Wanted: Women of political influence

On Friday, 12 October, our sense of pride in being Europeans reached new peaks after the announcement of the Norwegian Nobel peace prize panel decision to award this year’s prize to the EU.

As winners, the EU joins a list of distinguished individuals who contributed to reconciliation, promotion of democracy, human rights and culture of peace.
Seventeen, out of the hundreds honorable Nobel peace prize winners are women. Three of which Ms. Ellen Johnson, Ms. Leymah Gbowee and Ms. Tawakkol Karman, jointly won the peace prize last year for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

Officially and unofficially, women have long been influencing the decision making sphere either in the spotlight, or behind the scenes. With the gradual development of female leadership notions throughout the late 20th century, the male dominant political sphere began to open up to females in positions of political power, although not enough.

Data from the UN show that women are still under-represented in positions of power in public life; while they represent 3.5 billion citizens, globally women are less than 1 in 5 members of parliament. Worldwide only 29 countries have more than 30% female representation, even in healthy and functioning democracies.
Of the 193 countries which are members of the United Nations, only nine have female Presidents and another nine female Prime Ministers.

The possibility for all citizens to participate in the management of public affairs is at the very heart of every democracy; therefore it is unfortunate that in the majority of countries the political arena remains largely dominated by men.

As a female politician I can personally empathise with many of the burdens women face when entering public life: from family obligations to traditional environments to attitudes to women in positions of power.

Legislation can be seen as the way forward to reconcile professional and private life which will maximize women’s participation in public life.

While controversial, quotas may present the best available solution to boost women’s representation in public life.

Another way forward would be to influence the environment of public life which remains hostile to women. In this context the media can play a main role encouraging women and “educating” the public in the benefits of equal participation of women in public life.

The time has come to change the current decision making system and make it both, more friendly and more open to women.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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