QOTM: Females in European politics by YEM St Andrews

In the light of Angela Merkel’s reelection as Germany’s Chancellor and 
Ewa Kopacz advent as Poland’s Prime Minister, to what extent is the glass ceiling for women in politics breaking?

The realm of politics has always been and continues to be a man’s world.
Taking into account prominent female leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and the newly-appointed Ewa Kopacz, this statement certainly cannot be applied to the European Union, or can it? 

Celebrating a decade as Chancellor of Germany as well as her recent reelection as head of its leading party (Christian Democratic Union), Angela Merkel is rightfully considered among the world’s most powerful and certainly a leading force in the European Union. Nonetheless, even the world’s “most powerful woman” (Forbes) cannot seem to escape derogative terminology such as “Mutti” [Mommy] and worst of all “Kohl’s Girl”, employed by the media and even the public. However viewed in terms of her impact on the status of women in politics, Merkel’s value is arguably merely symbolic. As head of the conservative party with a distinctly non-feminist agenda, Merkel has not implemented policies significantly contributing to aiding women, notably failing to narrow Germany’s significant pay gap of 22 %. 

Moreover Ewa Kopacz, fresh to office as Prime Minister, has recently shown an arguable lack of concern for Poland’s bill against domestic violence, cancelling its reading and pushing the debate to a late-night session (Guardian). 

This goes to show that successful women, in politics or any professional domain,  should not be regarded synonymously with a feminist or expected to advance the interest of women  – a notion which can most notably be applied to Margaret Thatcher, who in 11 years promoted only one woman to her cabinet.

Claiming that these examples of “token women” in politics may have succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling for all women in the profession would entail a narrow view of these political leaders in terms of their gender and not in terms of their actions.

Breaking the glass ceiling requires moving beyond the individual and focusing on broader measures to be implemented by EU member states. One notable example is the Council of Europe’s Transversal Programme on Gender Equality which aims to increase the impact and visibility of gender equality standards, supporting their implementation in member states and creating measures to achieve balanced participation of women and men in any decision making body and member state of the EU.  Moreover the recent launch of an inter-institutional women’s caucus to promote gender equality in the EU institutions, led by EU commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and comprised of female MEPs as well as staff from the EU commission, EU council and national embassies in Brussels, will serve to promote more women at the top of these institutions. 

Moving forward, while successful female politicians such as Thatcher, Merkel and Kopacz may offer inspiration to break the glass ceiling, it is initiatives like these that will provide the necessary tools to finally succeed in achieving equal gender participation in politics.