Interview with Silvana Koch-Mehrin – Co-founder and CEO of Women in Parliaments Global Forum
Brussels, 19 September 2014. Interview by Serap Altinisik and Elena Brolis (EWL)
This Summer, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Communications and Policy Assistant Elena Brolis and Fundraising Coordinator and Policy Officer Serap Altinisik were visiting the head office of Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP) in Brussels to have an interview with Silvana Koch-Mehrin, WIP Co-founder and CEO.
The EWL, which campaigns for 50/50 – parity in all EU institutions and which is lobbying for more women in decision-making positions since almost 25 years, is curious to receive firsthand information and testimonies about the worldwide network of women parliamentarians. Silvana Koch-Mehrin, also former member of the European Parliament (MEP), welcomed the EWL very warmly.
It was a very open and fruitful exchange on how WIP was created and developed, and on how WIP and the EWL will possibly achieve parity in all political power positions across the Globe.
EWL: How did you have the idea to create a network of women parliamentarians?
K-M: When I was at the European Parliament I was looking for the political networks that exist for MPs. But they didn’t exist, so, I decided to try to bring women parliamentarians together. Firstly, we reached out other women MEPs and we launched our project with an inaugural conference at the European Parliament supported by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and International Institutions like UN WOMEN.
EWL: How did you reach women MPs across the globe?
K-M: We set up a not-for-profit foundation, began to collect data about women representatives all over the world, and after months of preparation launched the event in the European Parliament that was then attended by more than 400 MPs from 106 countries. What unites these politicians cross-party, is the demand for more gender equal decision making.
EWL: According to you, which are the main barriers for female parliamentarians to participate in the WIP Conferences?
K-M: For the participation to WIP right now we have language-challenges. WIP reaches out to all MPs, in every country, and not all of them speak English. We aim at establishing a language regime similar to the UN one, but also that is still limited (6 languages available). Another challenge is the funds available to the MPs. Women MPs have to ask their national parliaments to be funded for their travels to take part to WIP assemblies, but for some of them it is quite difficult. Very often in parliamentary budget decisions women issues are not a priority.
EWL: Do you share best practices among WIP members?
K-M: Yes, this is an important part of our work. WIP focuses a lot on role models and best practices. Gender equality is more and more supported by constituencies and parliaments. We see the application of quotas for example in Mexico, Tunisia, and Mongolia. By the end of the year we’ll be able to provide a study on the glass ceiling and non-legal barriers that women are facing in Politics. But there are also many good stories: The example of Ruanda is definitely an inspiring model. After the genocide Rwanda invested in access education and women empowerment, which Rwanda introduced in its constitution. Now Rwanda is one of the countries doing better in the achievement of MDGs. Today 64% of their MPs are female.
EWL: Which is the role of men for the fostering of women in the parliaments?
K-M: I’m convinced that if women could play their full role in society this would benefit to everybody. And the role of men is crucial to attain that. Hence, we created an advisory board to bring in men in our network and not to make it a “women-only” issue. Also, we invite men to speak at our conferences.
EWL: Mrs. Koch-Mehrin, which is the role of civil society organisations?
K-M: MPs are very interested to work with different stakeholders, especially civil society organisations. Thus, WIP works with many CSOs and we wish to improve our collaborations.
EWL: In the final conference of our 5050 campaign Jessica Grounds, Director of Women Ready for Hillary and Co-founder of Running Start, spoke of the importance of a support network for women. Shall women parliamentarians make vote other women?
K-M: Of course political competition amongst parties can’t be reduced, but in the European Parliament women MEPs cross-party got several times together to make sure that women are adequately represented in the EU-Top-Positions.
EWL: How can we make women staying in politics?
K-M: In the study we are carrying out with the World Bank, we focus also on reelection. The fact is that the way the political work is done makes it often difficult to combine political work with family or other interests. But this concerns women and men alike.
EWL: Which is the role of media for women empowerment in politics?
K-M: Media plays a crucial role in the narrative of gender stereotypes. And this is a global phenomenon: women are too often portrayed differently and asked different questions than men. That’s why we should organize trainings for women MPs, to prepare them to answer irrelevant questions in appropriate ways.
EWL: What would you suggest to the European Women’s Lobby?
K-M: I guess both campaigning to get visibility, also amongst men, and partnering with other organisations. WIP for example.
EWL: And to conclude, which are the priorities of WIP nowadays?
K-M: Our first goal is to increase the number of women MPs in the world. We’ll try to achieve that in many ways, also through mentoring networks between former and new MPs and investing in new generations, empowering young women.
EWL : Thank you so much for taking your time for this interview.
Article on EWL’s website: http://womenlobby.org/news/ewl-news/article/interview-with-silvana-koch-mehrin?lang=en