A Womanly Virtue; Female Representation as Global Security Strategy

By Wallstrom, Margot | Harvard International Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

A Womanly Virtue; Female Representation as Global Security Strategy


Wallstrom, Margot, Harvard International Review


Throughout the more than 30 years that I have been in politics, I have often encountered "glass ceilings," "glass walls," and "sticky floors." These concepts of gender inequalities result from social constructs built upon the numerous stereotypes present in family, education, culture, and media, which are reflected in political institutions and assemblies. In truth, however, my experience tells me that it is not glass ceilings or sticky floors which prevent women from reaching the top. In the words of my friend and prominent female leader Laura Liswood, "There is only a thick layer of men."

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Fair representation of women in politics is not only a female concern. Rather, increased gender equality is a question of democracy. Societies or institutions in which women are not fairly represented suffer from a democratic deficit, as half of their citizens are not properly taken into account in public debate and in decision-making. The issue is not "millimeter justice"--one woman at the top for every man--nor is it a romantic notion that women are better human beings than men and therefore better decision-makers. It is about creating a more balanced society, and about taking decisions that better represent the people, for women are different, with different experiences, ideas, and points of view. We have to realize that there can be no sustainable development without equitable development, and there can be no equitable development without gender equality.

Female Political Representation in Europe

Gender equality is a long-term goal that concerns every citizen, not only women. Thus, frank and open debate on the role of women in politics is urgently needed. Take the European Union as an example. This multinational body consists of 500 million people, more than half of whom are female. However, women hardly enjoy the same status or have the same opportunities as men in European societies. Nor are they properly represented at national and international decision-making levels, even though more female leaders in politics and business would undoubtedly help close the gender-based pay gap, allowing both women and men to reconcile work and family life and paving the way for gender equality in future generations. The construction of the European Union is wholly based on common values among which we find non-discriminatory principles, including gender equality. The EU institutions and the member states have a legal obligation to incorporate gender equality in all policy fields. However, progress toward full equality is slow, and too often there is a gap between words and deeds.

Granted, there have been some positive developments recently. In Spain, the majority of cabinet ministers is now female. In Greece, the share of women in the new cabinet appointed last year rose from 11 percent to 31 percent. In Portugal too, the share of women in the cabinet increased significantly from 13 percent to 29 percent when the new government was appointed last October. However, this trend is not attributable to the majority of EU countries. On average, only one out of four members of EU national parliaments and senior ministers in national governments is a woman. There are only three female heads of state (in Ireland, Finland, and Lithuania) and one female head of government (in Germany). Currently, there is not a single woman among the EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Anyone who has seen the "family photos" of the EU Heads of State and Government gathered at the European Council will have noticed the unbalanced composition of the photos.

During the last legislature, the share of women in the European Parliament was 31 percent. In the European Commission, eight out of 27 were women. There has never been a female President of the European Commission, and there have been only two female Presidents of the European Parliament.

Last year was a golden opportunity for EU leaders to improve these figures and achieve more gender-balanced leadership. …

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