The late 1990s and the beginning of 2000s saw the emergence of women’s parties across Eastern Europe. For example, the Lithuanian Women Party was formed in 1996 as a “party, which represents interests of family and children, defends and represents women’s rights. It is the only party where women are in majority” (Prunskiene 1997, 4). The agenda of the Ukrainian party, Women for the Future, which rose to third place within thirty-six election blocs and electoral initiatives in the 2004 elections, primarily focused on issues such as maternity and education. In Poland, the Women’s Party (established in 2007) attracted thousands of women as it aimed at positioning itself beyond the traditional political divisions of Left-Right and liberal-socialist politics. Women’s Party leaders emphasized the necessity of providing women with equal opportunities in the labor market and the capacity to balance the demands of a professional career and motherhood. At the same time, however, this party refused to voice an opinion on reproductive rights (specifically a right for legal abortion). During its first months of existence, Women’s Party gained more than ten thousand women members across the country and became a catalyst for the establishment of sixteen local branches and four “transnational” Women’s Party units around the world (Ireland, London, Berlin, and the United States). However, during the October 2007 elections, it received only 45,121 votes (0.28% of all casted votes) and did not secure any seats in the Parliament. The party changed its name to Feminist Initiative in 2016, and it ceased to exist in 2020.
Even though women’s parties were often not successful, the European Union’s integration processes and the introduction of the “equality machinery” into state institutions had some positive effects on women’s representation in formal politics. In years 2012-2014, the total (average) women’s participation in East European parliaments was 23.2% (compared to the European average of 25.3%) and women constituted on average 19.7% members of the governments. Countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, and Slovenia had higher percentages of women in parliament than most world states (with Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia having more than 32% of women in parliament). Some East European states succeeded in electing female politicians to the highest political functions. These include women presidents such as Maia Sandu in Moldova, Dalia Grybauskaite in Lithuania, Zuzana Ćaputova in Slovakia, Vjosa Osmani in Kosovo as well as prime ministers: Jdranka Kosor in Croatia, Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine, Kaja Kallas in Estonia, Ingrida Simonyte in Lithuania, Iveta Radjcova in Slovakia, and Hanna Suchocka, Ewa Kopacz, and Beata Szydło in Poland. In Serbia Ana Brnabic was elected the first non-heterosexual woman prime minister, and in Belarus Svetlana Tikkhanovskaya won a presidential election, even though she was not able to take on the power. Tsikhanouskaya ran for a president in the 2020 Belarusian election, after her husband, a main opposition candidate was arrested. The official results of the elections gave Tsikhanouskaya 10% of the vote, while the ruling president received 80%. However, it is a widespread belief that the elections were a fraud staged by Alexander Lukashenko, who is known for his disrespect for the rule of law and being a close ally of Vladimir Putin.