QOTM: Females in European politics by YEM Cambridge

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?

The odds look like 2015 is going to be a good year for women in politics. Several European countries are governed by female politicians, such as Angela Merkel in Germany, Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Denmark, Ewa Kopacz in Poland, or Dalia Grybauskait? in Lithuania, plus the often overlooked Marie Louise Coleiro Preca in Malta, and Simonetta Sommaruga in Switzerland. What is more, the situation is set to improve further: Hillary Clinton will eventually publicly declare her intention to try and become the first female President of the US in the next few weeks, and chances are the next President of the Italian Republic might be a woman. 

Things are also looking pretty good outside the boundaries of Europe and North America, though we tend to hear a bit less about those leaders in Western media. Three out of twelve countries in South America are being governed by women: Chile by Michelle Bachelet, Brazil by Dilma Rousseff, and Argentina by Cristina Kirchner. In addition to these, Peru haelected Ana Jara as Prime Minister last July, though the country’s President is a man. In Africa, Catherine Samba-Panza has been entrusted with the arduous task of leading the transition of the Central African Republic away from civil war toward a more stable social eqilibrium; and Nobel Peace Prize Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been serving as President of Liberia ever since 2005.

All good, then? Well, not really. We’ve only talked of heads of state and governmentso far; if we looked at another high-ranking political post, such as that of Foreign Minister, figures would look poor even within the European Union alone. Before her nomination to the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, indeed, Federica Mogherini from Italy was the only female Foreign Minister out of all EU member states’ cabinets. This is only one example of a global habit: according to the UN, only 17% of government ministers worldwide are actually women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family. As for national parliamentarians, only 21.8% were female as of 1 July 2014, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995. This is not to say that the situation at the very top of the political hierarchy does not reflect accurately the gender imbalance further down the ladder: all the countries governed by women mentioned above only make up 12 of the 193 UN member states, which is a mere 6%.Women’s active participation in politics, therefore, still is absurdly low, despite what the individual examples might fool us into thinking

Within such a despairingly black picture, there are nevertheless some good reasons to be optimistic about 2015. Perhaps the most important piece of news, which we unfortunately haven’t seen making the headlines yet, is that it was widely reported in 2011 that Saudi Arabia, one of the only four countries on the planet which still restrict women’s right to vote (together with the United Arab Emirates, Brunei, and Vatican City), would allow women to vote and run in elections starting from 2015. Might we reasonably hope that women will gain electoral rights all over the planet in the foreseeable future? YEM Cambridge thinks so, and adds that such a major step forward could provoke a global shift of attitudes toward female politicians, which will hopefully be the start of a grassroots movement aiming for a less skewed gender balance in Parliaments, Cabinets, and Presidential Offices all around the globe. Happy New Year, then, to all the female voters of the world!