Other projects

E-democracy projects

Forum History


The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.


Forum previous sessions


(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.


(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges



''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.




(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century


 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..




(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"


The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.




(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"


This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.




(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"


The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.



Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"



The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.


Previous projects


Democratic institutions work")


The participation of young
women in political life

16-17 September 2003
European Youth Centre
Council of Europe
Seminar “The participation of Young Women in Political Life”

16-17 September 2003, European Youth Centre - Strasbourg

Integrated project “Making democratic institutions work”

Council of Europe


I. Final report 5
by Isabel Romão

II. Targeted measures to encourage the participation of
young women in political life 21
by Mariette Sineau

Seminar conclusions 29

Appendix 31

1. Women in politics: key dates in Council of Europe activities 31
2. Women in parliament 34

Final report

Isabel Romão


Women are under-represented in decision making in general and more specifically in political decision making, whether in political parties, parliaments, governments and regional and local decision-making bodies. They are also under-represented in public office and in the civil service. We can also observe a low participation rate by young women in conventional and/or institutional politics. This calls into question the full exercise of their rights of citizenship and leads to decisions and policies which fail to take account of their specific problems and their views.

This problem is a question both of justice and of equal rights. As Mariette Sineau has pointed out, the political rights of women embodied in the laws of most European countries are not fully applied in practice, especially as regards the appointment of women to decision-making positions.

Committee of Ministers Recommendation No. R (97) 3 on youth participation and the future of civil society notes that Europe is experiencing a real crisis in terms of participation in institutional life and the voluntary sector, and especially in traditional structures. It emphasises “the crucial role of youth participation in the development of civil society … as a resource for the constant renewal of democratic society”.

In fact, Europe is in the throes of a crisis of political representation, reflected in high abstention rates in elections and a membership shortfall for political parties. Furthermore, the majority of young people do not perceive gender discrimination and stereotyping as a problem and, consequently, commitment to gender equality is not always seen as a struggle in which they should become involved. Young women’s participation in and access to decision making are fields of which we have a poor knowledge.

The basis for this seminar was the extensive work on youth participation and equality already carried out by the various Council of Europe bodies involved in organising it, and it was the result of their co-operation. It has been an opportunity to reflect on these phenomena, to define the obstacles which prevent young women from participating in political life and gaining access to decision making, or which contribute to their under-representation in that process; it has enabled us to exchange experiences and good practices, and to identify the strategies to be adopted to support women individually and collectively, and the support that the various social players can give them. We have therefore looked into the differences existing between east and west and between north and south. All this has led to the recommendations for future action in this field. Above all, however, this seminar will be of particular interest because it has helped to combine two approaches, that of youth participation and that of gender equality.

Several factors contribute to the under-representation of women and young women in political decision making and their low participation rate in conventional and/or institutional politics.

The participants in this seminar stressed, first of all, the poor socialisation of most women for political and public participation owing to the fact that such agents and means of socialisation as the family, school and the media convey models and values which inhibit their participation and which would need to be overcome. These models are not only internalised by each individual, but are also interwoven into the very organisation of society.

Historical, cultural and ideological factors determine perceptions of female and male roles, giving rise to a gender ideology which assigns the private sphere to women and the public domain to men and conditions society’s expectations in relation to each individual and each person’s expectations in relation to him or herself, determining people’s experience of life, the way they perceive themselves and how each individual views his or her participation in public and political life.

There are also young peoples’ economic and social circumstances. Although unemployment is rising in most of our societies and affects young women in particular, influencing their willingness and ability to participate, this question was not raised. On the other hand, the participants focused on the low income of young women and the lack of funding, not only to promote young women’s participation through awareness-raising and training, but also to support the organisation of campaigns to promote their election.

Factors related to the organisation of social life, in particular the social division of labour which leaves women little scope for participation, the operation of the labour market, insufficient support for families or maladjustment to the requirements of participation, were also mentioned.

Lastly, we have factors related to the design and organisation of political life and political parties. We shall be looking at the latter in greater detail in view of their control over access to elected assemblies, which gives them a decisive role in building a true democracy.

The discussion showed that young women cannot be regarded as a uniform category and that their situation differs in many respects throughout Europe. We must therefore be aware of cultural diversity because the solutions and strategies applied and the role of the different social players will vary from one country to another. The need to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue and the role that women can play in that was strongly emphasised. In fact, the European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ) recently set up a group of specialists working on this subject.

The obstacles are therefore getting worse for some groups of young women who, for this reason, find themselves excluded from participation in political life or confronted with greater difficulties. Facilitating their access to the labour market is one of the first measures to be adopted.

This applies particularly to young women from minorities, who suffer three kinds of discrimination. In some countries, even second-generation immigrant women are denied the most basic civic rights, such as the right to vote. We must therefore concentrate on promoting the participation of young women from minority ethnic communities in political life, in order to guarantee that their specific needs, interests and circumstances are taken into account, in the same way as those of men from those communities. Their participation in decision making could also prove extremely useful to society as a whole because it would probably help to strengthen social cohesion and foster multicultural and interfaith dialogue. The same applies to young women with disabilities, often the victims of prejudice with regard to their ability to participate, and to women living in rural areas, who are relatively isolated from economic and information resources.

Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation No. 1530 (2001) on the situation and prospects of young people in rural areas urges the governments of member states to:

      encourage young people to participate in local political life in rural areas (through consultation, encouragement to participate in decisions concerning them, youth councils, etc.) [and to] encourage the development of communications, transport and new information technologies in rural areas, especially the most remote ones.

Part of this seminar was devoted to the participation of young women in political parties, in decision making and in advisory bodies at local, national and international level. We considered the changes needed in political parties, political structures and, in general, the institutions of representative democracy. We also thought about the conditions needed for young women to be able to become more involved in political circles and pursue political careers, and to be able to participate more actively and effectively in the decision-making process.

A strong correlation between the electoral system and the number of women elected to national parliaments was highlighted. It emerged that, in countries which have a proportional representation system, with each party presenting a list of candidates, it has often been easier for women to secure better representation on political bodies than in first-past-the-post, single-member systems, where being well known is the decisive factor in the choice of the candidate.

However, if the proportional representation system is used in elections taking place within a small geographical area, as in the case of municipal elections, it can be almost as unfavourable to women as the single-member system, because it is more difficult for party leaders to impose women in electable positions.

