Raul Rebane: Women to decide election result and Estonia's path

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

More than ever, women will decide Estonia's future at the March elections, Raul Rebane writes.

The considerable role of women is caused by changes the Estonian society is going through of which I will observe four: psychological, demographic, educational and informative.

The lessening of militant patriarchism will be an important psychological factor in March. The words of then candidate for the post of rural affairs minister Mart Järvik from four years ago, according to which "the time of the mommies is over as the daddies have come home," would merit a far more furious reaction today.

The role and status of women in Estonian politics has grown rapidly. Just 11 years ago, I pointed to the absurd level of gender inequality in Estonian politics in an opinion piece titled "Naispuudega Eesti" (link in Estonian).

The comments' section flew off the handle, and I took heavy flak from the men. But it did nothing to thwart developing trends, and by now, we have had a woman president and currently have a female prime minister, whether some people like it or not. Election results also suggest that the trend wherein women did not vote for women is breaking for a considerable change to the situation.

Demographics matter. Estonia has roughly 65,000 more women than men, while not all of them are voters. As it takes roughly 5,000 votes to secure a Riigikogu seat, women potentially have more say.

Women over the age of 60 form the most underestimated and underrepresented in the media group in Estonia. Designer Merika Kaunissaare, after carrying out a brief media analysis, once bitterly joked at the Opinion Festival in Paide that the only way for an elderly woman to make the press is if they are Marju Lauristin or Mother Theresa. And it's no joke, looking at the Estonian media. But this invisible group consists of 180,000 women versus just 102,000 men. The difference is massive. They have a vote at elections and it will be heard.

Women in Estonia also sport a higher average level of education than men. This makes for another gap that has been too wide for too long. One key reason for this goes back to the Soviet work allocation system where men made several times more money in jobs that did not require higher education than scientists or doctors. Men went to work where the pay was better, while the women attended university, which fruits we're sampling today.

Estonia has around 145,000 men with higher education and 237,000 women. This disparity of nearly 100,000 results not just in a lot of educationally unbalanced marriages but also different ideas about the world.

One interesting but admittedly understudied topic is the effect the Soviet army had on language skills and where people get their information. Estonian voters still include quite a few men who served in the Soviet armed forces.

After World War II, around 170,000 men served in the Soviet army many of whom learned a second language – Russian – there and no other after that. The youngest of them, people who returned in 1991, are 51 today. Men also had to complete a mandatory military education course in Russian when they attended university and some of it stuck. Women did not have a comparable need for Russian as they were exempt from compulsory military service.

The psychological portrait of men who served in the Soviet army runs the gamut, of course. However, one conclusion can be drawn from traditional and social media: older men tend to be the ones up to speed on what is reported in the Russian media and information sphere. Their convictions more often include enemy figures promoted by the Eastern media, such as [George] Soros, gays, migrants, the European Union, Western vaccines etc. What effect this is still having on the current electorate would require a separate study. My hypothesis is that this effect is considerable.

Estonia's path in the crosswinds of East vs West, friend vs foe will be put in a centrifuge for the next month and a half with [political} parties, men, women, Russians, and the media the relevant keywords. A sharp value conflict is visible even now. Nothing is final and a lot may change. To encourage debate, I have compiled a decidedly incomplete list of potential factors.

1. Women will change their minds, start loving the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and the persons they carry and vote for them, which would change Estonia completely.

2. Jüri Ratas will succeed in defusing EKRE's popularity among Russian-speakers and people with lower education for Center to become the opposition leader. This is not out of the question. Center's Russian elections slogan "My za vas" ("We are for you") will allow different voter groups to interpret it as what they want to hear. Unfortunately, this also includes people who are not disgusted by what is happening in Ukraine.

3. Isamaa's de facto and financial backers will take the time to consider where Estonia belongs and draw relevant conclusions. There are no signs of this happening yet, while there is still some time [until elections].

4. Younger voter groups will find the citizen within and turn out to vote. Because they tend to vote with their children's future in mind, as opposed to the old men of "yesterday," it could end up affecting election results.

5. The Ukraine conflict will become even tenser and an increasing number of people will come to realize that returning to business as usual is impossible. Ukraine, Europe, NATO and national security will have an even stronger effect on elections moods than they do now.

No matter what happens in the next month and a half, people should make sure to vote. "Choose with your heart" is a slogan we have not yet seen at elections, while its message should be heeded nonetheless. And then we'll see what's what. Elections are a mirror where we see ourselves as a country. What we see is up to us and up to women more than it has ever been in the past.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski

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