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Gender parity has a long way to go in Europe

Wednesday, 16 May, 2012 - 14:31

François Hollande has delivered on his commitment for government parity, which makes France the second country in the European Union to have an equal government. Most northern countries get quite close. Elsewhere, women’s representation in politics tends to diminish when conservatives are in power.
Translated by Clemence Grison

Recently elected French president François Hollande kept his promise. On Wednesday evening, he unveiled a government with 34 ministers, 17 of which are women. The previous government only had a total of four women out of 25 ministers.

Only three female government leaders in Europe

In the rest of Europe, gender parity is mostly a myth. Except in Sweden, where 13 out of the 24 members of government are women, which is quite an achievement, especially since three of them hold important ministries – Defense, Justice and Labour. But the Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is a man.

Female heads of state or government leaders remain an exception in Europe. Apart from the three European queens – in England, the Netherlands and Denmark – German Angela Merkel, Danish Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Lithuanian Dalia Grybauskaitė are very isolated on official pictures. They are the only female government leaders in the 27 European Union member states. All three are from northern countries.

More female representatives in Northern States

Alongside Sweden, two other Northern countries have anumber of women in government. In Denmark, besides the female Prime Minister, there are nine women out of 23 ministers.

There are also nine women in the Finnish government, but out of a total of 19. They are at the head of key ministries such as Finance, Justice and the Home Office.

Belgium also does quite well when it comes to ministers, with five women for a total of 13. But the ratio drops when secretaries of state are included in the count, bringing the total to six women against 13 men.

The country is nevertheless on the right track to achieve male-female parity since the Parliament is made up of 39% of women, against 18,5% in the most recent French National Assembly. In the Netherlands, 40% of members of Parliament are women and every third politician in the Dutch government is a woman.

Leftist parties favour women in the South…

In Southern countries, the situation is contrasted. Women in the Spanish Parliament are twice as numerous as in the French Assembly, with 37% of female representatives.

The former Socialist government of Rodrigo Zapatero was made up of a majority of female ministers. But with the return of the conservatives to power the situation has deteriorated: Mariano Rajoy’s government only has four women out of 14 ministers.

In Italy, a clause for equal access to public office was added to the constitution in 2003, but only 20% of members of Parliament are female representatives and the government has three women out of 18 ministers. They do hold important ministries however: Justice, Labour and the Home Office.

…and in the United-Kingdom

The UK has a reputation for diversity but women’s representation in politics has dramatically decreased. Today there are only four women among the main 22 ministers in David Cameron’s conservative government. The situation is even worse with the Lib-Dems, who are in coalition with the Tories and have five ministers, all men.

In Parliament, the contrast between parties is exceptionally stark. If over the past 15 years Labour has been implementing a pro-active policy on male-female parity and now has 81 women out of 177 representatives, the conservatives and the Lib-Dems are far behind with respectively 15 and 12% of female MPs.

In Germany, which sets the example in Europe with a female chancellor, the federal government totals six women out of 16 ministers. They hold important positions – besides the Chancellorship, they head the ministries of justice, agriculture, education and labour. A third of the Bundestag is also made up of women. This pales in comparison to Scandinavian countries, but it remains far better than in France.

A major step for France, with reservations

France is now the second country to achieve government parity in the European Union, but most of the key posts – Foreign Affairs, Interior, Economy and Finances – were given to men. Only the Ministry of Justice was given to a woman, Christine Taubira, who has served as a deputy in the National Assembly since 2003.

As promised during the campaign, the government also includes the new Ministry of Women’s Right, led by Najet Vallaud-Belkacem, who will also act as the government's spokesperson.

It is hoped that Francois Hollande's equal government will set an example for the country's institutions and companies.