Leo Platvoet

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Women’s participation in elections

 Document 10202

plenary session Tuesdau 5 October 2004

Mr PLATVOET (Netherlands). – I wish to thank Mr Mooney for his outstanding report on this important matter. The political participation of women in elections and decision-making is one of the fundamental, basic criteria for equal rights between the sexes. The report collects data from all member states of the Council of Europe which show that there is still a lot to do in this area.

If we look at the list of countries, there is a huge gap between Sweden at the top with 45% of its parliament women, and Turkey at the bottom with only 4%. The report points out that countries that have a high percentage have adopted various methods to improve the representation of women in politics. Some have a quota system, and some individual political parties have such systems. Women can be encouraged by measures of positive discrimination. Women’s organisations can be empowered both inside and outside political parties. It depends on the political and cultural situation of the country as to which steps are best, but one thing is clear: something has to be done.

A balanced representation of women on party lists and, as a result, in parliament, has a good influence on women’s participation in elections, but it is of course not sufficient. As the report shows, many more steps have to be taken to increase the participation of women in elections. Women have to feel free to vote and they have to be stimulated to vote with information and awareness-raising campaigns. Of course, all voters, men and women, need to be convinced that their vote matters.

The report describes several obstacles that must be overcome. One of them is family voting, which the rapporteur mentioned. Everyone who has been an observer in the elections in the young democracies in eastern Europe could confirm that family voting is a big problem. It is often not possible to vote secretly as an individual. Whole families arrive at the polling station and vote together. Officials should be trained to avoid such things happening. Proxy voting is another problem, where one person votes for ten or twenty others. That also happened in my country twenty years ago, and of course it contributes to fraud. Different countries have different standards for proxy voting. In Denmark and Romania, for instance, it is not possible to cast a vote on behalf of another person. In the Netherlands, it is possible to vote on behalf of up to two other people.

At first, I thought that the Dutch standard was a good standard, so I tabled an amendment to limit proxy voting to two other votes. However, we had a fruitful discussion in the committee and I withdrew the amendment. Instead, I have put forward an oral amendment to outlaw proxy voting. It was a new experience for me for the committee to take a more radical view than I have of a subject. I have never had that experience in my own parliament either.

I thank Mr Mooney for his report. It is ironic that he will be a victim of the gender-balance approach when he has to resign from the Assembly because the Irish delegation needs at least one woman. Perhaps we will see him again one day.