24 Jul 2018

How women can design Europe's political revolution

At TedX Katowice, Newsmavens editor in chief Zuzanna Ziomecka spoke about the inevitable onset of a political revolution in Europe and why women should be the ones to lead it. 

Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
How women can design Europe's political revolution - NewsMavens
Zuzanna Ziomecka at TedX. Youtube

When I look at the world today from the perspective of a mainstream media newsroom, I see a political mess -- rising tensions within and between nations, an ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and a crack in the fortress of democracy both in Europe and in the US.

But when I put on my feminist glasses and peer into this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous picture, I begin to glimpse the emergence of an amazing opportunity. I would like to share this with you today.

See the world as a feminist

The feminist perspective, however, is a hard one to take, because it comes with a lot of stigma.  As you may know, feminists have always been women who seek to control their own lives and be treated as equals, but the way we have been seen and treated has changed a lot over the years.

“Witches” was once a very popular name for feminists.

These women, said to be endowed with the power to terminate unwanted pregnancies, were often depicted as violently ugly. Rumor had it, that their vaginas were lined with sharp and terrible teeth. There was only one suitable place for a woman like this -- the stake. 

In the 1960s, women who fled the confines of sexual propriety and convention, women who reached for birth control, lsd and academic degrees were called “hippies”.

These kinds of women were depicted as hairy, prone to drug taking and activism. There was only one suitable place for a woman like this --  a VW Beetle or jail.  

Today, pop culture has devoured the intellectual activist woman and turned her into: a “bitch”.

This type of woman, in charge of her own fate, is basically a man with breasts. Bitches are unapologetic rebel warriors who display the bravery, strength and brutality that used to be the sole domain of soldiers, superheroes and evil dictators.  

What else can we say about the modern high-powered Bitch? Well, she sure doesn’t look like a soccer mom. So really, there is only one place appropriate for the bitch to be –- on a singles app. 

Although this is funny, it is also important, because it shows progress.

Feminists have gone from a brutal death by torture to social isolation as a single in a world of couples and families.

And there has been other progress as well.  Today, women can vote everywhere in the world except Saudi Arabia and Vatican City. In many parts of the world we also have the right to own property, handle finances, and enter into business sectors once reserved for men.

If this was 10, or even 5 years ago, my feminist glasses would see in these conditions a long but relatively steady road to total equality. In 2018, however, the picture has changed. If you train your sights on the democratic west, your feminist lenses will show you a sudden and major mobilization of the women’s movement.

What have women not achieved?

On International Woman’s day on March 8, 2018, 5 million women protested in the streets of Spain. Thousands have poured into the streets in Poland over the last two of years. In Turkey, the women’s movement is a leading force in the oppositions to Erdogan. In the US, the March of Women brought 250,000 to Washington dc after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. And during these women’s rights demonstrations, more and more men are involved -- either side by side at the protests or taking care of women’s duties so that their wives, sisters, lovers or coworkers can participate.

But since there has been such enormous progress on achieving equal rights, why are women getting angry now? Perhaps because of what we still don’t have. Let’s take a look at all that progress.

The world economic forum gender gap report measures the percentage of equality around the world. According to their research, women today have achieved 68% equality, which means that the gender scales are still 32% off balance.

That’s roughly like ordering a pizza from your favorite Italian restaurant and getting it with three slices missing. What is on those missing slices? What have women NOT achieved?

The widest gaps between women and men are economic (58% equality) and political (23% equal). So those are basically the best slices. The ones with wealth and participation in the ruling elites on them.

That means that despite all the progress we have made, women in the world of 2018 have 32% less power than men.

Is that why the women’s movement has kicked into high gear NOW? Yes. And a second very important reason why women are mobilizing right now is the digital revolution.

How the tech revolution is ripening the scene for revolution

Because where women have failed in securing an equal share of power, tech giants have succeeded. The digital revolution has given birth to organizations that have amassed the fortune and influence that was once achievable only by empires and powerful nations.

