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Now that three of the five key European leadership positions are held by women, the EU can finally claim that gender equality in its decision-making roles is improving.
However, a question arises after the nomination of Roberta Metsola as president of the European Parliament: why do most of the women leaders in Europe come from conservative parties?
Women and the European Right
Roberta Metsola hails from a right-wing Maltese party and is known to gender equality advocates for her anti-abortion statements. Christine Lagarde of the European Central Bank is the former finance minister of a right-wing government in France.
Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to become president of the Commission, was defense minister for Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (another conservative leader) in Germany.
In other words, at the European level, all women leaders belong to the same group: the European People’s Party, a ‘moderate’ right-wing entity today, but which used to include parties with deeply reactionary positions on gender equality, such as Viktor’s Fidesz Orbán.
Apart from the fifteen years of Merkel’s government, and except for a handful of Scandinavian or Baltic socialist prime ministers, the vast majority of women who have held real executive power in Europe – as party or government leaders – come from the right. , beginning with Margaret Thatcher.
Looking past and present, the list goes on for Conservatives, including Theresa May and one of three former Polish female prime ministers.
In Poland, the other two came from the reactionary Law and Justice Party. They belong to the European extreme right, as do Marine Le Pen (France), Giorgia Meloni (Italy) and Frauke Petry and Alice Weidel, respectively founder of Alternative fur Deutschland and leader in the Bundestag.
Why all these women on the right, then? And more importantly, why does the part of the political spectrum that is supposedly most attentive to gender equality, the left, have such a difficult time expressing a female leader?
Political scientists are still struggling to find an explanation. On the one hand, some point out that the conservative women who make it up tend to portray the traditional ‘feminine’ figure defended by the right.
Accepting her leadership would then be a strategy that conservative party leaders would find useful in reasserting their familiar – traditionalist – policies and proposing role models who can win back some of the women’s votes that have shifted to the left since the 1990s. 1970.
This statement is true for some leading women, notably Thatcher, who famously cooked dinner in Downing Street during her time as Prime Minister, or Von der Leyen, with her seven children.
However, the explanation is exposed as flawed when it comes to figures such as Weidel, who is openly lesbian, Le Pen, who has been divorced twice, and Meloni, a single mother.
For both the Conservatives and the far right, female role models, however, have been able to win back women’s votes.
In the case of ItalyFor example, more than half of Meloni’s party supporters in the 2018 election were women, up from 37.5 percent in 2013. According to a 2018 study, Le Pen had at least as many women voters as men in the 2017 presidential election.
Or… Women in men’s shoes?
Interestingly, on the other hand, most conservative and far-right leaders of our time, even the most ‘maternal’ figures, often display characteristics normally associated with ‘masculine’ or ‘masculine’ leadership professions.
Many have STEM or ‘hard science’ backgrounds: Merkel is a doctor, Thatcher was a chemist, Von der Leyen used to be defense minister, and Lagarde has long been in charge of finance.
On the far right, traditionally masculine traits emerge in aggressive attitudes, loud voices, and exaggerated assertiveness, sometimes even manifesting in dress codes.
As researchers struggle to find an explanation for the success of women on the European right, two points must now be made.
First, it is high time for European progressives to act to close their starkly gendered leadership gap. The French presidential election could have been a test for that, if only the divided French left had any chance of making it to the second tour.
Instead, the presence of female presidential candidates at that end of the spectrum confirms that women show up especially in times of crisis.
Second, European women should focus on encouraging moderate women leaders to become stronger advocates for equality and represent the interests of all women.
Roberta Metsola’s acceptance speech at the European Parliament, in which she assured that she would defend the majority opinion of the Assembly, not her own, on reproductive rights, was a first step. Hopefully many others will follow.
Costanza Hermanin is a researcher at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism