Often a strong connection/relationship has existed between business and political leadership. There has been one trend which has emerged over time that of women gaining more power and being given more authority over the years. Talk of business, there are 13 women CEOs on the Fortune 500 list today. That as compared to just 7 three years back, shows quite a change. Look on the other side. Michele Bachmann, a Republican (and currently the Senator from Minnesota) is perhaps considered one of the strongest contenders for the 2012 Presidential election to beat Obama. Business has always seen entrepreneurs fail and succeed, but history is proof that a man being incharge is no proof of a new venture succeeding as per various researches, the odds for failure of a new project remains at anywhere between 50-75% whether the founder is a man or a woman! So why the gender bias?
Given my area of expertise, I will try and connect this issue of gender bias in the business sphere, with that in the political sphere, and prove metaphorically how the glass ceiling is something which we should do away with, even when it comes to business, for a woman whether it be business or politics can make as visionary a leader as a male leader. An often used political analyst metaphor is that the Arab world is experiencing its 89 revolutions right now. In this brief contribution I would like to share my ideas about the similarities between 89 in Central Europe and the Arab Spring as far as shaping of gender fair citizenship is concerned.
The year of 1989 serves as a case study to provide lesson to be learned for today. This is an especially timely enterprise because we are very often trapped into the fantasy of a new beginning. The 1968 generation also believed that what they were doing then was totally new. I am quoting the charismatic feminist intellectual, Rowbotham: The extraordinary sequence of events during 1968 led my generation to believe we are moving the same direction as history. We considered that, unlike our elders, we had no apologies to make
We were convinced that we could make everything a new.
Should we read memories written by those women who were active in 1989 we would also come across with the special temporality of women initiating change. It is not a surprise that those, let me say few women who are interviewed today about their activity in North Africa are also underlining the uniqueness of their own movements. Therefore I would like to take a different road here than pointing out the uniqueness of the event but searching for similarities and common lessons to learn how to set up feminist genealogy and not to be trapped again in the myth of a new beginning.
In Central Europe 1989 was the moment when the Soviet empire started to collapse, while opening up space for the reemerging national states. This is an important difference with the situation of today the states now do not have one unified enemy but a proliferation of enemies is expected.
It is always an obvious approach to political changes to count the number of women who are participating in democratic processes to count the visible women in political parties, movements or parliaments. Should we look at 1989 we see that the more historically rooted an organisation the less women were there. Attracting more women, new organisations, and new institutions such as new parties served as spaces of opportunity in the early phases of the revolutions. Later of course the situation changed and women were marginalised in political parties and in decision making processes. Shall we suspect an eternal conspiracy of men against women to get power and to reject a gender fair definition of democracy? I think this is not the case. The answer can be found, beside other factors in redefinition of spaces, especially gendering those spaces.
Saskia Sassen speaks about the reconsidering the spatiality of our activity and she introduces the term Third Space, the space between global and national, transnational and national. That is the space where womens demands are mostly articulated in a strong relationship with the global but not independently from the national, where most of the legislation influencing the possibility of introducing gender fair citizenship is enacted. Why is this Third Space important? It helps us to move beyond the conspiracy theory (namely men need women in heated moments of political change and later on they forgetting about them) and to look at analytically to the political possibilities of gendering democracy.
I know from the interviews I made with Hungarian female politicians who joined politics that they narrated the experience of 1989 as a transformative event which suddenly happened to them in an unexpectedly open space of seemingly borderless opportunities. Is this the case now? Watching the news coverage of the Arab revolutions we are seeing very few women. However, in the back stage, or in front of the computers, in the Third Space we see lot of women with serious impact. Just think for example about the Egyptian female blogger Dalia Ziada. Enabled by digital networks and imaginary, women have as much an impact now on what is happening in these countries as they had in 1989 in Central Europe. The question is how long this impact will last. In the case of 1989 the impact was quickly gone with the first democratic elections. Let me list briefly some of the reasons why the events came to this end.