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"When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When many women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.”

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When I was a teenager, I thought I could do anything a boy could do. I was happy that the fierce feminists of my mother’s generation had fought the fight, and that after decades of struggles, finally us girls had the same opportunities, the same choices in life as boys. That’s what I thought at the time. Today I am 48 years of age, a mother of three girls, and a feminist myself. It makes me furious when I have to tell my kids that it will take another 217 years – according to the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report – before women and men are treated the same. 

            So in 2013 I founded the Women Political Leaders (WPL), the global network of female politicians. It convenes women elected representatives, ministers, heads of government and heads of state. The purpose is to advance society by increasing both the numbers as well as the influence of women politicians – by building a non-partisan, cross-border, strong network between powerful women, by exchanging best practice and refuelling the ambition to get more women into politics. For ten years I served as a Member of the European Parliament, and while the situation in the European Parliament is not bad (37% of parliamentary seats are held by women), it is far from representing the reality of society, and I wondered: where are the sisters? Still, after the recent US mid-term elections and the much needed increase of women, not even a quarter of the seats in the US Congress are held by women. The global sad reality is: more than 90% of the world’s Presidents and Prime Ministers, more than 80% of Ministers and more than 75% of elected representatives are men. No surprise public trust and appreciation of political leadership is at a historic low. Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile and now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When many women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.” Politicians are visible public figures, they are legislators, they can lead cultural change. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seconds: “When women engage in the political process, societies thrive and prosper.”

Evidence is an essential tool in public policy and social progress. We need to understand values, perceptions and attitudes, the speed of change or the failure to realise it, and the drivers and barriers towards a fairer world. So, we need to document the social norms that societies operate within, the everyday beliefs and behaviours of men and women, and the interplay of the drivers for change against those of stasis. We need to document our social norms so that we can challenge them, and we need to measure change over time to hold ourselves and our leaders to account. WPL together with Kantar has created The Reykjavik Index for Leadership. We will use The Reykjavik Index for Leadership to measure our progress on the journey ahead.

Why Reykjavik? The Index will be launched during the Women Leaders Global Forum, which is annually co-hosted by WPL and the Government and Parliament of the world’s best country for women: Iceland. Iceland tops all international rankings that measure equality between women and men. Iceland is the benchmark. 

Silvana Koch-Mehrin is the Founder and President of Women Political Leaders (WPL), the global network of female politicians.

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