Greek lawmakers are sworn in during a ceremony in Parliament in Athens, on Wednesday. There has been much talk around the issue of implementing quotas favoring women in the formation of the ministerial cabinet.
Only five women have been appointed to the newly formed, 51-member government, putting the rate of female representation at just 10 percent. All five have excellent resumes; some have significant experience in politics and in international organizations or even the free market. Their names, however, are not well known. They are not the daughters or wives of “somebody,” nor do they enjoy the sort of security provided by a person of power. The same cannot be said for many of their male colleagues, however. Why is that? For a woman to be regarded as fit for ministerial office she must be meticulously scrutinized, while the criteria for men are much looser.
There has been much talk around the issue of implementing quotas favoring women in ministerial posts. The usual answer is “let the women prove themselves if they want to be included in government.” It’s not that simple, though. We’re not in “Borgen,” where a woman becomes prime minister and leaves her kids at home with her husband – on parental leave from work – who takes care of them. In Greece, this is more like a scenario from a parallel universe rather than a 2010 Danish political drama television series. The required social institutions and support do not exist nor does the culture encourage a woman to become involved in politics. I’d love to meet the man who’s comfortable to say: “I will stand by your side, I will give you the support you need, I will put my own ego aside to help you be elected.”
This is the goal of affirmative action in the United States and of gender equality laws across the globe: to provide women, as well as homosexuals, transsexuals and minorities, with the opportunity to reap the benefits of high-level education and later to occupy posts of authority and responsibility.
Conversely, the semantics of the recent swearing-in ceremony were stark. On one side stood the members of government, including those five women who gave the media the prompt they were looking for to be able to use that sad old cliche about there being the “scent of a woman” in cabinet. On the other side, a group of children and their mothers admiring their fathers and husbands respectively. The central function of the first group was to look ready to set policy, outline priorities and shape the next government’s attitude. The second group was responsible mainly for looking attractive and ensuring high marks from the fashion police.