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Many Americans are currently imagining a country with a female president. Throughout 2016, we heard time and time again that it was time for a female leader. And now, some claim that the election results shed light on an overall inability or unreadiness on part of the United States in electing a female president.
Stemming from this discussion and inspired by a New York Times article regarding gender equality in Angela Merkel’s Germany, I have decided to take a look at the countries in which females occupy leadership positions and what that means for the overall status of women in the workforce. What does having a female leader in office mean for gender equality in employment in those countries? Does having a female president or prime minister equate with progressive roles of women in the private sector?
According to a group of German girls who have lived most of their lives under the leadership of a female chancellor (in office since 2005), the answer is no. The New York Times piece suggests Merkel’s leadership produces a far more progressive image of Germany abroad than is the case within its borders. The article delves into research that shows Merkel’s leadership is misleading; as a report shows 93% of all executive board members in Germany’s 160 publicly traded companies are men.
This information suggests that even in a country like Germany, long dominated by the figure of a female leader, gender inequality in employment persists. In fact, German women are still paid 21% less than men.
In order to understand where the world stands on gender equality, I have consulted The Global Gender Gap report of 2016, which is produced yearly by the World Economic Forum. The report assesses the gender equality gap existing in each country and subsequently assigns each country a score; taking into consideration many indicators such as the number of women participating in the labour force, the ratio of wage equality between women and men, and the representation of women within company hierarchy. According to this report, as is confirmed in another study produced by Glassdoor Economic Research, Nordic European countries are ranked the highest for equal gender employment opportunities.
With Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden accounting for top 4 in the world respectively, the question of whether female representation in politics equates with female progress in the private sector can be better approached. Amongst these four countries, known for their progress in both policy concerning gender equality and the subsequent status of women in their society, only Sweden is lead by a female prime minister since 2013, namely Erna Solberg.
In Norway, the female Norwegian experience is incredibly positive, with high participation in the workforce having a decisive effect on the country’s overall performance. In an interview given to the OECD Observer, Norway’s Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen explains that the increase in female participation in the workforce took place at a time in which there was a rise in demand for labor. However, it was possible because of a number of parental provision policies implemented by the state such as subsidized day-care centres for children, which allowed the increase in female participation.
Prime Minister Solberg has been a leading voice for the empowerment of women and girls and the importance of gender equality and female representation in politics to achieve sustainable development. In a speech given at the Women In Parliament summer summit in 2014, Solberg spoke about Norway’s commitment to invest in young girl’s education, which she claims is the most powerful investment for development, “when you educate a girl, you educate a nation”, Solberg said.
Although Norway is lead by a female representative who is a leading voice advocating for gender equality, this doesn’t seem to be a necessary requirement for a country to have a successful representation of women in the workplace. Looking at countries with prominent female figures, such as Germany and the United Kingdom for example, reinforces this point. Like Germany, the UK also has some progress to be made in the realm of gender equality, as it is ranked 20th out of 144 countries in the aforementioned Global Gender Gap Report. As is emphasized in an article published in The Guardian by Angela Monaghan, the UK has “one of the worst records for gender equality at work”, particularly due to the lack in services to aid working mothers.
Given that neither Germany nor the UK exemplify countries with a successful gender balance in the workforce, it is worth evaluating the figures of their two strong female leaders. Interestingly, Merkel and May are both candidates pertaining to conservative parties and appealing to conservative platforms, often described as “cold” and “aggressive” female figures, apparently less relatable to the stereotypical qualities attributed to women of softness and vulnerability. Perhaps this hawkish attitude is what has allowed them to successfully climb the political ladder within their countries. Perhaps this is the attitude that women in politics have to abide to in order to win, making themselves appear more masculine.
Angela Merkel has spent most of her political career under emphasizing her gender, which has lead to many accusing her of prioritizing other provisions over gender equality. In an article titled “The World’s Most Powerful Woman Won’t Call Herself a Feminist”, Susan Chira writes about her tendency to deviate attention from her gender and adopt more of a gender-neutral attitude. The same was said of Prime Minister May, with a myriad of headlines focusing on the significance of her sex as she secured her position as prime minister following the Brexit vote. Discussion regarding these two female leaders’ positions as advocates for gender equality is further discussed in a piece published by Politico, titled “Theresa May: Female but not feminist”, which draws upon similar conclusions.
