Women have equal billing on the list of candidates for parliament fielded by North Macedonia’s ruling Social Democrats. But when North Macedonia and Croatia both vote in elections next month, how many women will actually become MPs?

“The problem is not in the legislation, but in its [non] application,” said the Croatian Centre for Education, Counselling and Research, CESI, a gender issues watchdog.

‘This gives me hope’

The announcement in March that men and women would share equal billing on the Social Democrat-led candidate list was widely praised in North Macedonia, though civil society organisations stressed it did not mean the fight for true equality had been won in a country where female politicians frequently face gender-based discrimination and hate speech.

Also unprecedented was the alliance’s decision to put male-female pairings at the head of its candidate lists in each of North Macedonia’s six electoral districts.

Uranija Pirovska, head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, hailed the development as a “positive step forward” and a “good starting point”.

“Society in North Macedonia only started speaking openly about gender equality and demanding true positive and affirmative change a few years ago,” Pirovska told BIRN.

“I see many women on those lists who have relevant backgrounds, who stood for something in the past, some activists as well. And this gives me hope.”

Croatia ranks far behind North Macedonia.

Rules in North Macedonia require political parties to ensure that at least 30 per cent of their MP candidates are women.

In the last election in 2016, 38 of the parliament’s 120 seats were filled by women, placing North Macedonia 21st out of 193 countries on the Women in National Parliaments database compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU.

Croatia, in comparison, ranks 97th.

In the last Croatian parliamentary election in 2016, only 19 of the parliament’s 151 seats went to women, the lowest number in 15 years. That figure rose to 30 after some MPs moved to take up seats in the cabinet and many were replaced in parliament by women.

In North Macedonia, however, parties often place women lower down the candidate list, thus decreasing their chances of actually being elected to parliament.

For the July election, most parties have met the 30 per cent rule, but few bar the Social Democrats have gone beyond it.

The main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, for example, has included a number of prominent female public figures on its list of candidates. In each of the six electoral districts, there is at least one woman among the top five VMRO-DPMNE candidates. In two districts, women occupy the top spot, including former VMRO-DPMNE presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska in the capital, Skopje.

In North Macedonia, failure to meet the 30 per cent rule would result in that party’s candidate list being rejected by electoral authorities.

Croatian ruling party ignores quota rule

Croatia has a similar quota system, but failure to comply is punishable only by a fine of 50,000 kunas, roughly 6,600 euros, per candidate list, up to a maximum total of 550,000 kunas, or roughly 72,000 euros – not a lot for the major parties.

For example, in next month’s election, Croatia’s ruling conservatives in the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, has failed to field enough women on its candidate lists for the country’s electoral districts.

Pressed on the issue, parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic, who is a member of HDZ, told reporters that the numbers reflected the party’s promotion of women to important posts in international bodies where Croatia is represented.

“If there is a lack of women on the lists now, we will certainly compensate for it in the executive branch,” he said on Tuesday.

CESI, the gender issues watchdog, said that in Croatia the importance a party places on gender equality decreases the more the party grows in power, “which is an indicator of political irresponsibility and the low level of democracy.”

Croatia’s opposition Social Democratic Party, SDP, and its ‘Restart’ coalition has sought to alternate between men and women on its candidate lists.

But critics questioned the SDP’s commitment to equality in March when party leader Davor Bernardic, asked to explain the lack of women among the SDP’s main election coordinators, told reporters that “coordination is not for experimentation”.

CESI singled out the Green-Left ‘Mozemo!’, or ‘We Can!’, coalition in Croatia’s upcoming election for naming six women as its frontrunners for parliament. This sent a clear message “that women can do it, that they are not just there to support a [male] leader,” CESI said.

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