Men, women and government

Men, women and government

Only five of the government’s 51 cabinet members are women. You’ve obviously read this by now and you’ve probably seen the photographs of dozens of suit-clad men being sworn in as their wives and children look on proudly. But this should not be seen in isolation.

Of the six political parties that entered Parliament in the last election, only one is led by a woman. Of the 300 legislators, only 61 are women. Of the 21 MEPs elected in May, only five are women. Of the 332 mayors that will take over in September, only 19 are women. Of the 13 new regional governors, only one is a woman. 

All these, of course, are not the problem. They are symptoms. 

Greece is ruled by men – and always has been. Greek women may enter university and the labor market (even though data show they make up the second smallest percentage in the European Union), but a very small number is in charge of private businesses or hold higher level positions in the public administration.

This is a problem because it reflects a dramatic deficit. Some people (virtually all of them men) believe that as long as the people or the prime minister select those they deem are best suited for the job, it does not matter if that person is a man or a woman. If, however, those being chosen are consistently men in their majority, then there must be a problem with the pool of candidates. 

Women make up half of the Greek population. Either they are not being selected for sexist or other reasons or the pool of candidates does not contain a sufficient number of skilled women. In either case, society has a serious problem that has multiple repercussions on everyone – not just women.

In the case of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ cabinet selection, we should be able to exclude the scenario of sexism. On the contrary, Mitsotakis’ team (which, however, is almost exclusively made up of men) was almost certainly concerned by the issue and I happen to know that several women (not just politicians) were offered portfolios but turned down the proposal. As a result, we are left with the second explanation.

Politics is not some utopia of meritocracy; quite the opposite. It is a closed club that is made up of people who are more or less cut from the same cloth. It is extremely difficult for outsiders to invade the structure and it only happens rarely. Let me put to you like this: A woman with a world-class resume and skills might be able to make her way in (Education Minister Niki Kerameus and Deputy Labor Minister Domna Michailidou are recent examples) but a woman with a CV equivalent to that of Deputy Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis, to take one example, would find it much harder to do so.

The environment is much less fertile and it takes a lot more effort for a woman to thrive. Let me give you an example from the rival camp: there was one woman that really stood out in the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks (ANEL) government coalition and that was former labor and social security minister Effie Achtsioglou. And yet, the government that featured people such as former alternate health minister Pavlos Polakis and former defense minister Panos Kammenos only mobilized Achtsioglou at the end of 2016.

In this way, of course, our political system (as well as our business world and other sectors) are leaving an enormous pool of human resources untapped. As voters, we are supposed to be looking for new figures with fresh ideas who are eager to work hard and make a meaningful contribution, yet we limit our choices to a subset of the population (mostly middle-aged men).

How can this problem be solved? Expanding the gender quota already applied for candidates’ lists is a way to accelerate procedures and mobilize parties to do a better job in searching for fresh faces. More importantly, it would help society acknowledge the problem, generating a culture shift.

The TV image of a cabinet filled with suit-clad middle-aged men makes young girls think that this what the people ruling this country look like. It conveys the message that they are meant to stand on the other side and look on with pride.

The prime minister has every right to feel proud about many things over the past few days. I am certain that he is not as proud of the image his government conveyed to his daughters last Tuesday and of the message they received.

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