Women in power!

, by Mathilde Marmier, Translated by Pauline Gessant

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Women in power!
Women’s demonstration - Amsterdam European Council, 16-17/06/1997 Credit © European Union, 2011

If sometimes the aim of women’s day is hijacked, it is nonetheless an opportunity to remind inequalities between men and women.

Equal rights: huge hoax? Often taxed of being a real pain, feminists, however, are far from completing their fight. And if there is an illustration of the case, it is that of the place of women in politics. In Europe as in France, the statistics speak for themselves: women are underrepresented in the political sphere. Illustration of domination in the private sphere, the representativeness in politics shows in many ways the conception of a company.

Working to restore parity in politics is primarily an issue of representative democracy for nothing less than to restore a fair representation. Critics of parity laws invoke it is not necessary to impose obligations, which motivate to elect women to the single fact of their sex, regardless of their skills ... - as if any man incompetent had never been on an electoral list, indeed! The statutory requirement is certainly not an ideal solution. It can however be considered a “necessary evil”, a tool that, by increasing the number of women in the political landscape, can encourage vocations among women who, embroiled in social representations, often are not thinking of claiming positions of power. And Europeans do not seem strongly opposed to this idea ...

“Politics is dominated by men!”

Strongly agree” with this statement, said a majority of European women on the occasion of a Eurobarometer survey conducted specifically on the issue of women and European elections in 2009. It’s in the Czech Republic (89%), Poland (84%) and Portugal (83%) that they are more convinced of this dominance, the less out-and-out agreement being observed in Finland (51%) , Malta (62%) and the Netherlands (66%). Men are also, to a lesser extent, in agreement with the statement.

What happens in practice? In November 2009, Parliament counted 35% women [1]. This is the Finnish delegation, which held the record with more than 60% of women, followed by Sweden with 55%. In those countries that are exceptions, it is men who were in a position of numerical inferiority. France occupied the 6th place with 46% women among its MEPs: the famous “chabada lists” have borne fruit, parity is near. Delegations with the lowest proportions of women were Italy (22%), Poland (22%), Czech Republic (18%) and Luxembourg (17%). These figures remain well above rates in the lower chambers of national parliaments: 1 January 2010, the average proportion of women was 24% with a first place occupied by Sweden (47%), followed by the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark. France occupied a modest 19th place with 19% of women in the National Assembly, behind Poland, Italy and Lithuania, followed closely by the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovenia.

Regarding national governments, on March the 1st 2010, women ministers represented one quarter of the workforce. At the top, Finland with 60% women, followed by Spain (53%), Denmark (47%) and Sweden (45%). France ranked in the second part of the classification with 21% of women in government, the last positions are occupied by the Baltic countries with ratios below 10%. In the European institutions, the number of women commissioners was 10 out of 27, or 37%.

Explanations for differences between States are diverse: for some people, ancient origins - for example, in France, the Salic law, which in the thirteenth century, immediately banned the access of women to the throne - but also to the imprint of the religious culture, the Protestant culture giving more place to women in the decision process than the Catholic culture. All the differences seem to cause representations, on one hand contributing to overburden the confidence of women, on the other hand generating sexist reactions of exclusion.

Women! Women!

It seems nevertheless that European citizens are eager to see more women among their political representatives. According to the same Eurobarometer survey, 48% women and 39% of men thought that at least half of MEPs should be women. This objective was more desired by women in some countries: Sweden (74%), Ireland (67%) Portugal (62%). Conversely, it was less desired by women of the Baltic countries (20%), Czech Republic (28%) and Bulgaria (31%). As for the mean to achieve parity in the European Parliament, the majority of respondents to the survey opted for the solution of encouraging women to participate in politics (53% women and 42% of men). Encouraging a voluntary commitment of political parties, second preferred mean, enjoyed the support of only 12% of women and 15% of men. Finally, only a very small minority - 5% of women and 9% of men - said they were willing to “do nothing to increase the proportion of women.” It turns out that the new member states, accounting also for the most part the fewer women in national parliaments, are also those with the lowest rates of women and men demanding parity in the European Parliament.

The European good student

These encouraging statistics in the European institutions with regard to the national authorities should not lead us to marvel too quickly. In most states, the European elections are still less prestigious than national elections. And it’s preferred to nominate women candidates for less popular elections... Similarly, the distribution of positions remains unequal. Women remain responsible for social issues, education, where men are more involved in economic issues, international or defense.

However, no offense to some, the EU is far from being a bad pupil for parity. And if France was one of the first countries to introduce laws on gender politics in 2000 after having been European laggard in terms of women’s representation in elected assemblies, the European Union has been interested in these issues for a long time, although it has only limited powers in this domain. Indeed, most of the levers of struggle against inequality between men and women, linked with social policies, are within the jurisdiction of Member States. And few states, like France, have amended their electoral rules to this end.

In the late 1980s, a seminar was held on joint democracy in the initiative of the Council of Europe. In November 1992, the first European summit “Women in Power” was held in Athens at the request of the Commission of European Communities, bringing together women ministers or former ministers. A charter is then adopted and stated that “democracy requires parity in the representation and administration of nations.”

The Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 makes the promotion of equality between men and women on a mission of the Community and in fact an overarching concern. The Commission then has the right to act in the fight against discrimination, including those based on sex. In 2006, it adopted a roadmap to implement a new strategy for promoting gender equality over the period 2006 to 2010. It is divided into six thematic axis, among them equal representation in decision-making, but also the elimination of gender stereotypes in society and the promotion of gender equality outside the EU. The European Institute for equality between men and women was inaugurated in 2007. The Treaty of Lisbon gives a legally binding effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which enshrines the principle of equality in all areas.

Recently, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament has again stressed the importance of influencing national legislation on the subject. In the presence of national deputies, she was in favor of quotas to increase the number of women in politics. The President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek has also supported this solution. Finnish MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (PPE) is responsible for drafting a report on the role of women in politics.

Authorize the ambitions for each woman and each man !

“The woman will be truly equal to men when, in an important position, we will appoint a incompetent woman” cynically proclaimed Francoise Giroud. Nicole Fontaine, former President of the European Parliament, recalled that women “condemned to excel,” had to overcome and prove they were competent in politics as elsewhere. The struggle for gender equality in politics, true democracy and social issue, is indeed not over. It reminds us how, at their respective levels, EU states, activists, have the difficult task of continuing the educational work to overcome stereotypes, work which will perhaps permit everybody to dream of endorsing, a day, a role in politics ...


[1Source : fondation Robert Shuman

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