03 Jan 2018

A call for sisterhood in European politics

Belgian politician Assita Kanko is launching an incubator to encourage more women to enter politics and to support them once they do.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
A call for sisterhood in European politics - NewsMavens
Team hug. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

women's issues, politics, MeToo

Assita Kanko has a clear goal: get more Belgian women to run for public office and give them the support they need to succeed.

A town councillor in Ixelles, one of the largest districts of Brussels, Kanko is planning a Belgian/European Summit on Feb. 7 for women who are interested in politics, with the hashtag #SheLeads.

She said she was inspired by her experience with the French female network 'Femmes et Pouvoir' and decided to launch a similar network in Brussels. 

"Despite the gender quota, there are still fewer women in politics," Kano told De Standaard. "Moreover, they often get the soft wallets."

Her political incubator, Polin, will cross party and languages to find women who want to get involved in politics, either as a candidate, a staffer or a volunteer.

"Instead of being [presented as] backstabbing bitches or iron ladies, let's support each other and form a sisterhood," Kanko said.

Under Belgian law, political parties must nominate at least 33 percent women and face sanctions if they miss the target. A growing number of women have joined parliament since 1995; women now make up about 38 percent of its "lower house." 

Despite the progress, "there is a lot of sexism in politics," Kanko told the newspaper De Standaard in a recent interview. 

The 37-year-old author could be a role model for the movement. In addition to holding political office, Kanko serves on the Board of Directors of the Belgian Development Agency and is a columnist for the De Standaard

In her work, she argues forcefully for women's empowerment. Her first book, "Parce que tu es une fille: Histoire d’une vie excise" (Because you are a girl: Story of a circumcised life) is a story of a personal and intellectual journey to freedom as a woman.

As a child in Burkina Faso, Kanko underwent female genital mutilation. After immigrating from the west African nation to Belgium, she became one of the most important fighters for gender equality and women's rights. A few years ago, she became a member of the liberal party and has since used the political forum to advocate for fairness.

In 2015, she published "La deuxième moitié, plaidoyer pour un nouveau feminisme" (The second half, advocacy for a new feminism) about the position of women worldwide. 

If her incubator succeeds, her next book may be about how women changed European politics.

From #MeToo to #SheLeads

  • Assita Kanko is organizing a political incubator to get more women in politics, increase female influence in politics and create more mutual help between women.
  • The first meeting of the initiative, called Polin, is scheduled to meet on Feb. 7 in Brussels.
  • A victim of genital mutilation in Burkina Faso, Kanko has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights
  • In addition to representing one of the largest districts in Brussels, Kanko serves on the Board of Directors of the Belgian Development Agency and is a columnist for De Standaard
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