The problem is recognized, lamented or ignored, some parties are doing something, some are not. The fact that women are underrepresented in German parliaments (and not only here) has been an issue for decades. It’s true that it’s significantly larger today than it was a few decades ago – in the Bundestag it began in 1949 with a women’s quota of almost seven percent, which changed only marginally until the end of the 1980s. Then it went up because the SPD and especially the Greens brought more women into parliament.

But since 1998 there has been stagnation – since then, on average, around a third of MPs have been women. It is not much different in the state parliaments, the proportion of women is between 46 percent in Hamburg (an outlier upwards) and almost 22 percent in Saxony-Anhalt.

The entry of the AfD into the parliaments plays a certain role here – the right-wing party is a male association among the members, the applicants for parliamentary seats and the MPs. In the Bundestag, a seventh of the parliamentary group is currently female. For the Union and FDP it is almost a quarter, for the Social Democrats it is a good 40 percent, for the Left and Greens it is more than half.

The parties with a “women’s deficit” promise improvement. But how should it go? The Greens, the Left Party and the SPD are propagating binding or voluntary quotas for women on the lists and are demanding a parity law for this. But Union, FDP and AfD hold against it for different reasons.

The Electoral Law Commission in the Bundestag has the task of weighing up the parity problem and making a proposal, in addition to an electoral law reform for a smaller Bundestag and the introduction of the voting age of 16. On Thursday evening, the round of 13 members of the Bundestag and 13 experts debated it. After that it is clear: the Bundestag will not pass a parity law for the time being. There is no majority for it. In the coalition agreement – in contrast to lowering the voting age to 16 – the traffic light did not even make a decision on this. Union and AfD are not participating anyway, but the FDP is also against it. The FDP member of the commission, Konstantin Kuhle, described parity by law as “highly problematic”.

Because it is just unclear whether parity laws – usually it is a matter of specifying a quota for women based on the proportion of the population – are constitutional. In Bavaria, a popular lawsuit to introduce such a provision failed in 2018, and the state parliament laws in Brandenburg and Thuringia were rejected by the state constitutional courts there in 2020.

Shortly thereafter, the Federal Constitutional Court also made a statement in response to an election scrutiny complaint aimed at recognizing parity. At that time, the Second Senate decided against the application due to insufficient justification and also made clear general doubts. According to the decision, the principle of electoral equality means that all citizens can informally exercise the right to vote and stand for election in the same way. According to the court, the “lack of parity requirements” could “take account of the equal opportunities of all those applying for a candidacy”, “while the ordering of parity obligations would contradict this principle”.

The Düsseldorf law professor Sophie Schönberger underlined the importance of this in the electoral law commission. Men and women should be allowed to stand for all positions on a list – i.e. men also for positions intended for women and vice versa. If a party decides on parity lists of its own accord, that’s fine. A federal law, on the other hand, could fail in Karlsruhe.

Silke Laskowski from the University of Kassel, a pioneer for legal parity requirements, on the other hand, emphasized that the justification is important – and referred above all to the Basic Law, which from her point of view requires such a regulation: Article 3 was reformulated in 1994, and since then the ” actual implementation of equal rights for women and men” state mandate. According to Laskowski, a parity law serves this enforcement.

It is clear that the Electoral Law Commission will not recommend a parity law. Are there other possibilities? The question is essentially aimed at the Union and the FDP. So it’s about how to become more attractive to women. The CDU MP Nina Warken pointed to the proportion of women in the party membership – which is reflected in the parliamentary groups. If you take this proportion as a benchmark, women are actually over-represented in the parliamentary groups of the Greens, Left and SPD. In the case of the Union, FDP and AfD, on the other hand, the connection is there.

The expert Bernd Grzeszick invited by the Union pointed to a political solution that is open to the parties: the proportion of women as an advertising medium, so to speak. The parties left of center would then have to denounce the absence of women on the lists and both constituency candidates of the right of center parties more offensively. Could this help? Would open lists be an additional means of increasing the proportion of women – i.e. the possibility of changing the order of the otherwise rigid lists through targeted voting? According to the findings of the mathematician Friedrich Pukelsheim from the University of Augsburg, also a member of the commission, open lists actually result in parity – at least in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, where this possibility exists.