On the 9th of May, Women for Election held an event in Brussels. It was hosted by the Irish Permanent Representation to the EU, with Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman as the keynote speaker. Emily shared her views on ‘Gender Balance in European Politics: Progress made and challenges ahead’, and she reflected on her own experience of running for the position of Ombudsman:
“[G]ains were made not slowly and incrementally in many cases but often in a very short period of time, in significant leaps and bounds, prompted, in the case of Rwanda, by one cataclysmic event, but in others by something that dramatically shifted the gender narrative. Sometimes it was the sheer will of a leader, often male, or the emergence at a single point of time of a collective female consciousness of the injustice of the gross under representation of one half of a nation’s citizens.
“Just such a moment occurred in Iceland – number four on the list for female parliamentary representation – in 1975 when on the 24th of October 25,000 women – 90% of all female workers and homemakers – went on strike and took to the streets. By 1975 just nine women had ever been elected to parliament.
“Teachers, nurses, office workers, housewives put down tools and didn’t go to work, provide childcare or even cook in their kitchens. All to prove how indispensable they were. The incontrovertible proof of the day’s effectiveness was that the shops ran out of sausages as men tried desperately to cook the evening meal.
“Within five years, the country had the world’s first democratically elected female president – Vigdis Finnbongadottir.
Ultimately perhaps, as ever in the history of female emancipation and the female acquisition of power, it will be the raising of the female consciousness about the unconscionable guarding of state power by male majorities that will make the difference.
Emily’s full speech is available online here.
Niamh Gallagher of Women for Election, responded to Emily’s input by sharing successes in Ireland; Marie Donnelly, formerly of the European Commission, provided an institutional view, while Rick Zednik, CEO of Women Political Leaders provided a global perspective. He noted that the barriers for women getting into politics are “3M’s – men, money and media”
Women for Election also held a series of meetings in Brussels; with Lucinda Creighton for a brainstorming meeting, and with Marian Harkin, MEP, who continues to be a firm supporter of their work within the European Parliament.
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