FEMFACTS
15 Feb 2019

Lithuania claims there are many women in the government -- so where are they?

Most of Lithuania's high ranking politicians are men -- even when women rise in the civil service ranks, they don't get political appointments.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Lithuania claims there are many women in the  government -- so where are they? - NewsMavens
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, center, watches a battle demonstration, Wikimedia Commons

Speaking at a panel in Davos, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė was asked to explain why her country was making headlines for standing on the brink of becoming the EU’s only all-male government.

In Lithuania, the directly-elected president is the head of state but not the head of the government, so Grybauskaitė can only approve or reject ministers proposed by the prime minister. Faced with pressure not to form an all-male government, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis made several controversial statements, one of them being that ministers are not the only members of government -- and there were “a lot of women” in the lower ranks.

Criticized for shedding the government’s female officials, PM Skvernelis replied that, “Women are very important, but competence, personal qualities and professionalism are, too.” Speaking to the ELTA news agency, he asserted:

“We have rather many [women], and, speaking of the government itself, it isn’t only ministers -- there are vice-ministers, chiefs-of-staff, and management of ministerial collectives. So we certainly have women. We love, support and cherish [women], so the opportunities [are] actually equal.”

When he started looking for a new minister of the environment Skvernelis proposed lawyer and Vice-minister of Justice Irma Gudžiūnaitė to fill the role. The president rejected her, and the PM decided not to search for more candidates until the presidential election this May. Did he really have that many women to choose from, and how many are “many”?

A majority at the bottom and a minority at the top

Let us look at the numbers. Of the vice-ministers as of February 2019, 14 are women and 26 are men. The ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, transport and communications, as well as national defense have only male vice-ministers.

It is only with chancellors, or chiefs-of-staff, that the government has achieved a perfect gender balance -- seven and seven. There were also 15 male and 16 female advisers to ministers, while ministries employed 4 male and 17 female ministerial advisers (civil servants).

It is not clear what the PM meant by “collectives”, but if he meant ministerial working groups, which can be convened by ministers to develop legislation, six ministries have working groups embedded in their structure. Not all of them clearly designate a group leader, but assuming that the first person listed is the group leader, 14 women and 9 men chaired these groups which are composed of civil servants. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport also occasionally convenes working groups, and in 2018, the minister created two, both headed by men.

A look at staff lists on the ministries’ staff pages shows that most civil servants, including numerous department heads, are women. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, the distribution of top-level administrators in national administration is very equal in Lithuania. Yet the civil service should be assessed separately from the government and politically appointed staff.

The currently all-male government, with two-thirds of its vice-ministers being men, sits on top of a highly feminized civil service, where educated women strive to “make it” in an environment that is less likely to undervalue their contributions compared with the private sector. Still, even when they rise within the ranks of bureaucracy and become department heads, this is not reflected in political appointments. The PM’s statement that there are “many” women in the government contains a partial truth -- it applies to advisers and chancellors/chiefs-of-staff, who rarely enjoy public visibility. Vice-ministers, who are often in the spotlight, are still predominantly male.

Searching for the "token woman"

The government’s former chief-of-staff Milda Dargužaitė, who had worked for Goldman Sachs in New York, went back to the business world in late 2017 and accused the government of nurturing a sexist atmosphere. She claims that women were routinely expected to serve as a decorative addition rather than take important decisions, and she experienced this by routinely hearing that her assertive stance was merely her “feminine scheming”.

The situation is not much better in the legislative branch. Women make up only 22 percent of the parliament, and out of its 15 committees, only five are chaired by women. Also, out of the country’s 60 mayors, only five are women.

Lithuania is not the most sexist country in the EU by any measure. Lithuanian women are not only far more educated than the men, but they are also no more likely than men to self-report being overqualified for their jobs. The gender pay gap is below the EU average, and the women’s employment rate is the second-highest in the EU.

Decades of a socialist planned economy absorbed women into the labor market and normalized the institutional daycare of children.  According to Eurostat, 28 percent of executives in the largest publicly listed Lithuanian enterprises are women -- far above the EU average of 17 percent. Women’s suffrage became embedded in building independent Lithuania in 1918, and Lithuania was the 11th country in the world to appoint a female government leader.

Yet when it comes to political visibility, parties put forward few women, and when they do, most of the women conform to specific archetypes -- the child-free iron lady, the matron, or the zealous party loyalist. Professor Natalija Arlauskaitė, commenting on the situation, pointed out that leaders expect women to be “modest laborers” and stay away from positions of visibility.

President Grybauskaitė, who is number 63 on Forbes’s Power Women 2018 list, believes that gender quotas are unhelpful for women in getting ahead, and that all women have to do is be twice as good as men in order to rise to important positions. Former chief-of-staff Dargužaitė, who fled this government in November 2017, wrote that she would rather see an all-male government than a woman being appointed and then accused the government of appointing women (including herself ) as a gesture of tokenism.

We have all heard the claim that if gender balance is taken into account, all those unqualified women will flood into positions of power, right? A diplomat, a former judge, bureaucrats who rose through the ranks, a former mayor, a psychiatrist, a former auditor, a lecturer and social worker, a former central bank executive -- these are the profiles of the current all-male government’s ministers. Two have switched policy areas, from the interior to agriculture or justice. The government, proudly presenting itself as a cabinet of professionals, had two female ministers when it initially formed in November 2016 and soon added a third one in December 2016. The last one, Milda Vainiutė, was the first to leave. Two more were replaced by men around the end of 2018.

The Ministry of Culture is now headed by Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, who previously worked at the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, while the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport welcomed back Algirdas Monkevičius, who already held this role 11 years ago. But 2019 started without a minister of environment. Surely when the ruling party is called Farmers and Greens, one would expect there to be numerous ambitious female candidates with environmental credentials.

Instead, it looks almost as if Skvernelis’s team responded with the pressure not to form an all-male government by putting forward a proverbial "inexperienced woman" to prove gender sensitivity proponents wrong. Gudžiūnaitė is 30 years old, and an ambitious member of the junior partner in the ruling coalition, yet she possess no experience in environmental matters. Predictably, pundits, the media and the opposition jumped at these drawbacks. When Gudžiūnaitė’s candidacy was revealed, tabloid Lietuvos rytas announced: “Skvernelis found a woman”. Unnamed sources close to the government claimed that there were two other female candidates for the ministerial post, and the PM’s advisor, Skirmantas Malinauskas, admitted that gender was indeed taken into account.

After an interview, the president rejected Gudžiūnaitė. Acting offended, PM Skvernelis said he will not appoint a new minister until the presidential election in May -- an election he is contesting himself. The PM recently raised many eyebrows by stating that as a father with young children, he is a worthy presidential candidate. This was his claim against his key competitor, Ingrida Šimonytė, and his way of highlighting his differences from Grybauskaitė -- the incumbent.

As elections approach, the public is left with the news that the PM tried to find a woman for his government, but the Iron Lady, as Grybauskaitė is known, rejected her. Yet the question remains -- why did the the government fail to find any experienced and ambitious women for any of the vacant positions?

We rate this statement as an attempt to spin the negative coverage. While women’s educational attainment, especially in social science, favorable working conditions and lower gender pay gap compared to the private sector has attracted many women to work at ministries, political appointments still follow a different logic.

The fact that two prominent women who left his government (a minister and chief-of-staff) explicitly cited a lack of support, and two others were not supported when challenged, makes his statement about “supporting and cherishing women” in order to achieve equal opportunities very unconvincing.

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