Guests of the ETV "UV faktor" talk show treated with women's chances in politics this week.
MPs Helle-Moonika Helme (EKRE) and Signe Kivi (Reform) were joined by Equality Commissioner Liisa-Ly Pakosta and former politician Triin Toomesaar (SDE).
Pakosta said that the fact she is a woman was helpful when she was invited to go into politics, while she later came across her fair share of criticism as a young mother in politics, and more often from men.
Toomesaar said that young men criticize women more seldom than those on the other side of middle age. "The fact that you are young adds an additional dimension here. I have experienced not being taken seriously as an expert by older gentlemen," she added.
Helme said she has not felt unappreciated as a woman in politics. She said that while Pakosta was criticized for actively participating in politics while raising young children, she came to the big leagues when her children had already become self-sufficient.
An emotional exchange between media businessman Hans H. Luik and President Kersti Kaljulaid from an Eesti Ekspress podcast was played on the show. "I believe that Kaja Kallas has shown herself to be rather indecisive, and I feel that people will be more cautious about wanting another female prime minister in the future," Luik said. Kaljulaid described the point as discriminative and suggested that for some reason, things like that are not said of male politicians.
Signe Kivi said that the Estonian society was on the doorstep of major change, looking at a female president and prime minister, and that it was something people were unaccustomed to. "It is very easy to go after a person based on appearance, ability to marry personal and professional life – all such issues – instead of concentrating on the work," she added.
Toomesaar suggested that Luik said aloud something that many people probably believe – that a male executive is better than a woman. She said the phenomenon is hardly exclusive to Estonia and can even be found in Germany where Angela Merkel has served as chancellor for an exceptionally long time.
"It is up to us to point out that we must not refer to all men as random answer generators just because Jüri Ratas is one," she added.
Toomesaar said that numerous studies suggest female top executives are paid far more attention than their male counterparts. "Their mistakes are also criticized more than those made by men. It is a problem for the prime minister or rather a problem for the whole of society that the PM today cannot meet our expectations – both exceedingly high and extremely low – a situation of you're damned if you do and damned if you don't for women."
Helme said that expectations placed on Kallas and Kaljulaid were great because they were the first women to serve as premiere and president. "I would say that what they achieved or did not achieve, how they were appreciated is based on whether they managed to establish their authority and make decisions. I believe that fears according to which Kallas' indecisiveness means that all female prime ministers will be the same should not manifest. It also does not mean we should bury our heads in the sand if we see that she cannot do the job or is indecisive, that we must not speak of it. Man or woman, the person in that position will gain something if they can learn from it," she remarked.
Approximately a third of Estonia's 101 MPs are women. The relative importance of female politicians is somewhat higher in local governments. The guests discussed how to bring more women to politics.
Liisa-Ly Pakosta explained that parties usually place men on top in election lists because they are more popular. Therefore, it is more difficult for women to get ahead even if they are brilliant politicians.
Pakosta said that attitudes toward female politicians are visible in voters' decisions. She said that Estonia has had proportionally more female candidates than have been elected.
Kivi said that while parties are willing to include women in election lists, women are expected to take the first step.
Toomesaar said that the Social Democratic Party (SDE) has five male and five female MPs in the Riigikogu because of so-called striped election lists where male and female candidates were alternated. She added that women should be district frontrunners more often.
Helme said that 51 percent of EKRE members are women and more of them reaching top politics is a work in progress.
"They will come. We have a lot of prominent women in districts today. I believe we will have great gender balance in election lists for upcoming elections. /…/ We will not be having striped lists as it feels somehow artificial. /…/ I believe we do not need to help women in our party as they are capable of their own breakthroughs," the EKRE MP added.
Pakosta noted that all parties have more women than men when it comes to members. "Women are more capable, have better education, skills, looking at whichever metric, while young women especially hitting a glass ceiling is a problem. It is simply a fact," she said.
Pakosta said that all of her fellow "UV faktor" guests have pointed out what studies confirm.
"Yes, female politicians are statistically criticized more often than men, women in politics are attacked over much smaller mistakes and resign over much smaller infractions, are much more self-critical than men in politics. An Estonian study found that women often decide against going into politics because they believe they are simply not competent enough. While men say they do not see a problem and are perfect for the job," she said.
Pakosta said that all parties should actively support women's political aspirations, while society needs to address constraining stereotypes.
Editor: Marcus Turovski