Legislative measures which impose a system of quotas, parity thresholds or target figures on political parties in order to achieve balanced representation tend to be adopted by countries where progress in women’s access to political decision-making positions has been very slow, where the percentage of women elected is low or where political parties are not actively pursuing that aim. This is the case in Belgium, France and more recently, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

Some countries have introduced amendments to their constitution making it compulsory to ensure balanced participation of women and men in all political decision-making bodies. Legislative reform can thus be extended to electoral laws and cover local, regional, national and supranational elections in order to achieve balanced participation of women and men and guarantee a certain percentage of elected representatives of each sex.

This being so, encouragement should be given to balanced representation of women and men, including young women and men, in elected bodies and participation structures for young people, such as youth parliaments, and participation on a parity basis should be supported.

Legislative and administrative measures must also be adopted in order to achieve balanced representation of women and men in public office, at all levels of public service – local, regional, national and international - and among elected representatives at all those levels. It should not be forgotten, however, that legislative measures, although successful, are not sufficient to achieve balanced representation.

The political culture was identified as being one of the main barriers to participation by young women. Political priorities are established by men, and men create the political culture and climate. The culture of political parties and politics in general is still influenced by numerous prejudices and by operating models, interests and traditions that leave little room for new, unconventional ideas. The political system is made by men aged 50 and over, and the participants in the seminar frequently stressed that they were subject to paternalism.

If, in our society, the qualities deemed necessary for public and political participation, the values associated with politics and the models of participation are generally male-oriented and perceived as such, not only in political circles but in society as a whole, the involvement of women in these spheres may be perceived as unnatural or non-legitimate, not only by women themselves but by politicians in general.

Women often have a negative image of politics, seeing it as a place of confrontation. They regard it as something “dirty” and, above all, remote from their concerns and from their day-to-day existence. The spheres of politics allocated to women are also determined by stereotypes.

Because they are a minority, many women in government tend to adopt male operating models and priorities and forget to help other women who want to become involved in political and public life.

The growing presence of women in political decision-making positions may contribute to the creation of models for women in politics. This is necessary to build female political identities and helps show that politics is a field relevant to them and one where it is in their interest to become involved. Women in such positions should therefore be made better known.

The recruitment and selection processes underlying this political culture are necessarily favourable to the non-replacement of those holding decision-making positions. The chances of selection or appointment of women are heavily determined by the criteria used in these processes, as well as by the existence of measures of positive discrimination to promote female participation or guarantee balanced representation of both sexes in the different spheres of decision-making. Among these measures, the adoption of quotas by political parties has been the subject of protracted debate. It has nevertheless proved successful in the countries where parties have taken this initiative.

Multiple office-holding in many member states reduces the opportunities for women and young women to gain access to elected office.

The following measures are important here:

- promoting the professional status of women in order to reduce the gap between public and private spheres, increase the range of electable women and enable them to enter a career in politics;

- explicitly encouraging young women to stand for election;

- focusing particular attention on women who are candidates in local elections, as the holding of elected office at local level is often the starting point for a successful political career at national level.

Women’s participation in political parties is confined to the less visible fields. This invisibility of the work done by female politicians might possibly make them less attractive to those who have the power of selection.

The setting up of women’s departments within political parties was a fairly controversial topic. While they may prove very useful for women’s integration into the political process, they might also enable parties to shirk their responsibilities with regard to equality issues. A closer look at the budgets allocated by political parties to equality issues would provide a more accurate assessment of their commitment to this cause.

The working patterns and rituals associated with political life may contribute to exclusion from political participation. The participants emphasised the need to reorganise political life in terms of work-life balance, in particular by adapting working methods and working time in politics to the need for reconciliation of political and family life and by creating working conditions that are favourable to this.

Women’s increasing integration on the labour market is not yet accompanied by equal participation by men in family and domestic duties. In fact, few men make use of their paternity or parental leave. This creates difficulties for women who want to exercise their rights of public and political participation. The difficulties are worse for younger women who have only recently started their married life and have young children.

The launching of a public debate on the issues of equality and participation, leading to a reappraisal of the traditional division of female and male roles, and making men more aware of the responsibilities they can take on in the family and domestic sphere and of the potential benefit to themselves and to society, can help to create better conditions for the participation of women.

Among other things, the provision of childcare facilities, of acceptable quality and cost, the reorganisation of time and space, and organisation of the services which these young women need so that they are situated close to their place of work would enable women to participate more easily in political and public life. The needs of the new types of family, such as single-parent families, separated or unmarried women with children, should also be taken into account by governments.

Formal participatory structures are typified by an atmosphere which is often unwelcoming for young women, who have difficulty feeling at ease in a male setting operating in a formal way and using the language of power.

It is necessary to:

- support the development of political and civic participation structures at local, regional and central government level that are welcoming to younger women.

- encourage the setting-up of equality bodies within political parties, parliaments and governments and make them aware of the need to promote the participation of younger women and their access to decision-making/elected or appointed positions;

- be attentive to young women’s needs and prospects in order to make the structures and organisation of political life and decision-making more welcoming for them.

The participants in the seminar also stressed the importance of networks, not only for women who are already in politics but also for those who do not hold a representative mandate. Younger women should be encouraged to establish networks and alliances amongst themselves, with political leaders, and between youth organisations and the authorities at national, regional and local level.

The European Women’s Lobby project for integrating young women’s perspectives into European and national politics through their increased participation in organised actions and decision making is an example of an initiative resulting in the creation of a European network supported by national networks.

The creation of networks dealing specifically with the question of women and decision making is also one of the strategies adopted with a view to encouraging and helping young women to enter political life and the decision-making process and to remain there. This applies to coalitions of women politicians and women from the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of gender equality which have been formed over the last few years in several countries of south-east Europe. The activities of the Stability Pact’s Gender Task Force have proved very useful for these coalitions, and more generally for NGOs in south-east Europe. Its capacity for action should be supported.

Young women: from active citizenship to political decision making

During the seminar we also considered how to help young women to participate, enter political life and gain access to decision-making, and which players could help to attain these objectives. We looked into the role of education, training and awareness-raising in promoting participation by young women in the structures of civil society and their work.

The fight against persistent discrimination and gender stereotyping was considered essential by the participants because the prejudices underlying society’s perceptions of the two sexes and the values by which their education is governed have repercussions on the modes and areas of participation of girls and boys and, ultimately, on the participation of women and men.

The difference in socialisation of women and men affects the perception and learning of political roles. Young women take on responsibilities, but often lack self-confidence and are afraid of achieving positions of power.

