Women under the influence
Sexism persists in the Romanian political system – and the health of the nation is the biggest casualty, finds Ana Maria Nitoi
Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu decided not to include any women in his new Government this April.
When confronted with this news, he said it was not on purpose.
It just happened that way.
Bhutan, Myanmar, the Faeroe Islands, Mongolia and Palau are among the only other nations without female members in their Governments.
Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden’s Governments are majority formed by women, while Spain, France and Austria have a balanced Cabinet and the UK, the European Parliament and Germany have over 30 per cent women.
Only around 11 per cent of the Romanian MPs are female. While at a local Government level there is a chronic under-representation - only four per cent of the mayors are women.
Most decisions are made by men in Romania. This has affected the development of post-Communist society and the priorities of the Government - with consequences that do not always benefit the majority.
A testosterone-heavy Government tends to construct its budget in a different manner.
“Women emphasise the need for good health care and education,” says Oana Baluta, president of equal opportunities NGO Filia. With men on top, armed forces and the police gain a larger share. “Women are more interested in applying the principle of equality of chances and allocate money in different proportions than men,” argues Baluta.
Childcare provision suffers. There is a massive lack of good nursery schools in Romania. This means mothers rarely have the choice of going to work or staying at home. Also areas where women arguably have the most interest - health care, education and childcare - suffer from institutionalised bribery.
Sexism is built into legislation. According to the family law from 1956, which applies today, girls can marry at 16 and, with the parents’ consent, at 15. Meanwhile, boys can only wed at 18. “If girls get married sooner than boys, that affects their education and job prospects,” argues Baluta.
Despite the fact that only one in 25 mayors are women, 40 per cent of political party members are female. “Women do the small politics,” says Minodora Cliveti, a Social Democrat (PSD) Deputy and the head of the Commission for Equality of Chances in the Chamber of Deputies. There are few in the front line – but many in the back office doing all the work.
Also, they are more willing to hold public figures accountable for their actions. In Parliament, although only one tenth of the MPs are women, one third of draft laws, parliamentary questions and political statements are made by them.
Men make most decisions in public and private institutions, which can destabilise an egalitarian society. “I initiated a draft law that proposed the minimum age for marriage of women and men to be the same,” says Cliveti. “I wasn’t invited to any of the debates on this matter, but my male colleagues were.”
Some women in politics who spoke to The Diplomat said that after they were promoted, they hit a glass ceiling a number of times. “Women reach a position from where they can see the higher position but they are not allowed to touch it,” says Baluta.
In Romania, there are few women in top positions in the public sector, but many in the second or third level, such as state secretaries or heads of agencies.
“Unfortunately, few people perceive women as leaders, as promoters of draft laws because of the patriarchal society,” says Claudia Sorina Vlas, president of the National Agency for Equality of Chances.
Fear of flying
However, one of the most active Romanian MEPs, Adriana Ticau, a PSD Senator, says she had never felt that being a woman was an obstacle in her career.
“There are no barriers for a woman,” Ticau says. “She only has to prove her technical, political and management skills. In politics, leaders are chosen by members of a party. If a woman wants to climb the political ladder, she only has to make her results known by the members and her colleagues.”
For many women there is a psychological block, related to the prevailing masculine culture and image, which makes them believe they cannot access certain jobs.
“Politics is one of them,” says MEP Corina Cretu, former spokesperson of President Iliescu. “That is why all women politicians are watched with suspicion by their colleagues and adversaries. For anyone it is difficult to have a leading position in any party, but as a woman the handicap is even greater.”
The Romanian Constitution guarantees equality of chances between men and women in occupying public, civil and military positions, but does not illustrate a strategy to achieve this. Like many Romanian laws, on paper it is perfect and, in practice, non-existent.
There is a need for political will to initiate laws that facilitate the promotion of women. Methods of positive discrimination, such as women-only candidate lists or a quota of women MPs that each party must appoint, exist in many EU countries. These often work as short-term measures to boost women in politics and change attitudes.
In Spain there is a law on equality that binds political parties to include a balanced presence of women and men in electoral lists both for local councils and regional and national parliaments.
“As a result, 40 per cent of women have been elected in local councils, 40 per cent in regional parliaments and 36 per cent in the national parliament. The percentage of women in the government is 46 per cent,” says Spanish MEP Rivera Madurell Teresa.
The First Lady of Georgia, Sandra Roelofs Saakashvili, says the situation in Georgia is similar to Romania, with no women in Government and little over ten per cent of Georgian MPs are women. But she says this is accidental.
“In the beginning we had a lot of women in the Government,” she says. “My husband runs a very pro-women leadership but somehow there are no women ministers left after three years. They were replaced little by little, not because they were women, but because their performance was not good enough. We are aware of this problem and we are improving the situation.”
