"Politics is my passion. I look at it as my way of taking responsibility, and of caring. I was 16 years old, when I joined the Youth of the National Coalition Party. I was 24 years old when I was elected Member of Parliament and just over 30 years old when I became Minister for the Environment. I was a Member of Parliament for 20 years and now I have been a Member of the European Parliament for over 10 years. I do this work with all my heart and full commitment. The challenges I have faced during my career have been very ordinary ones. These are everyday challenges that all women politicians face to the extent that you become accustomed to them, and don’t even realise that they are gender-based.
You see men advancing faster than you, being promoted ahead of you, even when you are certain you have stronger expertise and experience. You wonder was there something you didn’t know, something you should have done that you were not aware of. It ends up with women being in specialist advisory roles to male managers and leaders. I call this the sun and moon effect: the men are the suns, they are the heads of organisations and in top leadership positions. Women are in the deputy head positions, second-in-command, reflecting the light of the male leader at the top. On the rare occasions that women do become leaders, they are under extreme, disproportionate scrutiny. Even at the slightest mistake the stereotypical reaction is to say that this was to be expected, because women are not good leaders.
Gender equality will not be achieved naturally, without effort. Active, persistent action is needed. The most effective measures are binding: measures which address not only the number of positions held by men and women but the engendered division of career roles. Women are also needed in positions in which they can make decisions about the use of resources.
Women’s networks play a significant role in supporting, promoting and recommending other women. Solidarity between women has a significant role to play. It also serves to raise awareness between women that the challenges they are encountering are not all individual, that there are shared challenges.
It is not a question of men or women being better or worse; it is a question of diversity and equality. It is like not using half your brain: if you don’t use half the perspectives and diverse capacities available, the overall picture is incomplete.
Women who inspire me are for example Jane Goodall, Dianne Fossey, Joy Adamson and my mother."
In the run-up to the launch of our campaign ’50:50 Women for Europe, Europe for Women’ on June 7, we are publishing stories of women in politics in Europe. Sirpa Pietikäinen is a Member of the European Parliament, you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.