In the light of Angela Merkel’s reelection as Germany’s Chancellor and Ewa Kopacz being Poland’s Prime Minister, to what extent is the glass ceiling for women in politics breaking?
Exceptions are dangerous things. If they are taken to ‘prove the rule’, as the saying goes, then they reinforce a status quo of injustice. Case in point: grammar schools. Defenders laud the triumph of opportunity afforded to the underprivileged but in reality it is the middle-classes which fill the places. Merkel and Kopacz are the success stories of a similarly contrived system; in both grammar schools and politics, unaided opportunity translates into reality only sporadically. We cannot believe European politics is in a healthy condition because certain exceptional women have been successful.
A recent study by the Global Gender Gap Report showed that globally Europe has in fact undergone the smallest change in terms of closing the gender gap. Of 142 countries, Britain came just 63rd for the number of women in parliament. And in Europe, despite calls for more women to be put forward, Mr Juncker was only able to appoint nine women to the recently elected Commission, which he himself labelled ‘pathetic’. If women are to break the glass ceiling, we have to clamp down on the poisonous atmosphere of sexism still very much embedded in politics.
It is easy to despair when such sexism seems to occur unrelentingly (just last month for instance a UK Labour MP said that the fisheries minister post was ‘unsuitable for a woman’). But Kirsty McNeill has highlighted some ways in which we could potentially tackle the problem:
” – Widen the pipeline by joining or donating to the women’s networks and organisations inside each party which provide training and support.
– Name and note the problem by logging examples of media or other sexism at @everydaysexism and alerting @panelwatch to all-male panels.
– Join End Violence Against Women’s efforts to improve sexual harassment policies across the parties.
– Invest in the infrastructure which monitors promotion figures by supporting organisations like the Centre for Women and Democracy and the Fawcett Society.
– Audit your echo chamber by working out your twee-q.com score to test how often you amplify the twitter voices of men rather than women, and get the scores for our political, media and think tank leaders too.”
It is our duty to address this pressing issue, and it is through European initiative and exchange that we can do so. Lessons from and the promotion of Sweden’s successful Feminist Initiative for instance could be invaluable for other similar movements. In the meantime let’s be inspired by the likes Merkel and Kopacz, but try to remember that we could have even more like them in a reformed political atmosphere.