It is particularly important to educate or train families to question stereotypes. The family should be the first egalitarian environment in which children are socialised. School takes up and passes on the models marked by gender-based discrimination and domination which our societies convey, but it can also help to eradicate stereotypes concerning the role of women and men in all areas of life and promote the learning of active citizenship. In this area, the following steps need to be taken:

- incorporate gender equality at all levels of the school system from the earliest possible age, in order to instil in young people the values of justice and participation necessary for the effective exercise of democratic citizenship and for the building of a partnership between women and men in the private and public spheres and in the area of democracy. This is still far from being a common practice in education systems;

- ensure that a concern for gender equality and a gender perspective can be seen in all curricula and in the training provided for teachers, who should be equipped with the skills needed to prepare girls and boys to play an active role in the workplace, in the family and at all levels of society;

- train girls to use the Internet to enable them not only to become more familiar with this technology, but also to become critical users of the Internet as a political resource and a networking instrument;

- ensure that educational achievement for girls translates into social achievement.

Education for democratic citizenship

The need for education in democratic citizenship was heavily emphasised by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2002)12 on education for democratic citizenship, adopted on 16 October 2002, states that:

      education for democratic citizenship should be seen as embracing any formal, non-formal or informal educational activity, including that of the family, enabling an individual to act throughout his or her life as an active and responsible citizen respectful of the rights of others.

Citizenship is something that must be learned. It is essential for a stable democratic system that people understand and support the democratic principles of decision making, and that they participate in that system. They must also be aware of their rights as well as their responsibilities. Education for citizenship, with a view to the development of skills for action, for coping with change and for gender partnership, should therefore be provided by school as a precondition for the full exercise of citizenship in a democratic context. The first step should be to place education for equality at the core of education for democratic citizenship.

Civic education and education for citizenship depend above all on the creation of learning contexts enabling young people to develop and exercise democratic citizenship, and on recognition of young people as present, and not only future, agents of social change. This can be encouraged through the development of projects which promote initiative, stimulate the desire to acquire skills and knowledge and establish a relationship between learning and life, highlighting young people’s interests and the issues affecting our societies. Therefore:

- civic education and education for citizenship should be incorporated into the educational process and should arouse an interest in participation, familiarise girls and boys with public and political decision making and promote democratic citizenship in terms of gender partnership;

- equality and other issues central to democracy, such as the responsibilities falling to each citizen in the private and public spheres, should be introduced into the basic legislation governing education systems as goals to be achieved, the curricula, the school culture and the content of teacher training;

- measures should be adopted and resources, instruments and funds should be made available in order to create a culture of participation among young people – in family and school life through voluntary activities inside or outside the classroom, in the community, the media, or voluntary associations, such as NGOs and youth organisations.

The skills required for participation and decision making are not something that all young people have. Training young women to acquire skills required for participation and decision making would help to put more women into public office. Training women in leadership skills, in political participation and the formation of pressure groups so that they become real experts in their field, would enable them to exert a greater influence.

It is therefore important to:

- develop training and follow-up programmes for those who want to become involved in politics;

- encourage political parties to train women so that they can be recruited more widely and can acquire the skills required to be candidates for positions of responsibility;

- offer young women the services of a “tutor” chosen from among persons already participating actively in decision-making processes, in order to develop their political culture and their knowledge of political structures and consolidate their links with persons who might be important for their future participation. This would also help young women to overcome their fear of becoming politicians;

- offer training courses in politics to young women wanting to go into politics so that they can acquire skills through contact with experienced women politicians;

- promote training for women standing for election to political office in use of the media and information and communication technologies.

Parliaments should:

- encourage direct contacts between parliamentarians and decision makers and representatives of young women’s groups in order to take account of their aspirations, problems and visions of society at the policy-making stage;

- promote encounters between parliamentarians and young people in order to answer their questions and place them in contact with other persons already in power.

Public administrations should:

- promote co-operation between government youth and equality departments;

- encourage dialogue between young people and the public authorities at all levels on matters of concern to them;

- define and assess youth policies and youth participation, adopting a gender perspective with youth participation;

- include young women in national delegations attending such international events as the world conferences or European-level meetings;

- organise traineeships for young NGO representatives in ministries and international organisations, so that they can familiarise themselves with these institutions and contribute to their functioning.

Most of the time, however, there is a low level of youth participation in conventional and/or institutional politics. Young people in general, and young women in particular, tend to be involved in voluntary associations and NGOs rather than in political bodies and parties, because these allow for greater flexibility in terms of participation, while also generally endeavouring to solve practical problems in which young women and men feel more closely involved because they affect them more directly.

We also find young people in more selective, autonomous forms of participation, manifesting their interest in public and political issues such as taking part in demonstrations, issuing manifestoes, signing petitions and so forth.

Politics are also conducted outside of political parties. For many young women, the local level is where they can find the means and opportunities for participating, influencing the decision-making process and acquiring competences transposable to the formal political sphere. The Revised Charter on Youth Participation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe sets out a wide range of suggestions for work along these lines.

So we should be encouraging and supporting the participation of young women in extracurricular activities, voluntary associations and civil society in the context of youth organisations, NGOs and local projects. These are sources of experience apt to promote their self-confidence and to provide the requisite motivation for participation, as well as knowledge and know-how transposable to the sphere of institutional participation and particularly political action. Many politicians were involved in this type of organisation in their youth. The Young Active Citizen’s Award has been given to several projects aimed at such objectives.

Learning how to set out one’s ideas in public and to gain a hearing, how to listen to others and learn with them, how to participate, exercise one’s rights and shoulder one’s responsibilities, how to obtain and share information, to express one’s opinions, to take decisions, debate, communicate, and manage conflicts, are among the skills that can be acquired in the voluntary sector.

Young people should be trained with a view to acquiring the knowledge and know-how required for standing for elections or applying for decision-making posts. This should be promoted by political parties, municipalities, trade unions, NGOs, universities and governments.

The following measures are needed:

- project design and management programmes should be supported for representatives of youth organisations and youth groups and dialogue between young people and the public authorities at all levels on issues affecting them should be promoted;

- programmes should be developed with the regions and municipalities with a view to stimulating youth participation and preparing young people for decision-making;

- the participation of young women in voluntary activities should be encouraged by devising systems of financial aid and formulating methods for recognising the experience thus acquired.

