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Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies - Department of History

Ursula Hirschmann Lecture 2022: reflections on gendered democracies in Europe

This year's Ursula Hirschmann Lecture, jointly hosted by the EUI History Department together with the Robert Schuman Centre, was delivered by Dr Anna Gwiazda, King’s College London.

05 December 2022 | Event

Ursula Hirschmann lecture 2022_2

The Ursula Hirschmann Lecture is an annual event dedicated to gender studies, jointly organised by the EUI History Department and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies.

This year's lecture took place on 29 November at the EUI and was delivered by Anna Gwiazda, Reader in Comparative Politics at King's College London. Gwiazda's lecture focused on the gendered aspects of contemporary representative democracies, especially on European democracies.

"It's too often that women are excluded from politics," shared Gwiazda in her opening remarks, recalling the words used by Europeanist and feminist activist Ursula Hirschmann in founding the Women for Europe movement in 1975.

Gwiazda began her presentation by revisiting the basic principles underpinning a liberal democracy from a feminist perspective, namely: political citizenship and equal representation, respect for minorities, and political pluralism.

Through a historical trajectory starting from the early 20th century women's movements, which fought for universal suffrage, Gwiazda outlined women's struggles to uphold these democratic principles. In her speech, she touched on the 1970s struggles for reproductive rights and for an equal representation in society, which led to the more recent policies on gender quotas, as well as to the more current women-oriented social policies.

After analysing successes and failures of these policies in different contexts, Gwiazda engaged with the debate on the recent democratic backsliding in Europe by highlighting its consequences for gender equality.

In her lecture, she underlined how ultra-conservative, far-right and populist parties, when appointing women to leading government positions, vocally promoted a traditional vision on gender relations and roles. This is evident in the cultural backlash against a so called "gender ideology", in the restriction of minority rights, and in the introduction of what Gwiazda labelled as "anti-feminist" policies, such as for example restrictions on abortion rights. In some cases, this situation has interestingly led to women opting for extra-parliamentary representation in movements, as the All-Poland Women's Strike.

Looking at the current situation, Gwiazda concluded that, despite undeniable progress, European democracies are still gendered, and far from achieving equality in the political sphere.

Click here to access the podcast of the 2022 Ursula Hirschmann Lecture.

Last update: 09 December 2022

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