Gender equality petition in Austria hits 100,000 signatures, will go to parliament | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 21.02.2018
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Gender equality petition in Austria hits 100,000 signatures, will go to parliament

A petition calling for more gender equality is set for debate in Austria's parliament. The women's minister believes its goes "too far," while coalition partners said it was a far cry from "sensible" feminist politics.

Petition organizers said on Wednesday that they had accrued the 100,000 signatures needed in Austria to force a parliamentary debate on their cause.

They say that gender inequality in Austria is glaring, pointing to it finishing 57th of 144 ranked countries — behind Poland, Uganda, Kazakhstan and Mongolia — in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report, published last November.

Petition signers have been hampered by computer network breakdowns in the nationwide system coordinated by the Interior Ministry. The faults were also blamed for delays in a separate high-turnout Austrian petition calling for a total smoking ban in restaurants and pubs.

'Great surprise'

Andrea Hladky and Schifteh Hashemi, spokeswomen for the petition campaign, told Austria's Kurier newspaper on Wednesday that it was a "great surprise" to have already reached 100,000 signatures — not least given the technical difficulties and complex rules around the petition process.

"At the moment there are big problems in submitting support declarations online, and also in certain local bodies there have been irregularities," say the organizers.

They told Austrian broadcaster ORF that their goal was to gather 250,000 endorsements from registered Austrian voters — women and men — in time for International Women's Day on March 8.

Minister: Petition goes 'too far'

Juliane Bogner-Strauss, an Austrian minister whose portfolio covers women, families and youth, told Vienna's Wiener Zeitung last week that she would not sign the appeal.

The petitioners' list of nine demands contained some supportable points, but their call for a shortening of the working week to 30 hours and a 50-percent quota for women "at all levels" in business, politics and public life went "too far," the minister said. Bogner-Strauss is a member of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's center-right ÖVP, the main party in the coalition. 

Four young women at a 2013 Girl's Day event at Vienna's Container Terminal at the city's river port (picture-alliance/H.Neubauer)

'Girls Day' at Vienna's inland container harbor

Carmen Schimanek, a spokeswoman for the junior coalition partners, the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), described the petitioners' focus on lesbian girls and women as "queer pedagogy," claiming that it had nothing to do with "sensible" feminist politics.

"One cannot support such things with a calm conscience," Schimanek was quoted as saying by the Wiener Zeitung.

Austria gender equality going backwards?

Despite Austria giving women the vote in 1918, passing an equal opportunities law in 1993, and despite a similar call-for-equality petition in 1997, campaigners say Austria has stagnated and even regressed on gender equality.

In 2013, the WEF's gender gap report ranked Austria much higher, at 19th and not 57th as now. The top performer in both years was Iceland.

Although 34 percent of Austria's recently elected National Council [the country's primary parliament] are women, "women have a right to half of the power," insist the petition's authors.

They also demand transparency of salaries paid to men and women and protection from sexual harassment.

Every woman in Austria had experienced discrimination, says the petition, exemplified by the "highest income gap in the EU" and the fact that half the children of Austria's 250,000 single mothers were threatened by poverty.

"Advertising, toys, schoolbooks: most [Austrian] media and cultural products describe women and men virtually as stereotypes and often in derogatory terms," say the petitioners.

In June 2016, a Social Ministry study under Austria's previous government determined that among all Austrian mayors only 7 percent were women.

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