However, despite their confirmed presence in voluntary movements, young women are under-represented in the decision-making bodies of these movements, which means that their viewpoints and needs are liable to be left out of consideration in these organisations’ policy thrusts. Such a situation also excludes any practical experience of decision-making powers.

Consequently, it is important to:

- promote and stimulate the participation of young people, particularly young women, in the voluntary sector, including encouraging youth organisations to guarantee balanced representation of women and men in the decision-making processes within the governing bodies of voluntary associations;

- prompt political parties, municipalities, trade unions, NGOs, universities and governments and so forth, to promote training and mentoring for young women in the field of leadership, communication skills, political strategies, negotiating techniques and media relations, with a view to acquiring the requisite knowledge and know-how to stand for elections or apply for decision-making posts;

- develop programmes with the autonomous communities and municipalities in order to stimulate youth participation and prepare young people for decision-making.

Structures for youth institutional participation, such as youth parliaments, youth forums and youth municipal and regional councils are important instruments for involving young people in the decision-making process and should enable their representatives to become fully-fledged partners in defining policies affecting them. They are prime forums for learning about democratic citizenship and training democratic leaders.

Structures to promote the participation of girls in society from the earliest possible age should be set up.

Encouraging and supporting the development, at the local and regional levels, of bodies and structures for political and civic participation favourable to young women, enabling them to express their creativity. These bodies should be less formal, less hierarchical and more accessible, and should make greater use of the new technologies in order to improve young women’s ability to express their capacities and their creativity.

Recognition of competences acquired in voluntary and non-formal participatory bodies should be promoted. However, structures of this type can sometimes be menacing environments for women, which means that we must combat sexual harassment in political and civic participatory structures.

Promoting the awareness of the general public and young women

Public opinion can have a positive or negative influence on the development of balanced representation of women and men. The influence will be negative if the public does not trust women in the field of public and political decision-making, thus directly and/or indirectly vindicating government inaction. It will, however, be positive if it demands change, either indirectly through public opinion polls or electoral choices or directly by openly advocating power-sharing between women and men. Therefore, it is important to:

– organise public information and awareness campaigns in order to establish an equality culture and seek to increase the participation of men, particularly young men, in family life, prompting them to take on more responsibilities in the private sphere.

– launch public awareness campaigns aimed at changing the traditional stereotype public perception of women and informing the general public about the potential benefits for democracy of balanced male-female representation in decision-making.

Nor should we forget to promote specific awareness campaigns for women in order to show them the importance of participating in political life. These activities should include information and awareness campaigns using youth-oriented approaches and techniques in order to increase young people’s, and particularly young women’s interest in participation; using youth advertising techniques calling on their creative abilities.

The role of the media

The media have a social responsibility which is based on the power they wield in contemporary society. They have an undeniable role to play in education and identity-building for women and men. The media can either forcefully promote a change of representations of social roles or, on the contrary, curb the process of securing gender equality by perpetuating existing stereotypes, broadcasting negative, degrading or unrealistic images of women or maintaining their low-profile role in the various spheres of society.

It is therefore extremely important for female candidates and legislators and young women working in local associations and projects to be able to use the media to transmit their message to the public and give a high profile to their role and their activities. Female empowerment also depends on enhancing their capacities, knowledge and access to information and communication technologies.

While the number of female journalists has considerably increased over the past decade, there are still too few women in the decision-making bodies of the press and television, areas where they could influence policies and general directions in this field.

The following measures need to be encouraged:

- promoting access by female journalists to their decision-making bodies so that they can influence policies and general directions in this field;

- encouraging initial and further training for journalists and other media professionals in order to heighten their awareness of their potential role in transmitting impartial, non-stereotyped images of women and men and in raising the profile of women actively involved in political and public life;

- encouraging the media to convey more positive images of women in politics or decision-making positions, to raise the profile of youth NGO activities and to include women’s issues and activities on their agendas;

- promoting the networking of female, and in particular young female, journalists;

- promoting research into media coverage of female politicians and their initiatives;

- inviting editors to take part in public debates on this issue;

- promoting media information on the importance of the participation of young women and on the role of men;

- providing more publicity for successful women.

Information for women on their rights, particularly their political and social rights, is needed in all countries, but particularly in those which have recently adopted new legislation. Care must also be taken to guarantee individual voting rights and effective access to social rights for women and to provide women wishing to become self-employed or to set up in business with the requisite information. We must also disseminate the texts of international instruments geared to directing member states’ policies. Accessible decentralised information would provide a decisive contribution to the empowerment of young women.

Research can demonstrate the extent of women’s under-representation in the various decision-making spheres and levels and identify the progress made to date, and can help set objectives with a view to changing this situation. Even though this aspect was not discussed during the seminar, we feel that it is vital to mention it and to set out a number of recommendations on the subject, such as:

- comparable statistical data, broken down by gender and age, on youth participation in all political fields should be gathered periodically, and regularly published, together with studies and analyses of the political participation of young women;

- research should be encouraged on:

      · obstacles to participation (particularly for young women from specific vulnerable groups) and alternative forms of participation by young women;

      · preferential youth participation in associations and NGOs to the detriment of party-political or other more formal structures;

      · other forms of participation, new participatory structures and bodies favourable to young women enabling them to express their creativity, in order to overcome their difficulties in expressing themselves in more formal frameworks and making access to political participation easier and more flexible;

– co-operation should be fostered in the field of research into youth participation;

– training courses for workers and researchers in the youth field should be developed, drawing on the principles of participation and openness to processes of acquiring competences aimed at enabling young people to manage their own projects.

The participants formulated recommendations aimed at encouraging the participation of young women in political life for the attention of governments, NGOs, including youth organisations, and the Council of Europe.

The role of governments

Governments should:

- inform political parties of the various possible incentives, such as guaranteeing a minimum percentage of candidates and elected representatives of each gender, raising the profile of women in political parties in order to set an example for other women, and introducing training and counselling programmes for women;

- provide financial aid, particularly for women’s organisations within political parties;

- support women’s NGOs and female leaders for NGOs working on the ground by providing funding, raising such women’s profiles, supporting networking and the setting up of effective lobbies, and assisting NGO training programmes for women dealing with specifically female issues.

The role of NGOs in general and youth organisations

Female politicians, particularly young ones, need strong backing from women’s NGOs in order both to get elected and to retain their mandates, but it is also important for NGOs to ascertain youth perspectives. Furthermore, participation in NGOs helps to acquire the requisite experience for political participation.

