Women's suffrage turns 100 in Lithuania -- how far have we come?

Lithuania was a pioneer in getting women the right to vote, but gender equality has not fully trickled into other areas of society.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Women's suffrage turns 100 in Lithuania -- how far have we come? - NewsMavens
Sofija Chodakauskaitė-Smetonienė with Lithuanian women, Lithuanian State Archive

Why this story matters:

While many Western European countries only introduced universal suffrage after WW2, it was built into the first constitution of the nascent Lithuanian republic -- but this did not happen without a struggle.

Early in the 21st Century, Lithuanian diplomat Gintė Damušytė was at one point the only female ambassador to NATO. "I sometimes joke that my elbows got stronger during those times, as I had to shove my way into the men's group," she told LRT, Lithuania's public broadcaster.

Many experts point out that Lithuania ranks low (below average) on EIGE's gender equality index. However, the index's design penalizes poorer countries for a low financial base on which the gaps are calculated. Estonia has the highest gender pay gap in the EU, but its index score is similar to Lithuania's.

The index shows that Lithuanian women work in the formal economy more than most of their European counterparts (ranked 4th). The share of women in managerial roles is over 40%, and there are more women among scientists and engineers in Lithuania than anywhere else in the E.U.

The gender employment gap is two times lower than in Sweden and is nearly negligible, and the pension gap is the 5th-lowest in the EU. Let's not forget that the president, serving her second term, is listed as one of the most powerful women in politics by Forbes.

On the other hand, women make up only one in five members of the parliament and the government, and the share of board members in the largest publicly listed companies is only 14%. Some years ago a theory circulated that when power departs an institution, so do the men, allowing women more space in ritualized participation. In Lithuania, which is still grappling with the "scandal of the decade" that proved extensive business meddling in politics and media, perhaps it is equality in business that we need to focus on now.

Details from the story:

  • When the first Lithuanian Council was convened after the country declared its independence on February 16, 1918, it turned out to be an all-male panel. The next day, disappointed women and their allies organised a mass protest.
  • Women's right to vote was then inscribed in the constitution the same year.
  • The first president's wife, Sofija Chodakauskaitė-Smetonienė, was a women's rights activist.
  • According to a leading gender equality expert, Margarita Jankauskaitė, today's issues relate to balanced participation. She reiterates the finding that women spend six times more time on chores.
  • The gender pay gap has been growing over the years and is now 14%. This is normally explained by career gaps resulting from imbalanced childcare responsibilities, as starting salaries are somewhat equal.
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