Monitoring women in politics

"No Modern European Democracy without Gender Equality": Unity in Diversity

(Brussels, 28 February 2014) On 18 February, the European Women’s Lobby organised a seminar on gender equality and diversity in European Political Life. The seminar "My MEP is just like me?!" was hosted by MEP Claude Moraes (S & D) at the European Parliament in Brussels and was organised within the framework of the EWL 50/50 Campaign for parity democracy in the European Institutions and at national level, and for the integration of gender equality as a priority in all policies. Among others, MEPs of the 50/50 campaign’s Core Group Ulrike Lunacek (Green), Zita Gurmai (S & D) and Sirpa Pietikänen (EPP), Antoniya Parvanova (ALDE) and Claudette Abela Baldacchino (S & D) supported the event and moderated the discussions of the three panels and over a hundred participants.

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Claude Moraes MEP (S & D)

In his opening speech MEP Claude Moraes pointed out that the current European Parliament is not really representative of the diversity of people in Europe because less than 2% of its Members are from an ethnic minority, and only 35% of its Members are women. In order to address this under-representation, he proposed that, during their meetings, political groups put gender equality and anti-discrimination higher up on their agenda. He also expressed his strong support for the EWL political mentoring programme as a concrete measure to ensure that there is parity and diversity in the next European Parliament.

MEP Ulrike Lunacek moderated the first panel which focused on framing the current situation of women, including from minority groups such as LGBTI, in political life, and on highlighting a series of success factors.

Petra Meier, Assistant Professor in Politics at the University of Antwerp

Petra Meier presented some facts and figures on the evolution of women in politics over the last three decades in Europe, while identifying discrepancies of representation rates between different Member States. The Assistant Professor in Politics at the University of Antwerp considers that it is an achievement for women to have succeeded in keeping the issue of parity on the agenda, particularly because of the persistent obstacles that prevent women from participating in political life. She mentioned more specifically structural obstacles (e.g. party and political systems) and cultural thresholds (e.g. rituals, practices and symbols), and pointed to the relative short stay of women in politics, the lack of diversity and the absence of data, as issues that needed to be addressed by political parties in the near future. In relation to diversity, she stressed that being a lesbian, bisexual, or transgender politician was still not acceptable in the political sphere. Assistant Professor Meier concluded by indicating that, although it was important to have parity and diversity in politics, she called for vigilance to avoid the instrumentalisation of diversity, and particularly that of women from ethnic minorities, by political parties and politicians.

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez, Senior Whip for the Democratic Caucus, USA

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, chances are that you are on the menu” In her speech, Congresswoman Sánchez, who traveled from Los Angeles to speak at the seminar, reminded the audience that it is indeed possible for women from diverse backgrounds to develop a successful career in politics. She mentioned the necessity to have role models in politics as paramount for women to engage in political life in the first place. As an example, she explained how her decision to go into politics was inspired by her sister’s election to office and her parents’ courageous journey as migrants from Mexico. However, Congresswoman Sánchez deplored the underrepresentation of women and particularly women from minorities in American political life. For example, in the US Congress 16% of members are women (only 9 of these women are Latinas). Moreover, voters are less likely to cast their vote and less likely to go into politics in the absence of politicians whom they can identify with.

In this sense, she called for parity and more women who are ethnically diverse in US politics. As a possible solution, Congresswoman Sánchez proposed to identify women leaders who are politically active within the community and not necessarily into the limelight of politics, as well as to look for political talent in unconventional places. She insisted that it was important to ultimately ensure that women run for office and put in place political mentoring programmes, and adequate measures to enable them to raise money to campaign (e.g. 2 million USD are needed to fund a campaign for a 2-year mandate).

Zakia Khattabi, Member of Parliament, Brussels-Capital Region President of the Belgian Green Party at the Senate

Belgian MP Zakia Khattabi provided an insight into the state of play in Belgian politics. According to the Belgian MP, since party members don’t know enough about diversity, there is a need to actively integrate the concepts of parity and equality inside parties. She cited some positive and effective measures that her own party applies, such as co-presidency (one woman and one man), gender quotas and the zipper system for the makeup of electoral lists (alternating between one woman and one man candidate). In addition, the Belgian Green Party has a “Green Latino Group”. Zakia Khattabi stressed that women are not minorities, and they should not have to justify why they need to be present in politics, because it is their democratic right to expect parity and policies that are developed from a gender perspective and feminist agenda.

