Opinion: Women′s power on the rise despite global setbacks | Opinion | DW | 08.03.2020

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International Women's Day

Opinion: Women's power on the rise despite global setbacks

Women are still the exception rather than the rule in the corridors of political power. Outside the parliamentary arena, however, women's power and visibility continue to grow, writes DW's Anja Brockmann.

Looking at current developments around the world, a woman might feel inclined to despair. This year, once again, no woman is going to get a shot at the top political job in the United States. In Afghanistan, the agreement with the Taliban means women there face a return to the darkest of days. And in Europe, opposition from male heads of government scuppered plans by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, to appoint equal numbers of men and women to her Commission.

All over the world, it is still rare to find a woman occupying a top political position. So rare, in fact, that whenever a woman does make it, as Sanna Marin did recently in Finland, it is cause for media celebration. Not only is Marin a woman — she's also young, which makes her a double exception. Worldwide, most parliaments still get away with having a minority of female lawmakers, even though parliament is supposed to reflect society.

Read moreGender equality: Most people are biased against women, UN says

New heroines as role models 

And yes, even the most powerful woman in the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has failed to exercise her authority in her home country of Germany to give women more influence in her own political party, the CDU. Introducing a quota would have made this a structural, and thus permanent, change. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that her party colleague Friedrich Merz, who is very keen to become the next German chancellor, is now publicly complaining of "discrimination" against men, by which he means the introduction of a list of candidates featuring the same number of men and women.

And yet — something has changed. There are women who refuse to allow themselves to be politically sidelined. No man can get past them. Women like Greta Thunberg, who has put the threat of climate catastrophe irrevocably on the global political agenda. Women like Carola Rackete, who is committed to the emergency rescue of refugees at sea, and defied Italy's interior minister. Women like Emma Gonzalez, who is campaigning for stricter gun control laws in the US.

Anja Brockmann

DW's Anja Brockmann

The new political heroines are young, they are angry, and they make things happen — as part of the extra-parliamentary opposition. They are the antidote to men like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsonaro. They want to make a difference, but do not strive for power themselves. And they have had to make personal sacrifices: The hatred directed at them, especially by men, knows no bounds and is a huge burden. But it is precisely their ability to take these blows that makes them the bearers of hope for a new and different kind of politics. They are role models for young women all over the world.

Far too many girls worldwide are still excluded from education solely on account of their gender. Yet UNESCO has also observed positive developments. In many regions of Asia, in Arab countries, and in Latin America, women and girls are winners in the educational environment. Wherever they have the opportunity to access education, women are, on average, more highly qualified, more motivated, and equipped with better social skills than their male peers. These women want the chance to participate in social and political life. Little by little, they are gaining greater autonomy. And where they are already equal according to law, women are ensuring that these laws really are worth the paper they're written on.

Read more: Climate change leads to more violence against women, girls

Little to be won without women

It is not so easy anymore to pursue policies that disadvantage women. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool machos at party headquarters know that elections can no longer be won without the female vote. Women must be wooed with policies of substance. And with female candidates, too. Because women vote for women — if they are given the choice. In Germany, no one knows this better than the CDU, which scored very highly among female voters with Merkel as its candidate.

So women need to develop an awareness of their power. And they need to punish politics that fail to take it into account. Consistently. They are obliged to do so by the right to vote — a right for which women fought bitterly for a very long time, and for which they are still having to fight, to ensure that small steps backward don't become big ones. It is to ensure things move forward — on behalf of women all over the world.

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