Domain 1 – Parliamentarians’ presence and capacity in a parliament

This domain addresses gender balance in leading roles and internal working groups.

The basic (although not itself sufficient) element assuring women and men equal influence on the parliament’s work is their numeric balance. To be able to influence the parliament’s work, a sufficient number of women must be in leadership roles.

Despite gradual advances, women’s presence in EU Member State parliaments remains low. An important aspect of this presence is ‘where’ elected women are assigned to work (i.e. in which roles and positions). As stated by the IPU (2011), ‘Once in parliament, women need to hold positions of power and authority’. This implies a need to analyse the composition of the parliament’s leading roles, committees and other internal working groups.

Women are more likely to be relegated to traditionally ‘soft’ portfolio areas – welfare and family policies, employment, health, culture and education – while men generally lead committees dealing with ‘hard’ economic and internal topics – budgetary and financial policies, economic development and trade, home affairs, defence and security, and foreign affairs (IPU: 2011). This effect is described as ‘horizontal segregation’ (Krook and O’Brien: 2012). This hierarchy of portfolios is itself highly gendered, as it reflects the traditionally gendered division of labour within which women should contribute mostly in areas related to ‘care’ (IPU: 2011). Gender-sensitive parliaments promote the idea that all policy areas are important for everyone and act to avoid dominance of a single gender in specific policy areas. Balanced participation of women and men MPs in every parliamentary committee or working group is fruitful for gender equality, as women and men may bring different perspectives.

Attention should be given to the procedures through which the parliament decides on a committee’s composition. In Europe, this is often dictated by customs related to proportionate seat distribution and/or parties’ strategies in the parliament.