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The second panel discussed opportunities and challenges accoutered by women who are active in politics at different levels in the Europe. Panellists were three mentees from the EWL Political Mentoring Programme, Guliz Tomruk, Sanchia Alasia and Kamilla Sultanova, who answered questions by moderator and MEP Zita Gurmai.

Kamilla Sultanova highlighted the benefits and added-value that minorities bring to Denmark and to the EU, particularly since many Danes from ethnic minorities identify as European, and represent a great potential for Denmark to have a stronger voice in the EU. She deemed it particularly pertinent for women to vote during the upcoming European and national elections in some Member States, if possible with the help of role models to inspire younger women to get involved in politics as voters and candidates alike.

Güliz Tomruk is a candidate to the European elections of May 2014 on the list of the Dutch Green Party. Although this is her first time on a European list, she has been active as a City Councilor in the Netherlands for 10 years. When she was elected in 2004, she was the first woman from an ethnic minority that was selected and elected as City Councilor in her town.

Sanchia Alasia is Councilor for the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, and an MEP candidate for the Labour Party in London. As an active participant in the EWL political mentoring programme she vouched that “mentoring really works”: for example, it provides access to the corridors of power and to networks, and it enables mentors and mentees to learn from each other. Sanchia Alasia called for a wider spread use of political mentoring programmes as a concrete positive measure to address the underrepresentation of women, and more specifically women from ethnic minorities “so that us mentees walking into the European Parliament today will no longer be the exception but a normality”.

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In Panel 3, partners of the EWL among civil society organisations outlined their recommendations on the political participation of women from diverse backgrounds, and reaffirmed the strong role that civil society needs to play to achieve parity and diversity in political life in Europe.

Moderator and MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP) opened the floor to Nicoletta Charalambidou, Vice-chair of the European Network against Racism (ENAR), who insisted on the urgent need to mobilise NGOs and their members at national level against increasing xenophobia and populist activities throughout Europe. Referring, in particular, to the EWL video clip on austerity measures which was shown at the beginning of the seminar, she confirmed that austerity measures not only impact more negatively on women, but also contribute to further fueling populist sentiments. ENAR’s campaign for the European election, "I vote for Diversity" ,centers around 7 demands to MEP candidates: to tackle all forms of racism, to develop measures for the inclusion of ethnic minorities, to combat racist violence and hate crime, to measure equality outcomes and impact of EU policies and legislation, to promote equality and diversity in the workplace and in decision-making. In this context, ENAR’s Vice-chair insisted on the particular significance of giving migrant women a voice, of securing the right to vote on the basis of residency rather nationality, and of consolidating partnerships with other NGOs, such as with ILGA-Europe on hate crime, and with the European Network of Migrant Women and EWL.

After reaffirming the strategic need for NGO cooperation and active participation during the elections and beyond, Sanja Juras Board Member of ILGA-Europe presented the European LGBTI’s movement’s "Come Out" campaign for the European elections, including the more detailed 10-point pledge addressed to the candidates for the next European Parliament and the European Commission which ILGA-Europe calls to continue their commitment to human rights generally and LGBTI equality in particular.

The ERGO Network of European Roma Grassroots Organisations was represented by Policy Officer Gabriela Hrabanova who drew the participants’ attention on the particular exclusion from political life of Roma women and men in Europe. Although there is a growing yet still limited number of Roma candidates at local elections, there is still a noticeable absence of candidates at national and European elections. Furthermore, Roma candidates’ places on lists do not provide them with actual chances of being elected. Particularly in light of Roma people being targeted by populist parties’ negative discourse, Gabriela Hrabanova concluded on the urgency for Roma people to vote during the upcoming European and national elections, and for Roma women to participate in politics and decision-making at all levels in Europe.

The seminar was followed by a networking reception.

EWL would like to wholeheartedly thank all moderators, panelists and participants for their interest, commitment and contributions to identify recommendations towards achieving gender equality and diversity in European political life, and a more democratic Europe.

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