By Mihaela Sirițanu |
March 8th is a time to recognise and celebrate women’s struggles and achievements throughout history. More importantly, it is a time to reflect on where we are in our path towards gender equality, writes Volt Europa Treasurer Mihaela Sirițanu. Women today often resign themselves to conforming to existing structures, without changing them. A fresh approach to solving this issue would be to explore women’s relationship with power.
The biggest barrier for gender equality in Europe today is not active opposition but inertia, evasion and neglect. The continuous deprioritization of this issue is a direct result of under-representation of women in politics. As long as this continues, the undervalued potential of over half the world’s population will prevent the bringing about of profoundly needed change. The UN has named 2030 as the year when gender inequality will end. However, studies show that at the current rate, the elimination of gender inequality won’t be possible for another 74 years!
Women’s lack of participation in politics has long been the subject of thorough research. It is well established that we are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome and perceive the political scene as highly competitive, confrontational and gender-biased. Perhaps a fresh perspective on this issue would be to examine women’s relationship to the power that is an inextricable part of politics. Not only can this illuminate issues that are important to ourselves, but it can also highlight the traps and problems of men. Moreover, it can bring new understanding to the concept of power as we know it.
Dr. Martin Luther King defined power as “the ability to achieve purpose” – and that “whether it is good or bad depends on the purpose.” This compelling word however, has become a label of evil in our society, with undertones that suggest cruelty, dishonesty, selfishness and arrogance. The word power is associated with conflict, corruption and immorality, so much so that women find the concept of power detached from their identity. We do not seek it, because we do not desire to be associated with it.
Historically and culturally, women have utilised power, competence and capacity in the service of others. Moreover, we have been encouraged to experience these needs as a predominant, central, almost total definition of our personalities. As such, we are left with valid concerns about using power in the way it’s currently perceived in our society.
Coming to this conclusion was a journey for me. For a long time, I perceived my leadership position as a service and support for other leaders who fashioned themselves as visionaries. I was unaware that this came from cultural conditioning. As a young leader, I longed for a team, as I was fully convinced that that was the only way for me to achieve meaningful impact. At that time, I didn’t realise that service without purpose is meaningless, or that I had the power to build my own team and create the resources necessary for change. Today I understand that while both my convictions were true, I hadn’t yet grown comfortable with my own position of power, leadership and responsibility.
Most women are keenly aware of the essential truth that people live in communities, and the subsequent value of amplifying the power of others by lifting them up. With that, most women choose to be powerful in a way that empowers others and increases their resources, capabilities and ability to act. We uphold the concept of “power with” rather than “power over” someone. At the same time, it is self-evidently tragic that we women do not feel empowered in our own right; that we do not seize political power when it is, in fact, available to us.
I’ve had to acknowledge that I have a duty to speak truth to power, and to use my own when needed. There’s nothing wrong with accepting power and responsibility, and for women – certainly for myself – that acceptance has been the foundation of my ability to exercise my power to do good.
Today, when women in leadership positions act with strength and conviction, they risk being perceived as disruptive. As a result they tend to adapt in their contexts, hereby conforming to the existing structures and perpetuating the existing culture. Only when equal representation will be attained, the notion of power can be transformed as women will seek new ways of negotiating and exercising power in ways that simultaneously enhance rather than diminish the power of others. That is precisely why we women need to internalise the concept of power as part of our identities and claim our space in the political landscape – so we can disrupt the structures that were not built for us!
Mihaela Sirițanu – Treasurer, Volt Europa
(Ms. Von der Leyen’s picture: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP)