Almost! How Iceland missed out on having Europe's first female-majority parliament

Iceland, unlike some other countries, does not have an actual legal quota on female representation in the parliament, although some parties do require a minimum number of candidates to be women.
Icelandic prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir talks to supporters of her Left-Green Movement at a party event in Reykjavik on September 25, 2021, after the announcement of partial results in the country's general elections. (AFP)
Icelandic prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir talks to supporters of her Left-Green Movement at a party event in Reykjavik on September 25, 2021, after the announcement of partial results in the country's general elections. (AFP)
Updated on Sep 28, 2021 01:34 PM IST
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Written by Joydeep Bose | Edited by Meenakshi Ray, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Iceland seemed to have made history for a brief moment on Sunday when an initial election count appeared to have made the country the first in Europe to win a female-majority parliament. The early projections based on the final results showed that women had won 33 of the 63 seats in the Althing parliament, a remarkable 52 per cent. A later recount, however, soon cleared up the situation and credited the women with 30 seats, or 47.6 per cent. It was announced that Iceland was going to have a male-majority parliament after all.

Iceland has long been a pioneer in gender equality and women's rights, so the initial election results were hailed as a landmark moment for progressive politics. According to data compiled by the World Bank, no other European country has had more than 50 per cent of women lawmakers in parliament, but Sweden has now come the closest at 47 per cent.

To what extent did the numbers change after the recount?

According to public broadcaster RUV, it was understood that a handful of votes had been miscounted in the initial projection of the Saturday ballot for Althing, Iceland's parliament. This affected the distribution of the so-called “compensatory” seats, according to the broadcaster which communicates elections results in an official role. As far as representation in the parliament was concerned, the recount showed that there will be 33 men and 30 women.

However, the recount did not affect the overall election results and the distribution of seats. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir's coalition bloc, which includes the conservative Independence Party and the centre-right Progressive Party along with her Left-Green Movement, won the majority with a total of 37 of the 63 seats in the parliament, boosting its representation from the 33 it held before the vote.

But the Left-Green Movement itself won only eight seats, three fewer than in 2017, raising questions about Jakobsdottir's future as prime minister. The largest party remained the Independence Party, whose leader Bjarni Benediktsson – the current finance minister and a former prime minister – has long been eyeing Jakobsdottir's job.

Pioneer in gender equality

Iceland, unlike some other countries, does not have an actual legal quota on female representation in the parliament, although some parties do require a minimum number of candidates to be women.

However, the latest election results are still being called a milestone in gender equality and women's rights, considering the effort put forth by activists in recent years to increase female representation in parliamentary politics. Speaking to the AFP news agency, Icelandic president Gudni Johannesson said, “This is yet another example of how far we have advanced on the road to full gender equality.”

Only five other countries around the globe currently have parliaments where women hold at least half the seats, although none of them is in Europe. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, these are – Rwanda (61 per cent), Cuba (53 per cent), Nicaragua (51 per cent), Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates (50 per cent).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021