In Romania, after the DA Alliance came to power in 2004, four women were given roles in Government. The first, Mona Musca, disappeared from the political scene after losing her appeal against the National Council for the Studying of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), who accused her of having been an active Securitate informer.
“Her only guilt was that she tried to hide this fact even though, as documents have shown, she harmed no one with the information she was forced to give,” says doctor in politics and ethics and the leader of the Romanian Feminism Movement, Mihaela Miroiu.
The second, Justice Minister Monica Macovei, faced massive opposition for her reforms and has moved to Macedonia as advisor to the country’s anti-corruption programme. Back in 2005, daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei, accused Macovei of being drunk and suggested that such a state of mind was unbecoming of a female minister.
Male politicians who regularly drink face no criticism for such a pastime - while most male public figures in politics and business who collaborated with the Securitate remain without censure.
From the senior women in politics between 2005 and 2007, only ministers Anca Boagiu in European Integration and Sulfina Barbu in Environment, both Democratic Party (PD) Ministers, managed to withstand the battleground without finishing their local political careers.
Although on paper Communism should have allowed equal status to citizens regardless of their gender, the reality was different.
In the 1980s the state limited women’s options for birth control, such as access to the contraceptive pill and made abortion criminal. Women were industrialised in an attempt to boost the population in the most brutal female-centred policy of any European Communist country.
“When the West was riding on a strong wave of Feminism, Romanian women were living in fear and suffering from intimidation and humiliation much more than men, because the state had control over a woman’s uterus,” says Miroiu.
Few doctors would risk aborting a foetus because they would have been punished with prison. Many women still live with scars from backstreet abortions.
The image of women in politics was also tarnished in post-Communist Romania. The most perspicacious symbol was Elena Ceausescu, who shared as much terrible influence as her dictator husband. “That is why, in the first ten years after the Revolution in 1989, women were rejected from entering politics,” says Miroiu. “Only 2.5 per cent of politicians were women.”
This had a massive effect on how the economy developed, she argues. In the 1990s, industrial sectors which mostly employed men - such as coal-mining - were seen by the state as victims of the transitional period, attracting huge Government subsidies. Meanwhile, industries which mostly employed women, such as the textile, shoe and food industries, were quickly privatised. This meant that, initially, women faced greater economic uncertainty than men.
But there has not been a ‘bottom-up’ push from women themselves since 1989. Gabriela Cretu, Romanian MEP and EU Rapporteur for ‘Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Development Cooperation’, criticises Romanian feminists for their preoccupation with academia and not praxis. “The Feminist Movement did mostly translations, which is very important, but few people read these days,” she says. “They have never tried to start a movement from the bottom, from women in high intensive work such as clothes manufacture.”
New system, few hopes
A new electoral system may not offer hope for women in politics. A draft law is going through Parliament aiming to change the proportional electoral system to a mixed system, where 50 per cent of members of Parliament are elected directly by the people in constituencies or ‘uni-nominal colleges’. This means the electorate is likely to follow the voting patterns of local elections - and there are significantly fewer women politicians at local than central level.
There could be a possible amendment to this law, forcing parties to include a balanced presence of men and women on electoral lists. But in Romania there is no support for this among the three main parties - the National Liberals, Social Democrats and Democrats.
However, this new system may give opportunities for businesswomen in politics, argues Dr Cornelia Rotaru, president of the Association for Women Entrepreneurship Development. “If one has economic power in her hands, she has access to the decision-making process,” she says. “Money rules the world. Businesswomen now have the money to finance the campaign for the uni-nominal colleges.”
Sexism is also rife in the office.
Many international companies in Romania apply the corporate principle forbidding employees from enjoying private relationships with one another - a rule not always adhered to.
“In most cases, after the relationship is exposed, the leadership chooses to dismiss the woman and keep the man,” says Daniela Necefor, managing partner at recruitment company Total Business Solutions. “But it takes two to have a relationship.”
Ideally, a competitive corporate environment should force business to employ the best people for the top jobs - favouring the most able and, consequently, a balanced number of women.
“In some cases things change only through an imported mentality,” says Rotaru.
An example is the Michelin Group in Romania. One would expect a tyre factory to be a male-dominated hothouse with a management of roughnecks. But more than 30 per cent of the company’s employees are women and two of three factory managers are female.
Some of the biggest Romanian firms are run by women, such as Austrian-owned oil and gas firm Petrom, Vodafone Romania, mixed interest group Tiriac Holdings and Unilever Southeastern Europe, but only one universal bank, Greek-owned Bancpost.
Women also face a networking crisis. Many men in Romania prefer to close business deals in the evening in a bar or a pole-dancing club.
These environments are not always conducive to women.
“Businesswomen prefer to close a deal while having a lunch,” Necefor says.
“This way you can lose business.”
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