She’s Made It. Follow Her!

Simonetta Sommaruga, the latest woman to join the Federal Council, courtesy of Simonetta Sommaruga

What do Rwanda, Sweden, Argentina and Finland have in common?

They are the world champions of women in politics. Women make up more than 40 percent of each country’s parliament. Switzerland just joined the club of the women-friendly elite on Wednesday. The Federal president, as well as the speakers of both legislative chambers, are women, and now the Federal Council, the executive organ of the government, has four women among its seven members.

Women’s strong showing in the Swiss executive branch is surprising for several reasons. First, it stands in sharp contrast to women’s representation in the legislature: there, women do not even reach the 30 percent mark –  28.5 percent of parliament members are women, while in the executive, they represent 60 percent.

Second, women only gained the right to vote in 1971. Yes, 1971. The country of humanitarian law and human rights allowed women to vote 51 years after Azerbaijan, 40 years after Sri Lanka and nine years after Afghanistan.

I congratulate members of the Swiss parliament for having elected another woman to the Federal Council to help ameliorate the shame that had made Switzerland look like an undemocratic country.

It can only encourage other countries that have only recently instituted women’s suffrage to believe that rapid progress really is possible.

On the same topic: Check out our recent Special Report “Closing the Gender Gap.”


Closing the Gender Gap

Watch out for the still pervasive gender gap, photo: The Lab/flickr

This week the ISN assesses the status of women from the US to the United Arab Emirates. While sweeping progress has been made in recent decades, resistance to gender equality remains in all corners of the globe.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Gail Harris, the first woman in US Navy history to be successfully assigned to a combat unit, on the challenges facing women in the military – then and now.
  • A Podcast interview with Dr Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations about the rise of Islamic feminism.
  • Security Watch articles about crimes against women from Burma to the DRC – and about female legislative empowerment from Kuwait to India.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including the Overseas Development Institute’s look at gender and the MGDs and the Kiel Institute’s assessment of women’s suffrage.
  • Primary Resources, like the full-text of Hillary Clinton’s famous 1995 speech, ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights’, to the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as The New York Times 2010 series, ‘The Female Factor’, which explores the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the UN Division for the Advancement of Women.

The ‘X’ Factor

Girl power, photo: Valeria V.G/flickr

“During a crisis a woman can transform very quickly from being a politician to being a human being, and this can be bad”, Minko Gerdjikov, the deputy mayor of Sofia said in response to recent moves by the prime minister of Bulgaria to promote women to high-level positions in government and local administration, according to a New York Times article.

In a country known for its patriarchy and corruption, women, says the Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, are exactly what the country needs as “women are more diligent than men… are less corruptible than men… because they are more risk averse”. In an effort to clean his country’s act Borisov, an unlikely poster boy for the progressive forces in the country, has decided that it is exactly this ‘human’ characteristic that is required to overcome not only Bulgaria’s image problem, but also presumably its real problem of losing, rather embarrassingly, EU funds because of endemic and rampant graft.

To imply that being a ‘human being’ is somehow bad  is a strange assertion not only because it implies that men are somehow less human and better off so, but because it implies that politics and ‘human values’ are incompatible. Politics in a lot of transitional countries are undoubtedly tough, but to categorically negate human values as components of successful and good politics is self-serving from the point of view of those who have a vested interest in the continuation of ‘business as usual’.  Given the tendency for group-think and irrationality in crisis situations in particular, most often in male-dominated groups, should we not celebrate a more nuanced and independent form of deliberation that can come with the ‘human touch’, in women as well as men?

Even if women are more in touch with their humane side (buried deep in hardened male politicians), wired to perhaps see the world from a more communal point of view, does this bear out in the real world? Are women leaders any different when faced with the dilemmas of ruling the world’s countries, cities and communities? In other words, does the ‘X’ factor change anything?

Women on Top

Women are the nuts and bolts of politics / Photo: jfrancis, flickr
Women are the nuts and bolts of politics / Photo: jfrancis, flickr

Granted, Switzerland has been taking some hits lately, but not everything happening in the hallowed halls of Bern garner controversy.

Starting next year, the top three positions in Swiss government will be held by women: Pascale Bruderer of the SP will be House speaker; Erika Forster will fill the Senate speaker chair; and current economics minister Doris Leuthard is expected to be chosen as next year’s president.

Not bad for a country that only granted women the right to vote nationwide in 1971.

Living the Dream?

Photo: Marcus Obal / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Marcus Obal / Wikimedia Commons

A young, poverty-stricken woman with no career prospects, living in a cramped apartment together with her extended family, dreams of a wealthy prince who would take her with him and allow her to live a comfortable life on his side. A fifty-something man in the West, so far unlucky with women but with a good job and a decent salary, dreams of getting married to a young, exotic beauty, undemanding and subservient. Seems like a match made in heaven? Well, it’s complicated…