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Can politics be too pink?

Life has been very quiet without Silvio Berlusconi. So, what’s the first thing the Italian Prime Minister-elect utters now he’s back on the scene? He calls the new Spanish Cabinet, more than half of them women, "too pink".

One female AQR member was moved to comment: “that this is one of the moments when I’m least proud of being Italian”. Yet when it comes to promoting women in politics, even an old male chauvinist like Berlusconi has a better track record than our own administration.

Gordon Brown’s Cabinet has only six women out of 23, a minor improvement on Tony Blair’s first Cabinet in 1997. Brown may have made Jacqui Smith the first female Home Secretary, but there is little sign of any other ground-breaking moves.

This is a shame, because many of the problems bedeviling politics in the UK are similar to those facing Spain — which has taken a very different route to solving them. It has a young population which had grown disenchanted with those in power. A a quota system in the Socialist Party introduced in 1997 — with more women moving into high ranking positions — has encouraged many to use their vote for the first time.

Spain’s new cabinet, consisting of nine women ministers and eight men, does mean that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is walking a political tightrope. Firstly, he will have to continue to govern without an absolute majority in parliament.

It could also, said Dr Monica Threlfall, senior lecturer in politics at Loughborough University, and the co-author of Gendering Spanish Democracy, be a calculated risk to reappoint Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega as deputy prime minister.

“The VP is an interesting combination,” she said in an interview with the BBC, “the older woman governing with the younger man. She keeps control behind the scenes, and Zapatero is the charmer. She is very highly respected and competent, but she could also have a future if he needs to be replaced.

Back in the UK our political agenda has, like Spain, been influenced by feminist-led issues — domestic violence has joined flexible working and childcare as mainstream issues. It’s just that women’s participation in politics is still often seen as a matter of political correctness rather than the fact that a parliament should roughly represent the people who elect it.

 

Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008