If Russia's government was more gender-balanced, politics in this country would have a more human touch to it, with more money allocated for medicine, education, science and the like. The predominance of men in politics results in unreasonably high spending on defense and the oil & gas industry, leaving public services in the backseat.
interview with Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Doctor of Social Science, Director General of the Institute of Applied Politics
Do you regard the relatively low proportion of women in Russia's upper echelons of power as a shortcoming of the Russian political system? And what are the implications of having such a homogenous lineup in government?
It's not so much about institutions that make up the system as about concrete individuals in charge of decision-making. Russia's system of public administration as we know it today makes it extremely hard for competent and dynamic people to climb the ladder. Opportunities for social mobility in this country are still quite scarce and democracy here remains very much a work in progress. Officials with the authority to hire & fire - men, more often than not - don't consider male and female applicants equally. Since the Soviet era, women in politics have largely played the role of a pretty picture, hence the main selection criterion - good looks. With female top-job-seekers, relevant skills and competency don't matter much, if at all. So it's not uncommon for women who win senior government positions in Russia to be used as political puppets.
Unfortunately, in these rather unscrupulous times, male MPs tend to distribute prestigious parliamentary jobs among their lady-friends and mistresses. Whereas independent, proactive women of talent, with definite political opinions and realistic chances of winning elections are likely to hit the glass ceiling, as the men at the top see these kinds of women as potential competitors. This is why most of the women who make it into politics are beautiful and dutiful, while their professional qualifications are inferior to those of their male counterparts.
Could a greater presence of women in government alleviate today's political tensions in our society?
The gender imbalance has an adverse effect on politics, turning it into something of a macho club. Men in charge usually pursue tougher and more aggressive policies than women would. If Russia's government was more gender-balanced, politics in this country would have a more human touch to it, with more money allocated for medicine, education, science and the like. In developed democracies, that correlation is all too evident.
As for Russia, the predominance of men in politics here results in unreasonably high spending on defense and the oil & gas industry, leaving public services in the backseat.
It's no secret that to make it in politics, you have to be as thick-skinned as a rhinoceros. Doesn't a woman opting for a political career risk losing her natural gentleness along the way?
Indeed, if a woman manages a big team, for example, she will inevitably acquire some masculine attributes. Politics is still very much a man's world, so to be able to make her way to the top, a woman often has to play it tough. What we need to do is to make the environment less abrasive - and hence make it possible for women politicians to retain their femininity.
The difference in male and female charisma usually manifests itself in behavioral patterns. In Europe and the United States, we are seeing a greater number of women who combine attractive feminine looks with a tough character.
France is a good example of this. Few businesswomen look like tomboys here.
In Russia, there’s a very large number of extremely attractive women who are also intelligent, assertive, and successful. But as long as the glass ceiling is there, the gender imbalance will be impossible to redress. It takes true democracy to bring more women into positions of power.
In Europe and the U.S., the advent of women in politics did not happen until after decades of fierce struggle for female emancipation. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women had to struggle for suffrage and other rights enjoyed by the male population. In the modern-day world, many women are keen to go into politics. Hillary Clinton came close to winning the U.S. presidency, while Sarah Palin had a good chance of becoming vice president. In Scandinavian nations, there are 40% quotas for women in parliament. France's new Cabinet includes 17 women, and there are a good number of women on Italy's political landscape too.
In Eastern countries, however, things are very different. There, to be propelled into a political career, women need to have a powerful father or husband behind them. Without this kind of support, even an extraordinarily competent and dynamic woman will never be able to gain a senior government post. At least, there has been no precedent so far of a woman in an Eastern country making it to the top in politics owing exclusively to her own talents.
As for Russia, rather than continuing to feed Eastern style nepotism, it should opt for meritocracy, Western style.