NGOs and youth organisation should:

- exert pressure on political parties to put up young female candidates for elections;

- set up networks to support women wishing to be elected to political posts, and help them retain such posts;

- organise traineeships for young female NGO representatives in ministries and international organisations, so that they can familiarise themselves with these institutions and contribute to their functioning;

- take action to promote gender equality in the functioning of youth organisations, structures and initiatives, such as youth parliaments and youth forums, and adopt special measures to increase the participation of young women in decision making;

- guarantee proper conditions for participation in their various bodies by young women at all levels, notably by adopting measures to combat sexual harassment;

- encouraging young women’s associations to promote a debate on their particular wishes and to circulate the conclusions and recommendations emerging from such activities.

The role of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe should:

- take into account of female youth perspective in all Council of Europe activities and departments;

- prepare a compendium of good practice on the participation of young women in all areas of society, and circulate it to decision makers and youth organisation in its member states;

- promote and organise meetings on the participation of young women, bringing together young parliamentarians and youth organisations from member states which guarantee the participation of young women in these meetings;

- devise more activities to promote the participation of young women and involve them in the preparation, organisation and evaluation of such activities;

- disseminate the conclusions of this seminar through youth networks and the Internet;

- ensure the wide circulation of the conclusions of this seminar to all competent Council of Europe bodies;

- ensure the integration of the Council’s work on education and democracy in primary, secondary and higher education schools systems, including vocational schools;

- ensure that non-sexist language is adopted.

Our future initiatives must take account of the work already accomplished by the Council of Europe, including the documents produced, which should be used as effective working instruments. I would mention Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2003) 3 in particular, which deals with the various fields in which action is required in order to achieve balanced representation of women and men in political and public decision making. This text is a very useful source of inspiration for member states wishing to attain this objective, and is also a potential tool for all those striving to promote the participation of young women in political life.

Recommendation 59 (1999) of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on Europe 2000: youth participation: the role of young people as citizens affirms that:

    … political and social revival cannot be achieved without a new pact between the generations on the one hand and a general institutional pact with young people on the other [and that] the ability of young people to find new solutions to the problems and situations they face, their participation at every level of society and their search for new prospects necessitate their involvement in decisions concerning them and democratic recognition of their status as fully-fledged citizens.

The contributions of women and young women cannot be ignored by society and politicians. To quote Lydia la Rivière Zijdel, “we must motivate young people to think by adopting a gender perspective and build bridges between our youth and equality activities”.

The endeavour to build up a new partnership between women and men, or a new social contract between the two sexes, which is a precondition for true democracy, also requires the involvement of men.

II. Targeted measures to encourage the participation of young women in political life

Keynote address by Mariette Sineau1


The Council of Europe has been endeavouring to promote the participation of women in political life for some twenty-five years now. With the help of its Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG), it has pursued this policy through many different initiatives (see part I of the appendix).

The first committee with responsibility for equality between women and men was set up in 1979 : from a simple ad hoc committee, it developed into a European committee in 1987, before being elevated to the rank of steering committee in 1992. This gradual strengthening of the committee’s role and powers says much about the central place that the issue of gender equality, especially in politics, has come to occupy within the Council of Europe. For it was not long before the committee began focusing its efforts on improving the representation of women in political and public life.

The CDEG has done a great deal of work, much of it groundbreaking: drafting instruments and appropriate strategies, engaging in co-operation to achieve equality at pan-European level, organising European ministerial conferences on equality every four or five years. From 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the committee began turning its attention to central and eastern Europe, to consider how it could help women in those countries cope with the, for them disastrous, effects of the dual transition to democracy and a market economy.

Since the issue of women’s participation in politics cuts across several sectors of the Council of Europe, the committee has also worked, with considerable success, with other committees (such as the European Steering Committee for Youth) or other Council bodies, such as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

Parity democracy – or the principle of equal representation and ways of achieving it

The concept of parity democracy, which was later to gain much prominence, originated within the walls of the Council of Europe. If it is often the case in politics that where words lead, actions tend to follow and clearly “parity” is one of those words. It was back in 1989 at a seminar hosted by the Council of Europe that the philosopher Elisabeth Sledziewski presented a paper, the purpose of which was to put the requirement for parity in democracy firmly on the map.

Parity democracy means that there is a balance of women and men in all institutions. It is another way of rethinking democracy, while improving upon it. It should ultimately lead to a partnership between women and men, a sort of new social contract between the sexes.

Through its discussions and analysis, the Council of Europe questions the notion of universality of human rights from the point of view of its dual expression in female and male terms, thus breaking with the abstract, gender-neutral universalist approach. Close inspection reveals the glaring contradiction that currently exists in Europe between the very essence of the democratic system and the fact that half the population are still excluded from states’ political institutions (parties, parliaments, local and regional bodies, governments, etc). Yet if political rights are something that, for the majority of European women, exist only on paper, then the entire democratic edifice is thrown into doubt. For in the words of Elisabeth Sledziewski: “A democracy without women will no longer be seen as an imperfect democracy, but as no democracy at all”.2

Barriers to balanced representation

European democracies have struggled to incorporate the idea of political equality between women and men, and for many years “universal” suffrage was an exclusively male prerogative. When equality was eventually achieved in law, it was to lead to inequalities in access to political representation. What was the reason?

The minor role played by women in policy-making stems from several factors. First and foremost, it is the reflection of an economic status that, despite the progress made, remains subordinate, and does not predispose women to exercise political responsibilities. It is a well-established fact that, even in a democratic system, a person stands a greater chance of gaining access to political representation if they have certain “resources” (economic, social, cultural and so forth). In other words, there is an element of social selection inherent in the electoral process.

Male superiority in the corridors of power also has symbolic roots, to do with perceptions of the social roles of gender: since politics is regarded as being the “preserve” of men, women who venture into this realm are perceived as trespassers or even usurpers, because they are breaking two fundamental rules, namely the gender hierarchy rule and the division of labour between the sexes.

Further barriers to women’s entry into the political arena are to be found in institutions and electoral laws, which often foster mechanisms of exclusion. The uninominal voting system, which tends to personalise the competition, in contrast to the more neutral system of voting from lists, has never been very conducive to women candidates. It actively encourages candidates who are well known locally, reinforcing, in those areas where permitted by law, the practice of multiple office holding which is itself detrimental to the renewal of the political class, and hence its feminisation. Lastly and most importantly, the feminisation of government is hampered by the oligarchic manner in which political parties function: in modern democracies, it is political parties that control access to elected bodies, acting as gatekeepers. Far from being “open” forums for training and selection (eager to embrace the newest members of society, including young people and women), political parties for many years operated, and still operate in some countries, like closed men’s clubs, contributing to the formation of a self-replicating elite.

