Women Who Rule The World Still Asked "Why Are You Childless?"

British Prime Minister Theresa May is just the latest female world leader who's not a mother. A hard look at a gender double standard that reaches all the way to the top.

Merkel and May in Berlin in July
Merkel and May in Berlin in July
Stefanie Bolzen, Sabine Menkens and Peter Praschl

BERLIN â€" The two most powerful women of the United Kingdom stood in front of the Bute House in Edinburgh, shaking hands â€" Theresa May, the new British prime minister and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Politics aside â€" I hope girls everywhere look at this photograph and believe nothing should be off limits for them,” Sturgeon wrote on Twitter shortly after the summit. Her message was retweeted more than 30,000 times.

Both Sturgeon and May made it to the top in politics, but that’s not the only thing they have in common. Neither leader has any children. And they aren’t the only female leaders who aren’t mothers â€" German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye also don’t have children. But even as there’s increasing acceptance of different lifestyles, these women are forced to justify their choices in spite of, or maybe because of, their success.

In an interview in July, May spoke of the grief she and her husband endured for never having had children. “Sometimes things you wish had happened don't, or there are things you wish you'd been able to do, but can't,” the 59-year-old conservative explained.

Sturgeon, 46, was also recently asked why she doesn’t have children. The Scottish leader told a Sunday Times journalist, whom she is close to, of the miscarriage she suffered six years ago. The article featured a photomontage of six female politicians without children, and was criticized for the way it portrayed female leaders.

Mandy Rhodes, the journalist who interviewed Sturgeon, says that she was thinking of both their positions as role models. “As Scotland’s first minister she knows that there are some young girls who look up to her and think that, as a woman, they will have to make sacrifices if they want to climb the career ladder. Which is why she wanted to make clear that a life without children was not a conscious choice for her.”

Ambition and gender

Maybe Sturgeon and May are sick of having to answer for why they never had children, while male politicians rarely have to publicly explain such a decision. Both women are considered ambitious and powerful. While male politicians with these traits are lauded as strategic thinkers, women politicians need to display feelings of motherly affection, at least every now and then, if they don’t want their career to be adversely affected. And at some point, female politicians without children are made to declare their grief about not becoming a mother.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a Children's Day event in 2013 â€" Photo: Korean Culture Information Service

For the previous generation of women in Germany, the option of working and being a mother was barely existent because of the way society used to think and because the educational infrastructure in the former West Germany was lacking. Now, the growing number of kindergartens and longer school hours help meet the needs of working mothers. Still, these working women face serious hurdles.

In a study by the Berlin Social Science Centre, an organization known by the German acronym WZB, 95% of mothers and 93% of fathers agreed with the statement “children are important to me.” But only 82% of mothers would pass on this point of view to the next generation, that is, their own children.

The survey, published in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, found that women, particularly those with academic degrees, occasionally regret their decision to have children, especially since achieving a work-life balance for women remains largely elusive. In some cases, this is at least partly due to fathers contributing less in bringing up children as they promised they would.

Of German women aged 40-44, some one-fifth don't have children, and this percentage is even higher among female academics. These women often feel trapped by the question of motherhood. They are relentlessly asked the inappropriate question of when they will have children. If they choose not to become mothers, they are deemed career obsessed and devoid of emotion, almost as if women have a holy duty to procreate.

According to a 2011 study conducted by the Hanns Seidel Trust, which has close ties to the Christian Social Union party in Bavaria, nearly one-third of all Members of Parliament do not have children, including 35% of women and 30% of men. Male MPs with children had an average of 1.63 children whereas female MPs only had 1.22 children. The reason for this discrepancy is that the wives of male politicians, who were either working part-time or not at all, looked after the family at home. Meanwhile, the husbands of female parliamentarians generally did not take care of the children while Mama was sitting in parliament.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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