Having looked at two of the most prominent female national leaders of the present moment and having established that neither of them is a particular advocate for gender equality in employment, it seems that having a female leader is not directly correlated with having progressive female roles domestically. In fact, the policies undertaken by most Nordic European countries that lead the way for gender equality in the workforce were mostly taken under the leadership of male politicians. In conclusion, it appears that having a female leader doesn’t necessary mean progress for women in a given nation. It appears to me that what we need is higher representation of women in politics, but especially female politicians that understand gender equality as an issue that must be prioritized; society as a whole will benefit as a result.
- Ludovica Grieco
After months of campaigning and animated political debate, Italians cast their votes in a constitutional referendum on November 4th called on by current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Italy plunged into political and economic uncertainty as voters decisively rejected the constitutional changes called on by the referendum, with the ‘no’ vote winning by a clear margin (60%).
The referendum, a project close to Mr. Renzi’s heart and a prime concern of his administration, focused on a series of constitutional reforms that caused much controversy amongst opposing parties in Italy. By modifying certain sections of the second part of the constitution, the proposed reform was meant to affect the bicameral system of the Parliament. Conceived in the hopes of facilitating the legislative process, the power of the Senate was to be reduced, giving legislative power largely to the Chamber of Deputies.
Those campaigning for the NO side to the referendum emphasized the reforms proposed by Renzi were awarding excessive power to a single chamber of parliament and the executive branch. As exit polls began to show a significant advantage for the NO vote, opposing parties started suggesting Mr.Renzi should resign immediately.
The Premier, who had previously made the mistake of personalizing the referendum by suggesting he would resign had the NO vote won, gave his opposers an ideal occasion to oust him from power. As a result, many may have voted against him rather than against the changes the reform put forward, at the country’s loss.
The result was instantly celebrated by leaders of opposing parties who had been bitterly campaigning to reject the changes suggested by the referendum, one of the strongest voices being that of Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement. The political and economic uncertainty facing the country as the premier resigned this 4th of November is significant, and might reverberate against an already weak European Union.
The referendum resulted in a significant voter turnout, with 65% of Italians casting votes at the polls throughout the country. The NO vote was victorious from region to region, with the exception of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Trentino Alto Adige, according to an analysis by Corriere della Sera. The strong fight against the passing of the referendum coming from the Five Star Movement accused the reform of concentrating too much power in the executive hands of Mr.Renzi.
The result of the referendum rejects a chance for Italy to modernize the country by clearing away some of the bureaucracy and foster a more efficient organization of government. It also paves the way for increasingly populist and anti-establishment sentiments that have gained widespread support across Europe in the current year.
As vowed at the beginning of this campaign, premier Renzi announced he will turn in his letter of resignation to President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella.
As for what will come forward, the political future of the country is uncertain at the moment. President Mattarella might call for a general election of 2017, in which the Five Star Movement is expected to make significant gains.
In a speech about the result of the referendum, Mr. Renzi took full responsibility for the loss on the side of the ‘yes’ front. In a heartfelt address to the nation putting an end to his time in government, Mr.Renzi acknowledged his loss and concluded that, “Doing politics against someone is easy, doing politics for something, is better, harder but better”.
- Ludovica Grieco
As you may have noticed from navigating social media, many users have been checking in at the Standing Rock Reservation. In an attempt to show support for the protesters gathering at this site in North Dakota, more than 1.4 million people used Facebook to support the movement against the building of a new oil pipeline. The issue has gained significant attention, stirring passions and gaining ground across social media.
Located in North Dakota and South Dakota, Standing Rock is an Indian Reservation that is hosting the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than 100 years. In the past month, it has been the setting of ongoing protests against the construction of a new oil pipeline, which will extend for 1,170 miles and will border the Reservation, representing both an environmental and cultural threat to the inhabitants of the area.
The $3.7 billion pipeline project, if approved, will be realized by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners LP, and has been a topic of great debate especially amongst the community of Native Americans. Started by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the protest movement has grown to several hundred people. Largely driven by indigenous rights activists from across the country, the movement has mobilized and gained support from several environmentalist groups. Together they have gathered at Standing Rock and camped out in tents on the pipeline construction site, keeping the project from making any progress.
The new pipeline is designed to carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, passing close enough to pose a threat to sacred ancestral lands belonging to these communities, who claim its route will cross burial and prayer sites that have great cultural and historic significance to them. Standing up for their tribal rights, members of the Sioux tribe are fighting the aggressive attempts of police officers to put down the movement, through the use of pepper spray and armored vehicles to clear the protest site. In addition, the pipeline project seems absurd at a time in which climate change should be on the agenda of every leader around the world. Its realization encourages the progress of the fossil fuel industry and it embodies exactly the kind of project we should be avoiding.
