Last fall, European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding pushed through a proposal for gender quotas for the board of corporations across Europe. Men, she said, continue to dominate top jobs, although women are better educated and the economy needs them. But with German Chancellor Angela Merkel vetoing the idea, whether the 27-member EU Council, the European Union’s legislative body, turns the idea into law this fall remains to be seen.
Law or no law, Reding’s initiative has brought the issue of gender equality to the fore of political consciousness in Europe, helping shake old fashioned views of gender roles in Europe’s most conservative societies, including powerhouse Germany. Algimanta Pabedinskienė, the Lithuanian minister of social security and labor, said the issue would top the agenda of the Lithuanian EU presidency, which started July 1.
“What we’ve tried to do for years, to start a political discussion on gender equality is now happening thanks to the initiative from Viviane Reding,” says Jana Smiggels Kavková, president of Fórum 50%, a Prague-based nonprofit group advocating gender quotas for Czech politics.
The Czech government, like that of Germany and Britain, sees mandatory quotas as an unwelcome intrusion in free business practices. Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands also oppose the European gender quota initiative, but because they feel it overlaps with their own quota systems.