The False Illusion Of Female Power In Politics

Britain, Poland and even Germany are all examples of how having women in power doesn't necessarily translate into greater social or economic power for women.

Women20 summit in Berlin on April 25
Women20 summit in Berlin on April 25
Susan Vahabzadeh

MUNICH — Recent parliamentary elections in France resulted in a new record: 224 of the country's lawmakers — or 39% — are now women, up from just 155 after the last election. One of these women is Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front and the runner up in this year's presidential election. But it was her rival, Emmanuel Macron, who is really responsible for the increase in female representation.

The new French president chose to give half his Cabinet positions to women. And his recently founded party, La République en Marche (LRM), and its coalition partner MoDem (Mouvement Démocrate) selected women to fill more than 45% of their respective parliamentary seats.

Let's compare this to the UK. Recent elections there also saw more women than ever before elected to Parliament. With four more women lawmakers than in the last legislative period, female representation now stands at 32%. The prime minister, of course, is also a woman. And yet, within Theresa May"s party, only 21% of its lawmakers are female.

Macron's feminist agenda can be found in the LRM program. The language is candid and praiseworthy. In the preamble on women's rights, he talks about the so-called "20% rule," arguing that women occupy 20% fewer seats in parliament, receive 20% less in wages, and that 20% of women are raped at some stage in their lives. The document even talks about how men do just 20% of the housework. Seriously, that's what it says.

As the number of women in any given sector increases, wages decrease.

LRM wants parity, at the very least, and if that cannot be achieved, then it has three focal points as part of its program, one being an awareness campaign on violence against women and sexual harassment. The program also touches on the issue of maternity leave, saying it needs to be available for all mothers, even those without a permanent contract. This should lower the temptation of not hiring them in the first place.

The third focus is on jobs. Simply having a job isn't enough, Macron argues. Women also need to live from the income they earn. LRM wants to introduce regular spot checks to ensure the enforcement of equal pay. The new government also wants to set the example by providing parity in the distribution of administrative posts.

We will, of course, have to wait and see how Macron fares with his agenda. He has already gone back on his promise to create a Ministry of Women's Affairs, and is being criticized for it by French feminists. Still, it's clear that feminist Macron is trying his hardest.

In Germany, in the meantime, the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party hasn't yet presented its election manifesto for September. We can recall from its 2013 program, however, that it urged women to take on more jobs traditionally held by men as a way to bridge the pay gap. But isn't it true that as the number of women in any given sector increases, wages decrease?

The CDU has also funded shelters for women who are victims of violence, but done little to try and prevent that violence. And it called for the introduction of a gender quota system for high-level managerial positions, but not until 2020. The party's program, in other words, isn't very far-reaching when it comes to women, despite the fact that its leader, Angela Merkel, is a woman.

It takes more than just a T-shirt

It does of course matter that Merkel, the long-serving German chancellor, is the most powerful woman in the world, and that women have come to play a major role in the legislative process. All of that is long overdue and something we just need to get used to.

But we cannot take it for granted either, as recent events in Washington demonstrate so clearly. The current version of U.S. health care reform — "Trumpcare," as it's been dubbed — was drafted by an entirely male committee that is clearly in the dark about why health insurances should pay for pre-natal screenings, for example. Men, after all, don't get pregnant.

And what about Britain's Theresa May? Sure, she famously donned a T-shirt bearing the slogan "This is what a feminist looks like." And yet many women remain unconvinced. Why? Because they hold her responsible, as prime minister and home secretary before that, for introducing budget cuts that mainly affect women.

Photo: Fawcett Society

Research conducted by the think tank Women's Budget Group showed that 85% of the people most affected by the social welfare cuts and tax changes are women. Austerity hits women much harder than men seeing as they generally earn a lot less than men. Even if it is a woman introducing budget cuts, it does nothing to alleviate the damage caused.

Avoiding "borrowed plumes'

There is a total of three female leaders of government in all of Europe. But what does that even mean? One of them, after all, is the Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, whose policies — starting with an (unsuccessful) attempt to introduce a blanket ban on abortion — seem to be paving the road back to the Stone Age.

There's also the enigmatically named "500+" child welfare program introduced by Poland's governing PiS (Law and Justice) party. The program offers families with children 115 euros in child support per child — unless it's an only child, which is often the case with single mothers. Thanks to the "500+" initiative, the country now has even fewer women with gainful employment. This may increase the birth rate. But it also increases the number of dependable women.

For years, politicians "begged and politely asked the companies' to make their boards more balanced — all to no avail.

Angela Merkel recently found herself hosting the W20 Women's Summit, where she was asked if she considers herself a feminist. Her answer — that she doesn't "want to adorn herself with borrowed plumes' — came a bit reluctantly. But it was better than the answer given by Ivanka Trump, who was seated next to her. Trump stated loudly that yes, she is a feminist. Except, strictly speaking, that's not true. Because being a real feminist means doing something for other women, not just fighting for one's own place in society.

In Merkel's defense, it should be acknowledged that, during her terms in office, her government introduced the universal right to a place in kindergarten, as well as laws aimed at bridging the male-female income gap and boosting female participation (via a quota system) in high-level management positions. The quota system her party talked about for 2020 ended up getting pushed forward — to 2016. That is not her doing alone, of course. But she didn't stand in the way of those changes either.

She also offered some interesting insight during the W20 Summit. Regarding the quota system, she recalled that for years, politicians "begged and politely asked the companies' to make their boards more balanced — all to no avail. And so in the end, the companies "earned the quota law by doing nothing." In retrospect, it seems like the chancellor should have been able to anticipate the corporate foot-dragging and taken more direct approach from the outset. But at least she's happy with the result.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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