Women politicians make significant presence in Europe

July 1st, 2008 - 9:55 am ICT by IANS  

Paris, July 1 (Xinhua) Spain’s first woman Defence Minister Carme Chacon, one of the nine female ministers in Spain’s 17-member cabinet, attracted world attention when she showed up in April, pregnant for seven months, to inspect the troops. The political world was even more surprised when Mara Carfagna, a former Italian showgirl who finished sixth in a Miss Italy contest, was appointed Italy’s Minister of Equal Opportunities.

Carfagna is among the four female ministers appointed in May by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who was criticised for dismissing Spain’s women-majority cabinet as “too pink”.

The strong female presence in the Spanish and Italian cabinets have further strengthened the wave of women participating in politics - a trend that has swept Europe since German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko came to power.

The French newspaper Le Figaro said in a recent report that some might consider women’s advances on the European political arena as “political degrading”, but more people have come to see the trend as a symbol of “social transformation”.

And some political leaders have become readier than ever to play the “women card” to seek popularity.

In an unprecedented move, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed 11 women ministers in his cabinet, including interior minister and economic minister, two posts that were long dominated by men.

French women’s political journey has been rough along the way before icebreaking in the 1970s.

In 1974, former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing appointed two female ministers in his cabinet, for the first time in modern French history.

His successor Francois Mitterrand also made a historic decision to appoint Edith Cresson as the first woman prime minister of France.

For a long time, even Jacques Chirac, when he was still prime minister under D’estaing before becoming president, had considered women politicians as either “bimbos” or “troublesome”.

But after coming to power in 1995, Chirac ratified a historic bill supporting gender equality. According to the law, the number of male and female candidates for parliamentarians must be the same.

Could women politicians still be “troublesome” nowadays? “Sometimes, just like their male colleagues”, said Le Figaro.

In 2004, pictures of several Spanish women politicians making “questionable” poses were published on a fashion magazine, sparking an uproar among feminists and criticism from the public.

French Minister of Justice, Rachida Dati, had also come under attack during the early days of her term because she seemed to favour Dior’s banquet over her due visits to prison.

While women politicians don’t have to demonstrate their firm fists like many of their male colleagues do, gentle womanhood alone is far from enough to political victories. Any failure to perform their duties would become a deadly setback for their political career.

Maybe French Socialist chief Segolene Royal, who lost the presidential election to Sarkozy last year, knows it better than anyone else the key for women to win political victories: they will have to prove themselves just as good, or even better to beat their male rivals.

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