Why did Roberta Metsola wear white? There is a history of struggle behind it

Wearing white has become a symbol of sisterhood and solidarity between women and can be traced back to the suffragettes movement

Roberta Metsola embracing Alice Kuhnke (left), both wearing white as a symbol of female empowerment first championed by the Suffragette movement in the early 20th century
Roberta Metsola embracing Alice Kuhnke (left), both wearing white as a symbol of female empowerment first championed by the Suffragette movement in the early 20th century

Robert Metsola wore a white jacket for Tuesday's vote in Strasbourg that saw her elected president of the European Parliament but it was not a fashion statement.

Indeed, even Metsola's running mates Alice Kuhnke and Sira Rego wore white for the occasion. The three women candidates were about to break a glass ceiling - the last woman to head the EP was Nicole Fontaine, 22 years ago.

Spanish MEP Sira Rego (The Left)
Spanish MEP Sira Rego (The Left)

In her acceptance speech after being declared winner, Metsola marked the significance of her victory: "I know that having the first female president of this House since 1999 matters inside and outside these rooms... It will not be another two decades until the next woman is standing here."

Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens)
Alice Bah Kuhnke (Greens)

And this is why her white jacket matters because the colour is reminiscent of the Suffragette movement in the beginning of the 20th century when activists wore white for their rallies.

Wearing white has since turned into a symbol of sisterhood and solidarity, reflecting the progress made by those who fought for women’s suffrage decades before.

Initially, white was chosen by the suffragists because it was inconspicuous, and white was considered a feminine colour representing purity of body and mind. However, in later years it became a symbol of resistance that can be attributed to a rally in 1908 at London’s Hyde Park, which attracted 300,000 protesters.

The Suffragette movement wore white for its vast rallies at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Suffragette movement wore white for its vast rallies at the beginning of the 20th century.

The visual impact of a unified dress code became an important tactic of resistance.

In recent years politicians such as US Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore white as she was sworn into Congress in 2019 along with many of her Democratic colleagues.

Other prominent figures such as Hillary Clinton have worn white at various points in her career. 

Metsola was elected president of the European Parliament, obtaining the support of an absolute majority of MEPs in the first round.

The 42-year-old mother of four is the first Maltese to occupy one of the highest institutional posts in the EU. She is the first woman to occupy the role of EP president since 1999.

During her speech, she called for women's rights to be protected.

“This House will never accept those who threaten the rights of women and LGBTIQ,” Metsola said.

However, she did come under fire from MEPs as well as the media on her anti-abortion stands. Metsola insisted in a press conference after her election that her position is that of the European Parliament which called for these rights to be protected.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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