Speech at the International Conference
“Changing Role of Women in the Changing World”
Budapest, November 2007
Out of the several thousand years old history of mankind, the involvement of women in social life - through the right to vote - has not been longer than one century. Neither the laws of Athens, "the cradle of the idea of democracy", nor the "Bill of Rights", "the cradle of modern democracy" has foreseen this right.
As we are in Athens, we cannot forget that the "exclusive male club", as the ancient city has been called, has not excluded women from public life without an explanation and with a certain sense of remorse.
The legend about choosing a name for the city of Athens says that the citizen of Attic have had to chose between Poseidon's gift of a horse bouncing from the rock of Acropolis when struck by the trident of the god of the seas, and the sacred olive tree that the goddess of wisdom miraculously made to rise from the earth. As women participated in the vote - and in quite a large number (due to their civic conscience, we would say today) - the choice was the olive tree and Athena became the protector of the city that was going to bear her name. The men had to give up Poseidon's gift, a token of victory at war, but they punished the women by forbidding them to vote again. Thus the notion of "exclusion of women from political life" came to life, but also the recognition of a wise decision
To talk today about women, politics and power in general is equally false and inefficient. Any discussion will have to begin by answering three questions:
· which women?
· which politics?
· which power?
This is as the first result of globalizing information has been that we live on the same Earth in parallel worlds which represent different frames of time in the history of mankind. There are countries with women presidents of the countries, governments and parliaments, yet there are countries with women of a status comparable to the Middle Ages or to Slave Antiquity. This is why I believe that a dialogue will be efficient if it should address concrete situations. I would go even further and say that it should also refer to lived experiences. An interesting experience is the change of the status of women in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Can we talk about a social policy destined to women, or can the different specific aspects be identified in the unitary body of general and sectorial policies? Are women a population segment for which there should be a privileged treatment, or is it more natural that their problems should be discussed in the general approach context of social issues? Can we talk about social policies specific to women?
There are many social problems specific to women, with repercussions on the balance of the collectivity as a whole: the reproductive rights and prostitution. These issues have been largely discussed and are highly controversial from various points of view (ideological, religious, philosophic ones) and they can be at the origin of many social tensions, by becoming the subject of special chapters in social policies, such as demography, human rights, eradication of poverty and of diseases.
As the president of a country, which transgressed half a century under a dictatorship and where the right to vote used to have no meaning, because, just as Raymond Aron used to say, "it was not the voters who designated the elected ones, but the elected ones who were deciding their voters", I strongly felt the tension of the change of mentalities on the status of the woman - from the "communist manly woman" to the "top-model woman" and to the force by which she imposed herself as "manager".
At the same time, as I had set up a mainly female presidential staff, I understood that the "feminist vision" does not only mean a concern for matters specific to the woman, but an analysis of all legislative, economic and social policies, and even an interesting and creative approach of male issues.This is why a re-conceptualizing of the relationship woman - politics and power is needed. Reality has proved the leadership capacities of women in countries with different cultural and civilization models, from Indira Ghandi to Margaret Thatcher, and has illustrated their capacity of imagining and imposing profound reforms under difficult circumstances. As a conclusion we can say that the need for social policies for women, at least in the concrete sense of bringing their problems into the spotlight, finds its justification in day-to-day life, in statistics and it deserves being evaluated without bias.
A feminist perspective in social policies is beneficial whenever it means the internalization of universal values, plus the devising of a major interest connected to the position of women in society, and finding solutions for the improvement of living conditions and women's access to power. The presence of women in leadership structures is not only to their own advantage, but to the advantage of the entire society.
On the other side, the way fishes’ life indicates the level of pollution provoked by technology to the water, the same way regular women’s life shows how good or bad are state’s policies.