Yvonne Galligan, Sara Clavero, and Marina Calloni, Gender Politics and Democracy in Post-Socialist Europe

By Almqvist, Marja | CEU Political Science Journal, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Yvonne Galligan, Sara Clavero, and Marina Calloni, Gender Politics and Democracy in Post-Socialist Europe


Almqvist, Marja, CEU Political Science Journal


Yvonne Galligan, Sara Clavero, and Marina Calloni, Gender Politics and Democracy in Post-Socialist Europe (Opladen and Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2007) 170 pp.

In the year of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, it is timely to look back and contemplate if the resulting transitions in Central and Eastern Europe lived up to the expectations of increased economic, political and social equality for both men and women. Surprisingly not much research has been undertaken on the gendered aspects of these changes, which makes this volume, the first cross-national comparative study of gender and governance in the post socialist countries of the enlarged EU polity, very welcome indeed. The authors explore the persistent under-representation of women in the body politic in ten previously socialist states which gained full membership of the EU in 2006, and ask the question, why the shift to liberal, democratic norms and market economic values which came about through the accession process, has not yet succeed in delivered on its parallel promise of transformation in gender relations?

The study has been well resourced, as part of a wider EU 'Enlargement, Gender and Governance' program. Local research teams in Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Bulgaria gathered primary statistical data on women's political representation. This material has been supplemented with national case studies and interviews with politically engaged women. One of the central assertions is that, in order to understand the role of gender in the construction of liberal democracies, an analysis has to be made of the dynamic interplay between women's agency, culture and political institutions. This requires a cross-disciplinary approach, which, in this case has been made possible through the diversity of research material collated and analysed for the study.

Across all countries under study it was found that women's mobilization is weak, with issues particularly relevant to women largely invisible on the political agenda. In spite of some high profile successes in 2005 the presence of female legislators stood at 17% compared with the EU average of 22%. With the exception of Slovenia and Estonia, gender equality units are reported to be 'hollow', inadequately resourced and placed at the periphery of government infrastructure and concerns. Overall, the authors conclude that there is a disconnect between women on the ground and governing processes. A failure of communication and collaboration between women's civil society organisations, political women, 'femocrats' in state created institutions and academics are preventing profiling of women's issues. The causes for this state of affairs are found to be the legacy of equality politics under communism, coupled with the emergence of nationalist discourses in the turn towards multi-party democracy. The book presents a succinct and useful analysis of the gender dimensions of both these phenomena. However, the fundamental reason, which appears to span the transition from communism to liberal democracy, is the widely held belief that gender differences are natural, rather than socially constructed. The main barriers to women's engagement with the democratic process are the deep-seated, traditional gender stereotypes that allocate family and domestic roles to women. This point is illustrated by quotes from women parliamentarians active in the region, who describe their struggle to balance domestic and political duties and to have their voices heard in a male dominated political landscape. The authors' conclusion that 'political women have yet to appreciate the gendered nature of social relations', seems rather dismissive of these testimonies and there is certainly space for more dialogue between post socialists and western European feminists on definitions and engagement with the concept of gender.

The analytical basis for the study is Hannah Pitkin's theory of political representation. …

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