These deep-seated causes of gender inequality in the political sphere obviously call for a different kind of solution: it is easier to change an electoral law, or to improve party financing or the status of elected representatives than to redress the imbalance of economic power between women and men.

One by one, schools, language, the division of domestic labour, childcare, vocational training, the labour market and so forth were all identified by the Council of Europe as spheres of activity where it was important to create conditions for equal participation by women and men in community affairs. Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2003)3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making, for example, addresses most of these topics, either under legislative and administrative measures or as supportive measures.

With regard to the political sphere itself, numerous themes have been identified by the Council of Europe as possible areas of action: political parties – from the point of view, in particular of public funding and candidate selection procedures, voting methods, simultaneous office holding, the working conditions and status of elected representatives and the media.

Ways of achieving parity democracy

What measures can be put forward in order to move from a democracy that merely purports to be egalitarian to one that genuinely embodies the principle of parity, affording women and men equal access to political office?

The Council of Europe has given lengthy consideration to the use of temporary or transitional affirmative action measures to speed up the process of women’s participation in politics. Parity quotas and thresholds are a key instrument for achieving genuine equality, including in political life.

There is nothing self-evident about an equalisation policy of this kind, for it marks a departure from the principle of equal rights, or at least equal treatment for access to rights, and any such a move away from the notion of legal individualism is liable to cause concern among all those who have been raised in the liberal tradition. In the former Soviet bloc countries, moreover, quotas, as a legacy of the communist regime, are still viewed with deep suspicion, by the authorities and general public alike.

The legitimacy of such measures is, however, beginning to be recognised by legal writers and courts in some countries. It is also recognised by international legal instruments and in particular the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was adopted on 18 September 1979 and came into force on 3 September 1981. Article 4.1 of this convention establishes the principle of temporary special treatment and is the most commonly relied-upon legal basis for affirmative action.3 This international benchmark may be regarded as a starting point for national policies.

In the electoral sphere, most countries have long taken the view that affirmative action in favour of women should not be turned into a statutory requirement to achieve de facto equality in elected bodies. The arguments most commonly cited to justify this are firstly, the unity of the electorate and secondly, the freedom to vote and stand for election. Three countries, however, have recently passed laws requiring a minimum percentage of candidates of each sex in elections: these countries are Belgium, France and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

In Belgium, the laws of 17 June and 18 July 2002 provide for equal representation of women and men on electoral lists for European, federal and regional elections and require the first two candidates on the list to be of different sexes. In France, the constitutional Law of 8 July 1999, which allows lawmakers to take affirmative action, paved the way for the Law of 6 June 2000, known as the “Parity Law”. This requires the parties in all list-system elections to have 50% of each sex on their lists of candidates. For elections with only one round, the lists alternate between men and women (or women and men) from top to bottom. For elections with two rounds, parity must be achieved per group of six candidates. In the case of general elections, which use the uninominal system, financial penalties can be imposed on parties which fail to present 50% of candidates of each sex. In May 2002, furthermore, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” adopted a law on the election of members of parliament, Article 37 of which states that a minimum of 30% of each sex should be represented on party candidate lists.

All the other member states rely on the parties’ goodwill to ensure a balanced mix of candidates in elections. Many European parties have adopted quota policies in favour of women. The Scandinavian parties were the first to experiment with this, back in the early 1980s. Since then, numerous European parties have followed suit, including southern European countries such as Spain.4 Some parties have adopted a quota system both for candidate lists and for their own governing bodies. The proportion of parties which have introduced an internal quota is higher, however, than the proportion of parties which have done so for general elections.

All in all, the legal culture of states and political parties alike has greatly improved in Europe in recent years, including in those countries most steeped in “universalist” values, such as France. Affirmative action has unquestionably expanded its scope in the political sphere, even if it has not always gained in legitimacy. This lack of legitimacy calls for the introduction of a policy to raise awareness about affirmative action, because to some extent, the implementation of such measures depends on how they are perceived by the people they are aimed at.

Just recently, Recommendation 2003 (3) on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 12 March 2003, provided member states with guidelines to encourage them to promote women in politics, via their national legislation, their policies and practices. The main initiatives proposed cover a whole range of measures extending into numerous areas, both political and non-political.

It is suggested that states consider adopting laws introducing parity thresholds (meaning a minimum percentages for both sexes) for candidates in local, regional, national and supra-national elections. Where proportional lists exist, it is recommended that zipper systems be introduced. It is also suggested that action be taken through the public funding of political parties to encourage them to promote gender equality.

The proposed measures invite states to change their electoral system, where it is shown to have a negative impact on the political representation of women in elected bodies. They also invite them to adopt measures to restrict the concurrent holding of several offices at once. This last measure would be highly effective in preventing a small number of politicians with a virtual monopoly on political office from denying newcomers, such as women and young people, access to political power. An improvement in the working conditions of elected representatives is also listed among the key measures that states could take, thus suggesting that anything that helps to make politics more democratic also makes it more women-friendly: that includes measures such as pay increases for elected representatives – in particular at local level, pension rights and the right to parental leave, more flexible meeting schedules and the setting-up of childcare facilities.

Member states should also consider adopting legislative and/or administrative measures to ensure that there is a gender-balanced representation in all appointments to public committees and in posts or functions whose holders are nominated by government and other public authorities. Several countries have introduced specific legislation in this area, including Norway, Denmark and Finland. States could also make the civil service a model of balanced representation: the state, as an employer, has a duty to promote equality between women and men.

It is also suggested that member states adopt administrative measures so that official language reflects a balanced sharing of power between women and men. The language should not enshrine the hegemony of the male model but should be gender-neutral, or else refer to both sexes.

Young people and participation in political life

It is a well-known fact that a number of barriers sometimes make it difficult for young people to participate in political life, such as lack of socio-economic integration, unemployment, and so forth. At a time when political representation is in crisis in many member states, in both eastern and western Europe, young people’s apathy is particularly worrying and has major implications for the functioning of democratic institutions. The most visible signs of this apathy are to be found, among other places, in the high level of electoral abstention and the failure to join political parties.

