The House human rights committee on Monday discussed issues of gender equality and noted the under-representation of women in the leadership pyramid of political, business and social life. Did we need the committee to tell us what is blatantly obvious, that women are under-represented in the top echelons, particularly in the public sector?
Perhaps this was necessary to highlight the extent of the problem. Disy deputy Rita Superman said the presence of women in local government was 15 per cent, in the cabinet 25 per cent and in the legislature 14 per cent. Meanwhile in the army, just 3 per cent of officers were women, in the police hierarchy there were 20 out of 178 and in the diplomatic service just one female ambassador.
In local government and the legislature, this under-representation could be related to the much smaller number of women candidates in elections. Then again, it could be attributed to women being less interested in politics than men (some could argue they have been socialised in this way) or the parties could prefer to have more men candidates because they are male-dominated entities.
More damning was the data relating to the public service. Committee chairperson Irini Charalambidou of Akel said there was a “glass ceiling” for women, pointing out that although a big number enters the public service, “statistical data shows that at the stage of promotions the proportion of women declines higher up the (hierarchical) pyramid.” There was just one female permanent secretary out of 11 and just one woman ambassador at the foreign ministry, she said, speculating that “evaluations carried out might not be so fair to women.”
Analysing and explaining all the causes for the under-representation of women is a job for the sociologists, but there is no denying that Cyprus is a conservative, male-dominated society and that the pace of change is very slow. Women, however, should take some of the responsibility for the slow pace of change. Where are the women’s groups applying pressure regarding fair and equal treatment on the male decision-makers? They have not even managed to have a forceful presence in unions like Pasydy, Sek, Peo to promote women’s rights.
Even though equality and equal treatment should be a given in an EU member-state, the reality is very different, as the House committee observed. Male politicians might pay lip service to gender equality, but reality has shown that they will not change things in a big hurry. Women groups as well as individuals have to push and fight at every level for real change to take place and under-representation to be addressed.