika Lamperth (2002–2006), Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Zdenka Kramplová (1997–1998), and Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Fotyga (2006–2007).
  29. In the EU and V4 context, women as a group are equally or better educated than men, and we find them across various professions.
  30. H. Havelková, “Jako v loterii: politická reprezentace žen v politice po roce 1989,” H. Hašková, A. Křížková, M. Linková (eds.), Mnohohlasem: vyjednávání ženských prostorů po roce 1989, Sociologický ústav AV ČR, 2006, pp 31n, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  31. A. Scharle, Attitudes to gender roles in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Budapest Institute and Institute of Economics, Hungary, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  32. While Poland, CR and Slovakia use the proportional system in their lower parliamentary houses, Hungary uses a mixed member proportional system (see: Glossary of Terms, accessed June 4, 2016,, which may partially be responsible for the lowest proportion of women MPs. See:  M. Druciarek & A. Niżyńska, (No) Women in Politics,
  33. According to Caul, party ideology as well as a party’s “newness” in the system influences women’s empowerment. While Hungarian right-wing Fidesz or Jobbik have never had more than 9% female representation in parliament, the newly established Polish Nowoczesna boasts 43% female representation in the Sejm, while one third of the Czech Věci veřejné’s (now marginal) parliamentarians are women. The champion is the Czech Green Party with 50% of their elected MPs being women. In accordance with Kittilson’s assumption, socialist and social democratic parties have results comparable to conservative ones. The only communist party in the region (at least by name), the Czech Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, regularly has significantly more women in parliament compared to other elected parties. See: M. Caul, “Women’s Representation in Parliament,”
  34. See e.g.: P. Rakušanová & I. Václavíková-Helšusová, “Ženy v mužské politice,” H. Hašková, A. Křížková, M. Linková (eds.), Mnohohlasem: vyjednávání ženských prostorů po roce 1989, Sociologický ústav AV ČR, 2006, pp 43–48, (accessed June 4, 2016); T. Pavlas, “Pánové, máme problém a jsme to my,“ Deník Referendum, May 25, 2016, (accessed June 4, 2016); J. Smiggels Kavková, V. Šprincová, “Ženy v ofsajdu aneb Hraje se v politice fair play?,” Hospodářské noviny, August 3, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016). In relation to the so-called “master-suppression techniques” see Power Booklet: A Quick DIY on How to Obtain Real Personal Power, pp 7-11, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  35. Małgorzata Fuszara, Prague, January 25, 2016.
  36. D. Dahlerup, “Representing Women. Defining Substantive Representation of Women,” M. Escobar-Lemmon, M. M. Taylor-Robinson, (eds.), Representation: The Case of Women, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp 58–75.
  37. “Protesters call for near-total ban on abortions in Poland,“ The Guardian, May 15, 2016,  (accessed June 4, 2016); L. Berardi, “Poland debates ban on abortion,” V4 Revue, April 20, 2016, (accessed June 4, 2016). Paradoxically enough, the ban was discussed not long after pope Francis proclaimed that priests can forgive women who’ve had abortions: “Pope Francis says all priests can forgive women who’ve had abortions,” CNN, September 1, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  38. “Polish prime minister favours total ban on abortion,“ The Guardian, March 31, 2016, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  39. “Kvóty pre ženy potrebujeme, zmenia veci rýchlo, hovorí profesorka Malová,” Ženy v mestě, November 26, 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  40. “Rozhovory o ženách v politice: Petr Pavlík,” Fórum 50%, November 3, 2011, (accessed June 4, 2016); c.f. studies focused on gender aspects of corruption: D. Dollar, et al., “Are Women Really the ‘Fairer‘ Sex? Corruption and Women in Government,“ Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2001, 46(4):423–429; A. Swamy, et al., “Gender and corruption,“ Journal of Development Economics, 2001, 64(1):25–55.
  41. Ibid.
  42. “Juncker delivers on commitment to female commissioners,”, September 10, 2014, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  43. See: V. Šprincová & M. Mottlová, Kvóty a další opatření pro vyšší zastoupení žen v politice, Fórum 50%, o.p.s., 2015, (accessed June 4, 2016).  
  44. For more details see: Global Quota Project Database, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  45. “Rozhovory o ženách v politice: Petr Pavlík,” Fórum 50%, November 3, 2011, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  46. R. Várnagy, Women’s representation in the Hungarian Parliament, OSCE, 2013, (accessed June 4, 2016).
  47. Ibid.
Veronika Šprincová

Veronika Šprincová

is an analyst, lecturer and project coordinator in NGO Fórum 50 %. In her work she specializes in the situation of women in politics and feminist political philosophy. She graduated in Gender Studies and studies Political Philosophy in a Ph.D. Programme at Charles University in Prague.