This disaffection with the electoral process and political parties does not mean that young people are becoming less interested in community life. Simply, they express their interest in politics in other ways, such as taking part in demonstrations, signing petitions and becoming active in associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are seen as being more flexible than traditional parties.

Until recently, most of the studies and conferences sponsored by the Council of Europe did not deal specifically with the participation of young women in political life, mainly because this is a transversal issue, cutting across sectors that are institutionally distinct: the gender equality sector and the youth sector. The two themes never intersected, even though the various texts aimed at young people rarely failed to make some mention of gender equality.

In 1992, Resolution 237 (1992) of the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe adopted the Charter on the Participation of Young people in Municipal and Regional Life. This text, which was directed at young people of both sexes, recommended that local and regional authorities conduct “a policy of equality between women and men”. In particular, it encouraged them to make specific budgetary provision for the recruitment of a qualified person with responsibility for equality, to pursue specific policies on behalf of girls and young women, and to train them in the running of public affairs by entrusting them with responsibilities at the highest level, on the basis of a quota of places reserved for women.

To mark the tenth anniversary of this charter, a conference entitled “Young people, actors in their towns and regions” was held in Crakow on 7 and 8 March 2002, at the instigation of the Culture and Education Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, in partnership with the Council of Europe’s Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport Directorate. Its aim was to assess the progress made in the field of youth participation over the ten years that the charter had been in existence, while at the same time considering what more could be done to promote youth participation. The conference participants adopted the Cracow declaration, in which they reaffirmed that young people are citizens in the municipalities and regions where they live and must therefore have access to all forms of participation in society. It is pointed out that the youth councils that exist in most Council of Europe member states are excellent means for involving young people in decision making. Local and regional authorities are asked to take various measures, including promoting access to elective responsibilities as of the legally-allowed age, and trying out new, innovative ways of involving young people in decision making.

The revised charter or “second-generation” charter was adopted by the Congress in May 2003. It contains new chapters on some entirely new fields of action, such as the use of the Internet as an effective tool for getting young people interested in politics. It gives local and regional authorities some guidelines on implementing policies affecting young people in various areas, provides them with tools for promoting youth participation, and advice on setting up the institutional framework. Local authorities are invited to implement policies to promote equality between young people of both sexes, and in particular to take pro-active measures to help young men and women accede to positions of responsibility in professional life, the voluntary sector and politics. The charter will be accompanied by a manual containing examples of effective ways of involving young people in the life of Europe’s municipalities and regions.

Committee of Ministers Recommendation 2003(3) on balanced participation contains supportive measures targeted at young people. Provision is made for promoting the participation of young people, especially young women, in the voluntary sector, since activism of this kind is seen as a good training ground for political action. Youth organisations should be encouraged to ensure a balanced participation of women and men in their decision-making structures. Further upstream, among the supportive measures, the recommendation proposes that member states “incorporate into school curricula education and training activities aimed at sensitising young people about gender equality and preparing them for democratic citizenship”.

Finally, for the second year in a row, the Young Active Citizen’s Award, instituted in 1993 by the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Youth and Sport, is seeking to reward projects that promote youth participation in society. This year, the theme is “Participation of young women in political life”. One of the aims of the award is to enable girls and young women to take an active part in political institutions and processes. The prize is awarded to projects focusing on various social issues, such as exclusion, unemployment, racism, xenophobia, violence, conflicts, and is mainly open to youth organisations and networks, including political youth organisations.


As we embark on a new century, achieving gender-balanced participation in political and public decision making is still only a distant goal. With the odd exception – namely, Scandinavia – men’s overwhelming numerical superiority in the corridors of power is still everywhere apparent. This is especially true of parliaments (see part 2 of the appendix). More serious still, in some countries of central and eastern Europe, there has actually been a decline in the proportion of women in positions of power, mainly due to the scrapping of the quotas that operated under the former communist regimes.

If progress has been slow, it is because women’s participation in community affairs is a key political issue, which goes to the very heart of the division of social labour between the sexes. It is a veritable Gordian knot, whose threads are very difficult to unravel. Trying to remedy gender inequality with respect to political power and representation means rethinking many of the clauses in the social contract.

    In the prevailing social contract, women have been confined to the private sphere as if they were the only ones entrusted with the reproduction and care of the human species, and all the social structures have functioned in relation to the masculine norm. If democracy is considered as having to integrate all social forces, it is obvious that such a relegation can no longer be tolerated in a democratic society, whatever the structure of that society is.5

If all citizens are to be successfully integrated on an equal basis, irrespective of their gender, social status and religion, member states will have to work hard in future to resolve three main issues, namely the democratic principle of equal representation, social rights and the principle of secularism.

The first big challenge is to promote the democratic principle of equal representation within parties. In modern democracies, it is political parties who have the final say on who sits on which bodies, because they decide who stands for election. Parties thus have an important duty to ensure that the selection of political personnel is organised in a democratic and equal manner. That is why some people think that Europe should develop strict rules to stop parties hijacking democracy. Such, for example, is the view expressed by the legal expert Eliane Vogel-Polsky speaking on the subject of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which is meant to reform European institutions, she calls for the article of the treaty which deals with parties in the European Union to be amended.6

The second big challenge is to promote a “common heritage” of social rights across Europe. For without the rights that attach to social citizenship, political citizenship and the rights that it confers (right to vote and stand for election) are just rhetoric. As it happens, women have an even more pressing claim to the resources of the welfare state: both because a greater number of women tend to be socially deprived and because society holds them primarily responsible for bringing up children and for taking care of the family in general. If women are to be integrated into representative democracy, they must also be included in the welfare state. This is especially true in the countries of central and eastern Europe, where the erosion of social benefits has placed women in a precarious position.

The Council of Europe thus has a role to play in creating a “European conscience through the rule of law”,7 especially in the social field. More broadly, it also has a duty to carry out educational work in order to propagate the European idea among those sections of the public, in particular women, who fear that any attempt to adjust to the more backward countries could erode their social rights.

The third main challenge facing Europe is to resist any challenges to secularity at a time when varieties of religious fundamentalism are everywhere gaining ground. There is doubtless action the Council of Europe could take to prevent religion – which so readily subjugates women (particularly younger women) and reduces them to subordinacy – from prevailing over politics. It is more urgent than ever to educate European opinion in the concepts of secularity, separation of church and state, and segregation of the temporal and the spiritual. And to take care those concepts are applied in various areas of community life, starting with school, which is where republican and egalitarian values are handed down and learned.

