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A Mother’s Way Into High Politics

A Mother’s way into high politics

By: Anne-Cathrine Jensen

While the European Parliament pledges the businesses of Europe to use quotas to enforce more women on boards, no quotas has been introduced to ensure women on boards within the European Parliament. But that does not mean the topic is left unattended.

As a politician the way into the European Parliament is simple. You will have to be voted in in your own country. That does not mean that the task is easy, but the way to the Parliament lies in the hands of the voters of the member states, not the Parliament.

Currently 35% of members of the European Parliament are women. This number is the highest ever, but the work is not nearly done.

The way in is the longest

According to Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Christel Schaldemose from the Socialists and Democrats, the difficulty does not lie in climbing the ranks but in simply entering the Parliament.

“In order to be voted into the European Parliament you will have to work hard in your party in your own country.  The voter rarely has deep knowledge about the Parliament and sometimes it comes down to where on the voting list your name is placed,” she says. But Schaldemose also fears that the time consuming tasks and trips will hold back many women with children and families back home.

This issue is a grand reason for lack of female candidates confirms Vivian Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental rights and Citizenship:

“Motherhood certainly affects the candidacy of women. When men become fathers they enter he workforce more strongly, and when women become mothers they leave the workforce,” she says.

Taking into consideration that 60% of the European University graduates are woman, a hole occurs when women leave politics to become mothers. And with all the travelling and long sessions within the Parliament, there is no guarantee for women coming back to high politics, once their maternity leave is over.

Numbers do not lie

Within the Parliament six women out of 14 vice-presidents have been appointed in a large-scale attempt to ensure gender equality. Also in the different parties, more women are granted high positions. But the efforts differ within the parties.

Parties who defend gender equality like ALDE, The Greens and The Socialist and Democrats divide the top positions almost equally between men and women.

But the Parliament’s biggest party, the European People’s Party (EPP group) is falling behind on gender equality. Within the board, vice-presidents, chairmen and national leaders only one out of six politicians are a woman.

Are quotas necessary?

Female Vice-President of the Parliament and member of the EPP group Rodi Kratsa informs that the Parliament will look in to more areas than just the businesses, and that female politician leaders are just as important as female business leaders. But as a member of the EPP group she does not feel that her party lacks equality. 

“We have not within the party considered quotas, but we will of course notice how well the Parliaments suggestion is received by the European businesses,” she says.

So far no control has been introduced to monitor the gender equality within the parties of The European Parliament.

The pay gap

According to Rodi Kratsa, Vice President of the European Parlament, we can not just look into women’s rights when trying to maintain women in high positions.

Men as well are being mistreated in a manor that will affect women’s chances in politics. Latest have the Parliament ensured maternity leave for both men and women. But where women are given 20 weeks maternity leave men are only granted two weeks. This prevents fathers from being able to help out, if the mother is in a high political position. Furthermore the pay gap in Europe does not make things easier. Men earn averagely 18% more than women. Rodi Kratsa explains that in the specific circumstances of a child birth, not even equal options for maternity leave will help the inequality.

“The logical choice when one person in a family needs to stay home and take care of a child is that the person with the highest income keeps working,” she says and continues: “And returning to a time consuming job is for many women out of the question once they have settled into motherhood.”

Vivian Reding is deeply concerned with the major pay gap in Europe. She states that it is not even a question of genders, but a question of equal pay for equal jobs.

“Right now women have to work 66 days more per year to earn the same amount of money as their male colleagues. But the female year is not 66 days longer,” she says and agrees with the women staying at home while the men continue to work. It is obvious that the highest income should continue working.

Nothing is impossible

MEP Christel Schaldemose made her way to the Parliament with three children at home. But she admits that it would not be possible if her husband did not take care of the kids and worked only 30 hours a week.

“If you are active, hard working and able to create alliances you can make your way anywhere including the EU,” she says. She made her own way and has not felt any need for quotas after entering the Parliament.

“Within the European Parliament I don’t believe in legislation but in the good example. We just need to create an environment where women CAN advance,” she states.

The consequences of not instating gender equality are many and hard to achieve. But as the MEP’s describe they do not only affect the women within the European Parliament. Men as well can be given more choices in family life, if they are ensured equal rights to maternity leave, and are not the main income.

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek emphasizes that the member states are responsible of bringing more women into Parliament positions, in order for the Parliament to put them into high positions.

“The needs to narrow the gender pay gap and bring women into decision making positions are adopted in a new resolution,” he announced at a press conference on the of March. The resolution was adopted with 366 pro-votes, which proves that not only women voted in favor of the resolution.

 After all gender is a business issue, not just a woman’s issue.

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