Quick facts

Qualitative facts

1.  Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

2.  History of Women's suffrage

3.  Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making
   a.  Infrastructure responsible for EO
   b.  Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
   c.  Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

Europäische Datenbank: Frauen in Führungspositionen

Report from Austria by our transnational partner Elke Beneke

Quick facts
Women in Politics:
Women's suffrage active: 1919
Women's suffrage passive: 1919
1st Women in parliament: 1927-1929 Olga Rudel-Zeynek, Chair of the Bundesrat
1st Women in government: 1966-1970 Grethe Rehor, Federal Minister of Social Affairs
1st Ministry on women's issues: 1979 Federal Minister for Women's Affairs and Consumer Protection
% women in national Parliament: 24,7% (2000)
% women in national Government: 31,3% (2000)
Electoral System:
Proportional: National Council
183 MPs; elected by party list vote (4% barrier) from 9 multi-seat provinces
Quota:
Quota Law: No quota regulation legislation
Party Quota: since 1987 parity within the Grünen Alternativen (The Greens) 50%, ÖVP 30%, SPÖ 40%
Education:
% women with secondary degree: 57,4 % (1995/1996)
% women with degree in higher education: 51,9% (1997)
% women in senior management: 4,8% (1999)
Women's employment rates:
Full time: 50,8% (1998)
Part-time: 30,3% (1998)
Activity rate: 63,7% (1998)
Unemployment: 5,6% (1998)
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.

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Qualitative facts

1. Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

The legal basis of the Republic of Austria is the Federal Constitution. The Constituent National Assembly adopted it on October 1st, 1920.
After 1945, the political parties became the founders of the Austrian Republic. In April 1945, the three anti-fascist parties: the SPÖ (Austrian Socialist Party - now: Socialdemocratic Party of Austria), ÖVP ( Christian Socialist Party - now: Austrian People's Party) and KPÖ (Communist Party of Austria) reached an agreement about the formation of a provisional government.
Now, the Communist Party is no longer represented in Parliament. Other parties presently having mandates in the Austrian Federal Parliament are FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria), currently being a government coalition party, and Die Grünen (The Greens). In 1999, another party, the LIF (Liberal Forum) had to give up its seat in the Nationalrat (~ National Assembly) but is still represented in some State Governments (State Parliaments).The Austrian Federal President is elected directly. Similarly, the Austrian people elect the Nationalrat through an equal, direct, and private ballot based on proportional election. Representation of political parties in the Nationalrat is also determined by direct ballot. The Federal Chancellor is appointed by the Federal President, as are all the other members of the Federal Government, the latter upon recommendation of the Federal Chancellor. The Austrian legislative power is in the hands of the Nationalrat, together with the Bundesrat (~ Federal Assembly). The Bundesrat is composed of representatives of the nine Austrian federal provinces in proportion to their population. State Parliaments elect Members of the Bundesrat for their term of legislation in an election based on proportional representation.
At the elections to the Nationalrat in 1994, new election regulations were applied for the first time. This has not led to any significant changes in the political landscape, but has increased the conscious participation of women in the political decision-making process. Hand in hand with this reform, a regional election system and the possibility of "preferential votes" were introduced in regional and provincial party elections. This has made the electoral system, in which a vote is cast for a party rather than a specific candidate, a practice still valid in Austria, much more personal.

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2. History of Women's suffrage

In 1919, the right for women to vote and to be eligible for candidacy was introduced. In the first ballots, eight women were elected as political representatives. One motivation certainly was the end of the First World War. At this time, women particularly demanded participation in post-war reconstruction. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner in the year 1905 was another factor encouraging women to actively participate in the political decision-making process. However, it was not before the 1980s and early 1990s that women started to intensify their move to enter working life and politics. A wave of socio-political reforms in family law, decriminalisation of abortion, etc. which strengthened the personal independence of women (family law, decriminalisation of abortion, etc.) preceded this period.
The establishment of a Ministry for Women's Affairs also supported this process. The rise in education levels and the stronger engagement of women in their careers have also positively influenced the trend towards independent election behaviour. Before that, women often had just followed the political opinion of men. The share of women in political bodies has increased gradually (1919: 5.9 %, 1983: 10.9 %, 1993: 20.8 %). The lowest share of female representation can be found in the State Parliaments.

