The road to gender equality in political leadership is 130 years far away

Whilst more than 50% of Europe’s population is women, EU politics gender ratio does not follow this percentage at all. Women still face countless barriers to participating in political life.

At the current pace, women will achieve gender parity in political leadership in 130 years, according to UN Women calculation. The road to gender equality is still a long one, and the coronavirus highlighted the poor state of gender equity.

Women were hit harder by the pandemic, partly because they tend to have less-stable jobs and because they overwhelmingly carry the burden of care in the household. Most experts featured in coronavirus-related media coverage were men: interviews with women tended to gravitate towards topics such as social affairs and art, whereas hard sciences remained a male-dominated media field.

Overall, the numbers are intimidating. Let’s try to understand the reasons behind them better.

According to Politico’s study The political gender gap in 9 charts, only 4 out of 27 EU countries are now led by women. Among the European Union members, one-third of the countries have never had a woman in the top job. Looking back in the history, numbers are even more alarming: only 102 women in total have ever served as a head of state or government since 1946.

Director of the European Institute for Gender Equality Carlien Scheele said: Ministries don’t have a gender. Governments’ allocation of responsibility should reflect this”. But is EU leading this gender topic by example?

According to Politico, the first female president of the European Commission from 2019, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to deliver a Union of Equality — starting with her own team. Her Commission is the most gender-balanced yet, and includes the first separate equality commissioner. Still, the EU executive is yet to deliver on some of its flagship policies, including a proposal on binding pay-transparency rules.

EU institutions still have a lot of work to do. European Parliament stands somewhat better than national assemblies, but it has had only two female presidents in its history: Simone Veil from 1979 to 1982, and Nicole Fontaine from 1999 to 2002.

Still, the EU leads the way at least in attempting to achieve gender equality by focusing on how public resources are collected and spent, a practice known as gender budgeting. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, only five EU countries did the same with their national budget in 2019, either formally or informally. EU countries that adopted some form of gender budgeting in their national budget in 2019 are Sweden, Finland, Austria, Netherlands and Portugal.

The numbers are only one part of this big challenge. What really matters is the power women can hold up and the influence they can exert over politics and policy — that is, the size of their budget and their role in government. And while numbers are improving, the way roles are assigned still reveals disparities. While there is near parity in socio-cultural portfolios such as health and education, women are still underrepresented in “hard” portfolios like defense, finance and foreign affairs. Politico rightfully concluded Europe has more women, but not enough power.

Take a look at The political gender gap in 9 charts.


Photo credit: iStock