‘Womanise’ politics and make it less of a battleground, former minister urges

‘Womanizing’ politics is about doing politics in a different way, where democracy is not seen as a battlefield but a place for improving lives, former Icelandic minister of interior says

Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir
Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir

In Iceland, the electorate wouldn’t dream of voting for a political party whose candidates’ composition was made of 80% male, according to Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, former Icelandic interior minister.

Political parties, she said, made sure that gender parity is reflected in their list of candidates.

Kristjánsdóttir, who is also the chair of the executive board of women in Iceland’s parliament, insisted that politics needs to change if parties want to attract more women candidates – and better quality candidates altogether.

“We need to womanize politics… the problem is getting women involved in politics but to have them stay,” she said.

Kristjánsdóttir was one of several speakers addressing a seminar for journalists organized by the European Parliament, entitled Women’s Economic Empowerment, to mark International Women’s Day.

Asked by MaltaToday, Kristjánsdóttir argued that politics is still done in “a very old way”.

“We still perceive and talk politics as an act of war; we still look at it as a battle where you get the most praise if you hit out and attack your opponents,” she said.

“I think we need to focus more what unites us, how we can bring ideas together. If we do it differently we can attract both women and male candidates.”

Kristjánsdóttir contended that part of the reason that citizens were losing trust in politics is because all they witness is mudslinging and bickering: “It needs to be better. We need to do it better. Democracy needs to be kinder.”

Of course, debating women in political and economic decision-making positions also means discussing why women fall behind men in their careers. The obvious answer is that women break up their career when they have children, but how can the message be delivered that childbearing is not just a mother’s job?

In Iceland, paternity leave gives fathers three months of leave which cannot be transferred onto the mother. The state covers up to 80% of salary.

The culture change brought about in the country is that men are now frowned upon when if they do not make use of their leave.

“The change to maternity leave laws have dramatically changed things in Iceland, and it was by far the biggest leap we took in favour of gender equality,” Kristjánsdóttir said, adding that over 80% of fathers have taken paternal leave.

Another decision that has positively left its effects in Iceland was the passing of a law that ensures that the minimum gender representation on company boards is of 40%.

Panelists noted the irony that, in 2017, activists were still fighting for equality between men and women. It was also noted that the rise of Euro skepticism, populism, racism and xenophobia went hand in hand in why women were still fighting inequality.

“We must be equal carers, equal earners and equal partners,” Mary Collins, of European Women Lobby, said.

Collins insisted that the business sector faced a golden opportunity to reverse the tide, by creating the “optimal conditions” for both men and women to receive the same chances. She argued that growing inequalities also undermined EU cohesion and economic strength.

Despite doing better at schools than their male counterparts, women continue to fight in an environment that is male-dominated and, according to the founder of UK’s True and Fair Campaign, the problem is a cultural one when women reach middle management.

“It’s the environment that needs to be changed in these ‘male aggressive’ cultures,” Gina Miller said.

Miller also argued that sexism has become more nuanced: whereas in the past it was easier to spot, now it had become more ‘refined’. By way of example, she recounted how male colleagues told a woman who was going to meet Miller that she should have had her hair done.

“At that instant, they planted the seed of woman against woman,” she said.

Miller also insisted that fathers should understand that they could be as much role models as the mothers are.

Gender inequality is witnessed across all stages of life, which many a times leads to poverty. Across the EU, the gap for pensions accounted for 40.2%. In half of EU countries this gap has even increased.

Jolanta Reingarde – programme coordinator at the European Institute for Gender Equality – argued that women are spending less time in employment because of the caring duties they have to take up – if it’s not to take care of children, it’s to take care of their ageing parents.

Reingarde argued that women – or men – shouldn’t be penalized for staying home and referred to countries that add caring credits to the calculation of pensions. 

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