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3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making

In 1979, a law of equal treatment for women and men in private businesses was passed and has later been amended various times. In 1990, this law was brought in line with European standards. This was particularly due to the finding that existing legal regulations of that time in no way sufficed to correspond to the European standards. In this context, the appointment of a female lawyer for equal treatment issues as a direct contact person was of particular importance.
In 1993 this law was geared to EU-standards. One additional regulation that was adopted was that sexual harassment at the workplace was made into direct sexual discrimination. Additionally, other existing regulations concerning indirect sex discrimination were expanded. In the same year an equal treatment law solely dedicated to civil servants in the federal administration was passed. This law embraced equal treatment rules corresponding to those in the private economy. In addition to these, a rule for the support of women was established in this law. This law has aimed at actively supporting equal opportunities for women and men.
An equal opportunities policy for women is not only a question of presence/absence of women in political bodies, but also it is mainly a question of political content. Nevertheless, the proportion of women in legislative and political bodies is an indicator of whether women do have or do not have a say in political decisions concerning their destiny.
On a political level, the Austrian political parties act quite differently.
The SPÖ, for example, set a quota of 25 % on all levels in 1985, which in 1993 was raised to 40 %. This quota applied to places on the party list as well as to party functions. By 2003 this goal shall be reached. A minimum quota of 25 % was to be applied immediately (Article 16, para. 1-7 of SPÖ party by-laws). The Greens introduced a 50 % women's quota in 1993, being translated into action by means of a zipper system. The ÖVP passed a declaration of principle in 1995, adopting a women's quota of 30 %. The FPÖ and the Liberal Forum have not yet introduced quota regulations.

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a. Infrastructure responsible for EO

In the context of women in the labour market, it should be mentioned that the first female Minister for Social Affairs (ÖVP) established a women's department in 1967, the tasks of which comprised the elaboration of studies on the social situation of working women, the imparting of information and the perception of international women's issues.
In 1979, a State Secretary for general women's issues was appointed. Since 1991, there has been a Federal Ministry in Austria especially dedicated to women's issues, which was assigned to the Federal Chancellery. The first Minister for Women's Affairs was Johanna Dohnal, who had been State Secretary before that. Institutional women's policy was thereby fostered, because the ministry was assigned some budgetary rights and a veto right in federal government decisions. The Women's Minister defined women's policy as "gender mainstreaming".
In 1997, the competences of the Women's Ministry were expanded by consumer protection tasks. In the year 2000, the Ministry for Women's Affairs was disbanded and integrated into the newly established Ministry of Social Security and Generation Issues.

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b.Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy

The changes in living conditions of women have been reflected in their political opinions and behaviour. Since the end of the 1960s, gender-specific differences in election behaviour have no longer been a political topic. However, a reversal of trends could not be witnessed before the 1980s, in particular before the introduction of the quota system, which was initiated by the SPÖ and later on adopted by the other political parties.
With the separation of the LIF from the FPÖ, the political landscape in Austria underwent some changes, with a woman (Heide Schmidt) for the first time chairing a political party. The Greens had had a chairwoman in a parliamentary group already in 1986 (Freda Meissner-Blau, and later Madeleine Petrovic).
Since the beginning of the year 2000, the FPÖ has also had a female party leader. At the coming party convention of the FPÖ, Susanne Riess-Passer will take the place of Jörg Haider as federal party leader. The SPÖ also goes along with this trend. Although this party has a man as Chairperson, two women were appointed party secretaries.

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c. Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

The law of equal treatment for women and men in civil service was meant to provide the legal basis for a "quantitative" and qualitative feminisation of administration. In 1993, the federal law of equal treatment for women and men and of the support of women in the federal administration came into force. One decisive step in this process was the establishment of female contact persons and equal treatment observers in every department. The federal government also set up an equal treatment committee within its domain. Ministerial task forces for equal treatment issues supplement these bodies.
In 1990, a female lawyer for equal treatment issues was appointed as a direct contact for women working in private enterprises and feeling discriminated against in working life due to gender. Until 1999, this lawyer used to be assigned to the Federal Ministry for Women's Affairs and Consumer Protection with regard to competences. In addition to this direct contact person, an equal treatment committee consisting of social partners was set up.
With the signing of the EEA Treaty in 1994, Austria committed herself to bring the Austrian laws and administrational procedures in line with EU laws and standards. Hence, all federal provinces passed equal treatment laws, containing the rule of equal treatment for women and men as well as targeted support for women.
The first Austrian women's petition for a referendum was a visible sign for women not being willing to lay down their demand for equal treatment and to accept socio-political developments affecting only them in a negative way. 645,000 Austrians signed this petition in 1997. This increased participation of women in the political decision-making process and their interest in political issues was strengthened by university equal treatment committees and the introduction of chairs for women's affairs. A summary of the changes in the situation of women from 1985 until 1995 is provided by the Women's Report of the Federal Ministry for Women's Affairs. Accordingly, all federal provinces have periodically published Women's Reports.

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