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Media and increased women political power in the EU elections

Equal representation of women and men in political decision-making is a goal for the EU elections, organisation umbrella European Women’s Lobby states in a manifesto. Question is if the big election year 2024 will increase political power for women – at least in the EU?  The EU elections are held on June 6 – 9 when citizens in EU member states will elect 720 members of the parliament in Brussels – 15 more than five years ago. 

“Social media platforms can give women candidates and politicians a direct channel to reach the public and avoid gender-biased media coverage, but they can be far from ‘women-friendly”, the European Parliament argues in a compilation of data for the elections discussing alternatives to why gender balances is not yet reached.

“The International Parliamentary Union 2016 survey of women parliamentarians confirms that ‘social media have become the number one place in which psychological violence – particularly in the form of sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats – is perpetrated against women parliamentarians.” 

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Research on the influence of media coverage of women candidates and politicians, both globally and in Europe, shows that under- and misrepresentation of women in media has a negative impact on women’s aspirations and electoral success, but higher media visibility can help to get more women elected, the European Parliament argues.

“Moreover, 60.5 % of the respondents said that such acts are ‘strongly motivated by the clear-cut positions they had taken on particular issues’, and that taking a stance on ‘controversial subjects, such as defending women’s rights and human rights in general’ had made them particular targets of sexist behaviour and acts of violence.”

The EU has committed to achieving gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of justice, equality and democracy. Mainstream parties, but not all, are pushing for further gender balance. 

European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) says that on a scale where 100 equals gender balance, Sweden and Finland are currently the only EU countries to score over 90 on ‘political power’ based on the share of women ministers, members of parliament or members of regional assemblies.

France, Austria and Belgium have scored further progress from a high starting point. Estonia, Italy, Lithuania and Portugal have made significant progress from a lower starting point. 

The parliament’s data shows that from a low 16.6% in the first directly elected parliament in 1979, the percentage of female Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) rose continuously after each election, reaching 41% following the 2019 election. 

“This figure now stands at 39.9 % – above the world average for national parliaments (26.9 % at the beginning of 2024) and above the European average for national parliaments (31.6 %).”

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“However, there are large differences between Member States. At one end of the spectrum, a growing number of countries are at or around parity. At the start of 2024, the number of women MEPs from Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden even surpassed that of men. 

The first-ever female President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has set a goal of constituting a gender-balanced College of Commissioners. At the start of the current Commission term, 12 out of 27 the Commissioners were women, compared to 9 out of 28 at the end of the previous term. The College is now made up of 13 women (48.1%) and 14 men. One of the three executive vice-presidents and two of the other five vice-presidents are women.

von der Leyen has committed to achieving full equality at all levels of Commission management by the end of 2024. 

The parliament’s compilation shows that men outnumber women in the Member States’ national parliaments but the share of women has increased in all national parliaments but two (Germany and Slovenia, where there was a slight regress).

“The latest Eurobarometer survey on gender equality in politics goes back to 2017. It shows that 86 % of respondents thought that a female political representative can represent their interests, with women being more likely to agree than men (88% of women compared to 83% of men).” 

“Views on the existing distribution of power and on whether there should be more women in decision-making positions than there currently are, were more nuanced and gendered. Among women, 62 % thought that there should be more women in political decision-making positions in their country, while only 44% of men agreed with this statement. Some 51% of respondents shared the view that gender equality in politics had been achieved.”

Concerning the controversial idea about quotas to improve gender balance, the parliament notes that a number of Member States (Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia) have binding gender quotas for the European elections. 

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