Women’s Participation in Politics in Ukraine

March 01, 2023
Darina Dvornichenko
5 min read
Ameer Mussard-Afcari/Shutterstock.com

Ukraine’s journey towards becoming a member of the European Union necessitates not only economic reforms and alignment of its legislation with EU standards, but also the adoption of EU’s core values such as advancement towards gender equality. As Ukraine strives to achieve these reforms, it must integrate a gender perspective into its political discourse and practices.

Mandatory Gender Quotas

One of the most critical political reforms of the last two decades in Ukraine has been the adoption of the new Electoral Code, which introduced a gender quota of 40% for candidate lists in all elections. The next parliamentary elections will be the first ones at this level since the new Electoral Code came into force, although they might be postponed due to the current conditions of martial law. The mandatory gender quotas were first tested in the 2020 local elections in Ukraine.

Contrary to expectations, women’s representation in local councils fell by 12.6% following the 2020 elections. A sharp decrease in the representation of women was observed at the level of settlement and village councils, while the proportion of women elected as members of city councils increased slightly. The decrease in women’s representation at the settlement and village council level is concerning, given that these councils are often responsible for making decisions that directly impact women’s lives. It is hard to predict the results of the parliamentary elections in terms of the female to male ratio, but the analysis of the latest local elections might be illustrative.

What Went Wrong?

The main reason why the gender quota did not have the expected effect is that the Electoral Code gives parties a way to circumvent it. Candidates once registered can then refuse to run up to 18 days before the elections or decline to submit an application for registration as a local council member up to 20 days after the declaration of the results. Thus, parties can be registered for elections based on lists in full compliance with the quota, but then frequently oblige women to withdraw before the voting or after the results are announced. For example, 63% of those who did not take up their seat on Kyiv’s city councils soon after the elections results were announced were women. With men making up 77.5% of leaders of parties’ local branches, female candidates are used in this way as a tool that helps a party meet the registration requirements. Loopholes in legislation that allow parties to circumvent gender quotas and growing unethical practices by parties to comply with gender quotas without undergoing any internal transformation are only one of the numerous obstacles for women in starting and developing a political career.

Reform Consequences

The 2020 latest local elections in Ukraine were the first ones held not only after the adoption of mandatory gender quotas but also after the first results of decentralization reform. It turned out that this reform has also had unintended gender consequences. Decentralization in Ukraine was supposed to create more opportunities for marginalized groups to make their voice heard and to give more chances to women to become engaged in the political process as local elections are considered more accessible. Due to changes in tax and budget legislation in the context of decentralization, the revenues of local authorities have increased more than threefold, which might explain why the predominantly male leadership of most political parties became so interested in getting more seats in local government bodies and why so few women were elected in 2020 as members of village and town councils in comparison to in 2015. Besides, the increases in the size of the election deposit required from candidates and the introduction of election deposits at all electoral levels—both of which were included in the new Electoral Code that was adopted in 2019 in Ukraine—were unfavorable for the wider participation of women as candidates in local elections and might have a similar effect in parliamentary elections.

Other Challenges Female Politicians Face

One of the key factors still hampering women’s political empowerment is the composition of parties. Recruitment for most parties lacks transparency, while their overwhelmingly male leadership and the importance of having internal party connections means that men are often favored over women. Besides, nepotism and high levels of corruption create barriers for the inclusion of new faces in the political parties, particularly women. Even after being chosen as candidates, women seeking election to decision-making positions are constrained by different factors. This includes a lack of financial support for campaigning for such things as political advertising, renting office space, or printing political programs.

The Bigger Picture

Ultimately, the inclusion of women in politics has always been a marginal issue in Ukraine and now it is even more sidelined in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and full-scale war. As greater gender equality can only be achieved if women and men alike actively engage in making it a reality, the engagement of men as agents of change in promoting gender equality is a key to success. That is not only in the interest of women to struggle for an inclusive society but the engagement of more men in gender-equality initiatives make the public see that this is not a marginal issue but a necessary prerequisite for the benefit of the whole of society.


This article was first published by Release Peace: The Magazine in March 2023.

Darina Dvornichenko is a ReThink.CEE Fellow of The German Marshall Fund of the United States.