Many protesters are concerned with its environmental impact, as the pipeline route will cross under the Missouri River which is a major source of drinking water. Should the pipeline leak or burst, the impact could be devastating. And leak pipelines do. Since 1995, more than 2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have occurred, adding up to roughly $3 billion in property damage.
Originally the pipeline was meant to cross the Missouri River just North of Bismarck, the second largest city of North Dakota. The route was relocated to cross the river above the Standing Rock Reservation, as people living in Bismarck expressed disapproval because the project threatened the water supply of a major city. Obviously, there is considerable anger that Standing Rock was chosen to be the victim instead.
According to latest news updates dated October 31, a total of 411 arrests have taken place at Standing Rock since the beginning of the unrest in August. Law enforcement officers have engaged in aggressive practices to repress the activists, some of which involved the use of taser guns, batons, and sound cannons.
The standoff reflects ongoing tensions between law enforcement officials and activists standing up for movements similar to this one. The Standing Rock conflict speaks to the larger debate regarding the conduct of police officers in repressing these movements, and reinforces the view that often times peaceful protests are put down by aggressive means.
The activists standing up for their rights, whether tribal or environmental, in North Dakota have been heroic enough to get U.S. President Barack Obama to halt the project until further notice. Considering the abysmal treatment they have received in the past, Native American people fighting to protect what remains of their sacred land have a right to be heard and supported. Furthermore, considering the climate status of our planet, another major infrastructure carrying crude oil seems to refute the commitment to halt global warming made by many world leaders, including America.
- Ludovica Grieco
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a national referendum on his proposed constitutional reform, scheduled for December 4th of this year. Approaching at a time in which referendums held around the world have produced unpredictable results, and have caused ardent political turmoil (such as with Brexit in the UK and the FARC vote in Colombia), Italy's upcoming vote gives rise to a tense political debate in the scrabble between the supporters of the reforms proposed by the current government and those who oppose them.
The referendum put forward by Renzi and his PD (Partito Democratico) center-left party, proposes to approve the constitutional reform that changes, to a certain extent, the second part of the Italian constitution regarding the organization of the Parliament.
With the overall goal of making the legislative process more rapid and efficient, the reform focuses on the abolition of the current perfect bicameralism occurring in Italy’s Parliament, in which the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have equal functions and must approve the same text of every bill before it is passed.
In the hopes of ceasing this so-called "navette" process in which bills are passed from one chamber to the other, which significantly slows down the legislative procedure, the reform wants to disempower the Senate by reducing its power and size. By reducing the number of senators from 315 to 100 regional councilors and maintaining that mayors receive no compensation, Renzi argues the Senate will assume a somewhat representative 'regional' role. This would give a voice to local territories, leaving most legislative power to the Chamber of Deputies, whilst significantly reducing costs.
This has been the most debated aspect of the reform, according to Renzi and a number of Italian MPs who have been discussing the need for these changes for the past 30 years, because it will allow for a more rapid and less costly organization of the Parliament. The Prime Minister also argues that the reform will provide Italy with a much-needed political stability, considering there have been 63 governments since the end of WWII.
Additionally, the reform proposes to transfer some legislative power back to the Central Government after it was assigned to the regional political bodies in a constitutional reform that took place in 2000.
The main legislative powers to be transferred back to the Central government fall into the fields of major infrastructural projects, energy plants and tourism, allowing the government to handle and hold decisions on these issues.
From the beginning, Mr. Renzi attributed extraordinary political importance to the outcome of the referendum, to such an extent that he pledged to resign and withdraw from politics if the outcome is negative and the Italian people reject the reform.
This was probably a mistake, given that it provided Renzi's enemies a chance to coalesce against approval of the reform, campaigning for the “No” vote on the referendum as an opportunity to oust him from power. Renzi soon took back what he said and is currently making an effort to depersonalize the referendum, focusing on its importance for the political stability of the country.
As often occurs in Italy, the political struggle prevails on the singular issues and policies and the content of the reform risks being overshadowed by Mr Renzi's opponents who see it as an occasion to discharge his government.
Despite the opposition to the referendum, dominated by constitutionalists who are determined to maintain the status quo and shun any changes to the constitution, Mr. Renzi's reform seems to be an adequate formula to shake up an undoubtedly stagnant political and parliamentary situation.
At his final state dinner on October 18th, President Obama complimented premier Renzi on his political career and endorsed the yes vote to the referendum. Obama stated that Renzi has contributed positively with his leadership to the diplomacy of the EU, and that a positive outcome to the constitutional referendum would be good for Italy. Those frustrated by decades of political stagnation would surely agree with President Obama, and should vote “yes” to the referendum, understanding its potential to reform the system.
- Ludovica Grieco