I was inspired to join politics by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark. When I was 16, I joined the youth wing of the Socialist People’s Party and spent a lot of time working for the party. After graduating from high school, I had a gap year to work for the youth party full-time, and that was when my interest in debating and campaign work really grew. When the party decided to include young candidates for the 2019 EU elections, I stepped up to the challenge of awakening young people’s interest in EU politics.
It was not an easy decision. But I made up my mind when my friend told me: “If you want more women in politics, you have to do it yourself.”
For women pursuing parliamentary careers, struggles begin early. The first and biggest challenge is to be on the party list and, what’s more, to be high on that list. Much is said about how we must support women, but not about how we can make the environment better for women politicians. The second challenge is to overcome the perception that men are better candidates. Back in 2019, I decided to come forward because I believed that I could run a better campaign than two candidates who were men.
Another challenge is dealing with expectations of how women politicians should look. At the start of my political career, people had stereotypes because of my age and appearance. They might have assumed that I was an intern in parliament. This made me change my appearance, especially clothes to look mature. Since then, I have changed – now I understand that there will always be certain expectations and assumptions. Understanding them as intrinsically wrong has helped me focus on what I can do to make the “boxes” that women politicians navigate bigger.
I find it shocking that women under 30 are less than 1 percent of parliamentarians worldwide. To change this, I try to push women forward, especially young women and girls, and give them space and possibilities to speak their voices. At a “Girls Speak Out in the European Parliament" event in 2019, we invited 15 youth advocates championing women’s and girls’ rights in Tanzania, Kenya, Kosovo*, Pakistan and Uganda to exchange views on women politicians. I think this is a good example of how we can show women and girls that politics can be interesting and welcoming.
Fridays for Future is a good channel for young people to communicate their opinions with policy- and decision-makers. Being part of movements that raise awareness of social injustices and act to solve them can be challenging, and one might want to give up along the way. I particularly understand the frustration with the lack of climate action, as my political agenda has been climate change. But I also believe that such movements have influenced the way that politicians nowadays talk about climate change and its impacts.
Going back to the perils faced by women politicians, we should not forget that gender-based violence, online or offline, is pervasive. Women politicians cannot easily avoid abusive comments online. Take my own case: as a feminist who cares about the climate, I “hit a lot of boxes” that some people online do not like. While the worst comments are removed by the social media channel itself, many abusive messages can only be taken away manually.
At the end of my five-year MEP mandate, I would be proud to be behind the adoption of a pay transparency proposal. This piece of legislation will help us close the gender pay gap by ensuring that women and men in the EU are given equal pay for equal work.
Even though my time as an MEP is limited, I will do my best to make the future more equal for everyone. I believe that this is possible by staying in touch with people on the ground, having honest conversations with them and giving them space and voice.
*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).