By Andria Kades
DISY’s embarrassing gaffe this week when it ignored in-party elections for a woman candidate on the Larnaca ticket in May’s parliamentary elections was compounded by the party spokesman’s unfortunate comment which suggested a link between women standing for election and beauty pageants.
The events once again brought to the forefront the struggle facing women who wish to enter politics.
The numbers speak for themselves. Currently there are seven women in parliament out of 56 deputies.
“It’s a very painful process running for election and some women believe it’s a lost battle. ‘If I run I won’t be elected so why should I waste my effort and financial resources?’” Eleni Chrysostomou, who is running on the DIKO ticket, told the Sunday Mail.
Low female participation in politics is a recurring theme whenever there are elections, she said
“Women will enrich politics. Decisions do not just affect men they affect women too, so they should be part of the decision making process.”
In order to actually get to that point though, they have to put in two or three times more of the work, Chrysostomou said.
Out of six parties with a total of 336 candidates vying to get a seat in May’s upcoming election, 76 or 23 per cent are women.
The most popular party for women it seems is the Green Party with 22 female candidates out of 56, followed by the Citizens Alliance with 13 women.
DISY has 12 women standing while AKEL and EDEK have 11 each.
In last place is DIKO with seven women.
Commenting on why the Green Party may be the most popular for women, their spokesman Paris Mavrommatis said this was largely because ideologically, the party is more appealing to women who are more sensitive when it comes to matters of environment and animals.
“Women can offer much more and they’ve proven that. They have the ability to have a seat in parliament and deserve it,” Mavrommatis said.
Runner up on the Citizens Alliance ticket Mairy Eleftheriadou said one of the problems is that women have a multifaceted role to play – a mother, wife, carer – making it a much harder fight, something which doesn’t apply to men.
“It’s not just the lack of opportunities but no time to actually do so,” Eleftheriadou said.
“In Cyprus, big parties feel like putting woman on the ticket is a favour, something they have to do for political correctness. We don’t want favours we deserve it.”
But it is ruling DISY that has been in the spotlight this week after their candidate Annita Demetriou gained a spot on the ticket for Larnaca during an in-party voting session on Sunday.
But after the political bureau convened on Tuesday to ratify the names, she ‘voluntarily withdrew’ her candidacy, a move which raised suspicions over what was going on behind the scenes.
Although she is now back on the ticket after her substitute, Volunteerism Commissioner Yiannis Yiannaki withdrew, the party spokesman Prodromos Prodromou made the situation worse.
“Personally, I would prefer if a woman was on [the ticket], but the decision we had to make was based on the fact that we are running in elections, not a beauty pageant,” he said.
The ‘beauty pageant’ comment drew a storm of protest even from within the ranks of DISY, a storm that raged stronger after the party was forced to defend why they could not adhere to their own internal quota that at least 30 per cent of the candidates must be women. Party leader Averof Neophytou insisted that quota was not binding.
For director of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS) Susana Pavlou, the development was depressingly predictable, indicating the stereotypes and stigmas women face in the male dominated world of politics.
“Women deal with soft issues. But if they don’t, or deal with hard politics, they’re a bitch,” she told the Sunday Mail.
“We measure women with a male yardstick but not in their own right.” With that model, then women will always fail, she said.
Essentially this means that all too often if women want to be taken seriously they have to adopt male characteristics.
“When they’re the only woman in a committee or a board, then they have no other option, they have to,” Pavlou said.
This notion of women dealing with the ‘softer’ issues is reflected in the make up of the parliamentary committees in the House of Representatives. The highest number of women is in the House equal rights committee along with the House health committee with five women deputies on each.
The House committees for legal, defence and financial affairs feature no women MPs at all.
Some committees feature only one woman such as AKEL’s Irene Charalambidou who sits on the House watchdog committee.
Although she was not immediately available for comment, Charalambidou is one of the most prominent women politicians in the public sphere, known for her fiery spirit and strong personality. Twice however in June last year she was on the receiving end of sexist attitudes.
DISY deputy Andreas Kyprianou tried to take a picture up her skirt when she scolded him for lighting a cigarette in parliament in violation of the law, calling her a slut.
Only a few weeks prior to that, another DISY MP, Andreas Themistocleous called Charalambidou “the utmost authority on measuring manhoods” on Facebook after she posted “manliness is not measured by brutality but by the soul that accepts humans and fights for them.” Her comment was in reference to the law which had recently been passed criminalising homophobia.
According to Pavlou, such behaviour is inevitable under present circumstances. When no intellectual arguments can be made, it’s the feminist and sexist jokes that are used in an attempt to belittle women.
Still, although the island has a long way to go, people are now becoming more vocal, she added.
“Ten years ago, if there was no woman in the Cabinet, no one would’ve batted an eyelid. Now though, people talk.”