Action needed to improve 'gender balance' in politics

Without 'active measures' advances in equality will continue to be slow, warns Sirpa Pietikäinen.

One half of the world's population are women. This ratio doesn't convert to the number of women in political decision making. We are underrepresented and equality advances slowly – and has even stagnated during the last few years. This is mostly due to established gender roles and male networks that sustain the election and nomination of men. Where men are like suns, women are moons, staying in the shadows, reflecting the light of sun.

The participation in decision making is also polarised in a way that men tend to hold positions and portfolios on resources and finances, whereas women occupy positions concerning softer issues, such as care and education. The tables in the meetings of heads of state and finance ministers are still surrounded mostly by men.

"Having more women in decision making is not only a matter of equality, but quality – the more diversity among the decision makers, the more diverse and better the resulting decisions"

In my opinion, the world can't afford to leave half of its brain unused. Having more women in decision making is not only a matter of equality, but quality – the more diversity among the decision makers, the more diverse and better the resulting decisions.

Based on this thinking, I drafted my own-initiative report, women in political decision making – quality and equality, in 2012, well ahead of the European elections. The main demands of the report were the following: member states need to require national parties, by linking party funding with parity targets, to set quotas and apply rank-ordering rules to electoral candidate lists for national and EU elections; member states shall propose a woman and a man as their candidates for the office of European commissioner; a target of 50 per cent representation of men and women shall be set in each of the elected offices in the European parliament.

To get more power, women need to build up and strengthen their own networks to bring forth talented and successful women. Solidarity and cooperation among women are the keywords, however, they are too often neglected. I see many women opposing gender quotas with the argument that women can advance themselves with no external help. Maybe this is partly true, but it is also evident that with no active measures, the equality advances at an extremely slow pace.

We, women, need to be key drivers in the changes we want to see. Equality won't happen and hasn't happened on its own. Generations of women before us have paved the path we walk now. Instead of thinking that equality in political decision making takes place already, we must recognise structures and hidden discrimination that still prevent women from having top positions in politics.

It is not enough to cross our fingers and hope for the best in the upcoming elections. Echoing the demands of my report, commitment and binding measures are needed from the European Union institutions, its member states and political parties. Too few women appear in the possibel candidatures for the next president of the European commission. The candidate lists are not yet finalised, but, based on my initiative, the gender balance of the final lists will be analysed by the European parliament's study department.

The European parliament has a great opportunity to stand at the forefront of the march towards greater equality in decision making. After the votes by EU citizens have been cast in May, the top positions within the parliament need to be filled with equal participation for both men and women.

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