Feature: Women in the Estonian government 1992-2021

The new government after taking the oath of office.
The new government after taking the oath of office. Source: Stenbock House.

On Monday and Tuesday, social media was awash with messages of support for Estonia's first female prime minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and her (almost) gender-balanced government. ERR's Estonian portal compared the number of men and women in previous coalitions.

Kallas' government, which was sworn in on Tuesday, has seven female ministers and eight male ministers, meaning women make up 46.67 percent of ministerial roles in government - the highest proportion for a government in independent Estonia's history.

In Kallas' new coalition, women hold the positions of prime minister, justice, foreign, culture, education, social protection and finance ministers.

But how do previous governments compare?

In total, since 1992, when governments first started to be selected based on the rules of the constitution, 127 men and 31 women have been allocated ministerial roles.

The data below is calculated in percentages so a comparison is possible as, over the years, different governments have included varying numbers of ministers due to resignations, replacements and the creation of additional posts.

The highest number of women in a government, besides Kallas', was in Taavi Rõivas' (Reform) first coalition (2014-2015) when six of 17 ministerial roles, or 35.29 percent, were given to women.  

This is followed by Siim Kallas' (Reform) government (2002-2003) which had five female ministers out of 16, or 31.25 percent.

Joint third place is given to Rõivas' second coalition (2015-2016) and Jüri Ratas' first (2016-2019), which both had 25 percent of ministerial posts held by women. There were five women out of 20 ministers in Rõivas' cabinet and Ratas had six female ministers out of 23.

Ratas' second government (2019-2021) had four female ministers out of 22 - or 18.18 percent - and Andrus Ansip's second coalition (2007-2011) - three of 18 ministers or 16.67 percent.

The lowest number of women, one of 15 ministers, or 6.67 percent, was in Andres Tarand's first administration (1994-1995) and the second lowest share was 9.09 percent in Tiit Vähi's third coalition (1995-1997).  

The majority of governments since 1992 have allocated fewer than 20 percent of ministerial positions to women.

Looking at the posts women have held, they have most often been allocated the position of minister of social affairs or social welfare. In total, women have held these positions in eight governments.

There have been six female ministers of culture and five ministers of education and research.

Women have held seven positions as various economic ministers, such as minister for foreign trade and information technology, minister for economic affairs and infrastructure or minister for enterprise.

Mailis Reps (Center), Urve Palo (then SDE) and Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) have each held ministerial roles four times.

When it comes to the prime minister, only one of 16 has been a woman, i.e. the new incumbent, Kaja Kallas.

Women in Estonian politics

It should also not be forgotten that Estonia has a female president in Kersti Kaljulaid, a female EU commissioner - Kadri Simson (Center) - and female chancellor of justice Ülle Madise.

Women also have high-ranking roles in most of Estonia's political parties. Turning to non-parliamentary parties first, Züleyxa Izmailova is co-chairman of the Estonian Green Party, and Kristina Kallas is the leader of Eesti 200.

Of the parliamentary parties, Mailis Reps is deputy chairman of the Center Party and led the coalition negotiations on the party's behalf, Kaja Kallas is chairman of the Reform Party, and the Social Democratic Party's (SDE) Riina Sikkut is a former health minister.

There are 28 women in the 101-seat Riigikogu and two of Estonia's seven MEPs are female - Marina Kaljurand (SDE) and Yana Toom (Center).

The first woman elected to the Estonian parliament was Emma Asson in 1919.

Estonia's female ministers and prime ministers since 1992

  1. Siiri Oviir, social affairs minister (1995), (2002-2003)
  2. Lagle Parek, interior minister (1992)
  3. Marju Lauristin, social affairs minister (1992-1994)
  4. Liia Hänni, reform minister (1992-1994),(1994-1995)
  5. Liina Tõnnisson, economic minister (1995), economic and communication minister (2002-2003),
  6. Tiiu Aro, social affairs minister (1996-1997)
  7. Andra Veidemann, European minister (1996-1997)
  8. Signe Kivi, culture minister (1999-2002), (2002)
  9. Katrin Saks, population minister (1999-2002)
  10. Mailis Reps, education minister (2002-2003), (2005-2007), (2016-2019), (2019-2020)
  11. Kristiina Ojuland, foreign minister (2002-2003), (2003-2005)
  12. Ester Tuiksoo, rural affairs minister (2004-2005), (2005-2007)
  13. Laine Randjärv, culture minister (2007-2011),
  14. Urve Palo, population minister (2007-2009); economic affairs and infrastructure minister (2014); enterprise minister (2014-2015); enterprise and technology minister (2016-2018)
  15. Maret Maripuu, social affairs minister (2007-2009)
  16. Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, environment minister (2011), (2014); foreign minister (2014-2015); finance minister (2021 - ongoing)
  17. Urve Tiidus, culture minister (2013), (2014)
  18. Anne Sulling, foreign trade and IT minister (2014)
  19. Helmen Kütt, social protection minister (2014)
  20. Maris Lauri, finance minister (2014), justice minister (2021 - ongoing)
  21. Marina Kaljurand, foreign affairs minister (2015-2016)
  22. Kadri Simson, economic affairs and infrastructure minister (2016-2019),
  23. Kaia Iva, social protection minister (2016-2019),
  24. Katri Raik, interior minister (2018-2019)
  25. Riina Sikkut, work and health minister (2018-2019)
  26. Riina Solman, population minister (2019-2020)
  27. Kert Kingo, foreign trade and IT minister (2019-2020)
  28. Anneli Ott, public administration (2020-2021), culture minister (2021 - ongoing)
  29. Liina Kersna, education and research minister (2021 - ongoing)
  30. Signe Riisalo, social protection minister (2021 - ongoing)
  31. Eva-Maria Liimets, foreign minister (2021 - ongoing)
  32. Kaja Kallas, prime minister (2021- ongoing)

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Editor: Helen Wright

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