Seminar conclusions

Specific measures to encourage young women’s entry into political life8

- Political parties should become more democratic and transparent in order to give a voice to young women in the decision-making processes. Measures should be taken including funding and support for potential candidates, inclusive and representative selection processes, including quotas – legal or voluntary, in relation to young women candidates.

- Youth and women’s wings within political parties should be included in the executive decision-making bodies, and political parties should seek to expand the pool of potential young women candidates.

- The voting age and the age of representation should be the same, as differences existing between the two are a legal barrier to the entry of young women into political life.

- As an urgent priority, measures should be developed to permit the access of young women to political life, through a broad range of actions, including training, awareness-raising, education, with particular regard to the promotion of reconciliation between professional (political) and private life for both women and men. Such measures should be implemented taking into account the diverse needs of young women seeking to be active in political life.

- Positive actions are needed to ensure non-discrimination and participation of young women with disabilities in political life, and to eliminate all technical obstacles such as transportation services, access to buildings and access to information for women with hearing or visual impairments.

- Awareness should be raised on the dangers of misrepresenting the image of young women and on the need to promote gender-sensitive and non-violent language in society in general (including in the media and in formal and non-formal education) and in political life in particular.

- Resources and training should be provided on how to deal with the media for young women, and promote gender-equality training for decision makers and the media.

- Role models of women in political, historical, artistic and scientific life should be promoted and publicised through the written and the electronic media.

- Training courses should be held, which target young women, and which focus on participation in political life, at all levels (local, national, international), including input from women who are actively involved in formal and informal political structures.

- Awareness-raising programmes should be set up to promote knowledge among young women, particularly from rural areas, of their rights and their duties with regard to participation in democratic political processes, including voting.

- There should be mentoring or networking tools for young women to share and exchange experiences of participation in political life with older women and amongst peers, and encourage the development of networks by civil society structures, especially youth and women’s organisations, and political parties.

- Tools should be developed which encourage girls and boys from a very young age to overcome gender stereotyping in all fields of life, and which should be used by families as well as by government and non-governmental organisations and structures.

- Data gathering should be desegregated by age, gender and ethnic group.

- Men should be included in the process of promoting gender parity, and in all of the activities listed above.


1. Women and politics: key dates in Council of Europe activities

4 November 1950
European Convention on Human Rights. Article 14 prohibits discrimination on any ground, including sex, with regard to the rights enshrined therein.

28 September 1967
Consultative Assembly Resolution 356 on the political, social and civic position of women in Europe.

9 October 1975
Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 606 on the political rights and position of women.

December 1979
First meeting of the Council of Europe’s first committee responsible for equality: the Committee on the Status of Women (CAHFM).

The Committee changes name and becomes the Committee on Equality between Women and Men (CAHFM). The political arena is identified as one which requires special attention from the Council of Europe.

Publication of an initial European comparative study on the position of women in European politics.

26 April 1985
Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1008 on Women in politics.

4 March 1986
1st European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men in political life (Strasbourg), on the theme “Participation of women in the political process – Policy and strategies to achieve equality in decision-making”.
Resolution on policy and strategies for achieving equality in political life and in the decision-making process.
Strasbourg Declaration on equality between women and men in political and public life.

10-12 September 1986
Athens Conference on “Women in local and regional life” hosted by the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) and by the European Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CAHFM).
Athens message on equal participation by women in policy-making at local and regional level.

Resolution 179 of the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) on women’s participation in local and regional democratic life (16 September 1986).

A new equality committee is set up, the “European Committee for Equality between Women and Men” (CEEG).

16 November 1988
Declaration on equality of women and men, adopted by the Committee of Ministers.

4-5 July 1989
2nd European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men (Vienna). One of the adopted texts deals with “political strategies for the achievement of real equality of women and men”.

6-7 November 1989
Seminar on “The democratic principle of equal representation. Forty years of Council of Europe activity” (Strasbourg).

The committee responsible for equality is elevated to the rank of Steering Committee (CDEG).

24 January 1994
Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1229 on equality of rights between women and men .

9-11 February 1995
European Conference “Equality and Democracy: Utopia or challenge?” (Strasbourg): this was the Council of Europe’s contribution to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Peking, 4-15 September 1995).

11 March 1997
Seminar on “Equality between women and men in the political decision-making process”, organised by the Finnish Chair of the Committee of Ministers (Helsinki).

10-11 October 1997
Declaration adopted at the Second Summit of the Council of Europe, in which heads of state and government stressed the importance of a more balanced representation of women and men in all sectors of society, including political life.

13-14 November 1997
4th European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men (Istanbul).
Istanbul Declaration on equality between women and men as a fundamental criterion of democracy.

22 June 1999
Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1413 (1999) on equal representation in political life.

Protocol No. 12 (non-discrimination) to the European Convention on Human Rights. Additional protocol which generally widens the scope of Article 14, adopted on 4 November 2000 (Rome).

22-23 January 2003
5th European Ministerial Conference on equality between women and men (Skopje) on “The roles of women and men in conflict prevention, peace building and post-conflict democratic processes”.

12 March 2003
Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2003)3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making.

2. Women in Parliament

Women in Parliament (lower house) in the 459 member states of the Council of Europe


Date of



% of women



























































































“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”





United Kingdom





Czech Republic





Bosnia and Herzegovina










San Marino






































































Serbia and Montenegro*










Russian Federation
































10 268

1 846


Source: Interparliamentary Union (situation at 31 May 2003)

1 . The ideas presented in this text are more fully developed in Mariette Sineau’s Genderware – the Council of Europe and the participation of women in political life, Council of Europe Publishing, 2003.

2 . Elisabeth Sledziewski in The democratic principle of equal representation – 40 years of Council of Europe activity, Council of Europe Press, 1992.

3 . It is accordingly stated that “Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination”.

4 . The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) adopted a rule whereby neither sex may account for less than 40% or more than 60% in the party’s governing bodies and in election candidate lists.

5 . Groups of Specialists of Equality and Democracy, Council of Europe Publishing, 1996.

6 . “Agir pour les droits des femmes”, interview with Eliane Vogel-Polsky, Raisons politiques, No. 10, Presses de Sciences-Po, May 2003, p. 149.

7 . Ibid, p. 140.

8 . The conclusions were adopted by the seminar participants at the closing session.

9 . At the time of writing, there were forty-five member states.