As they famously boast, the tech industry has brought major disruption. And though we usually say this about Uber and the transportation industry, Google and the world’s streams of information, Facebook and social life, Amazon and shopping, I would like to point out, that this disruption has also reached politics.

Whether it is making use of our private information, or exploiting the fact that our attention is focused on social media, internet technology has made it possible to influence and manipulate public opinion on a gigantic scale.

The result has been very political and will probably grow more so.

 The most visible example of this is the influence of technology and platforms on the US elections lost by Hillary Clinton. In Europe, the use of personal information scraped by data research company Cambridge Analytica is being linked to the success of the Brexit campaign. Internationally, platforms like Twitter have, in some cases, dismantled the buffering power of diplomacy and placed us that much closer to nuclear war.

Yikes. But what does the tech revolution have to do with women?

European Democracy disrupted

Before I show you the connection let’s talk about Europe. What if I told you that Europe has been politically disrupted by technology before?

The last time humankind experienced a major technology revolution was the industrial era. Back then the development of steam engines and factory production changed Europe so much, that it needed a new political system to organize it.

Think about it. Before the industrial era, Europe was mostly an agrarian society. When technology changed the speed of travel with steam engines and factories began to produce exponentially more than craftsmen, Europe’s economic and military power exploded.

With this power the great European monarchies set out to conquer the world and created the giant colonial empires. Meanwhile, Germany-- the odd man out, built up steam and an appetite to grow its own empire. When these powers clashed there were two world wars, and they changed Europe forever.

Monarchies fell, empires fractured and democracy became the leading political system of the industrialized western world. And I put it to you, that this is happening again.

This time, however, it is the digital revolution that is feeding the power of giant tech monopolies. And as they grow their global empires, they become less and less accountable to existing political systems. They have created their own economies that the world is struggling to regulate.

I believe that, as steam engines and factories brought down the European empires, technology and the digital economy are becoming a threat to democracy today. And this is where the connection to women and opportunity emerges.

Women as the engine for change

The European women’s movement is so clearly on the rise because women feel that democracy, disrupted by the consequences of the tech revolution, is in danger. As a group, women have a vested interest in keeping it alive and well, so they are out in the streets trying to protect it.

Madeleine K. Albright, one of the few women to reach the top tiers of power in the democratic West once observed: "Development without democracy is improbable. Democracy without women is impossible." 

But you can’t fight history, you know.  If history wants to take your pizza, you get no slices and no refund. Trying to stop change from happening is a losing game.

You can, however, engage with history.  As changes happen, old rules and barriers, things that once seemed impossible and divisions that appeared set in stone suddenly start to move. You cannot stop change but you can use it’s momentum to influence and shape the future.

In Hungary, Turkey, and Poland political bullies are already doing this. Using the migration crises and economic inequalities, populists have hijacked  Europe’s youngest democracies. They have centralized power in single ruling parties and made their leaders legally untouchable.

The same opportunity they have seized lies before us now. 

I propose that we, particularly we Europeans, create a new political structure for the technology age. One that builds on the values we hold and corrects for mistakes of the past, rather then reverting to them.

Luckily, we have some experience in this. Europe has done this very thing before. The last time a revolution and conflicts were upon us, Europe designed for peace, prosperity and diversity. The result was the European Union. And it was good.

But now we need a new iteration, a European Union 2.0

How to redesign Europe

We need to design a system that will maintain peace and prosperity by dividing power in a safe and equal way between the genders, the nations and the tech empires in Europe. And we have some great new tools to do this with right under our noses.

The management ideas used to build and run the start ups that are changing the world are an interesting place to start. One of the most striking features of most tech organizations is that they are flatter than analog organizations, with a lot more sharing of responsibility, a lot less top-down enforcement and micro management. Instead there’s fluidity between teams and roles, a lot of training and an informal culture. That includes a nod to well being in the physical and mental sense, and an openness to remote work. That’s cool, right? We can use that.

Another key ingredient that I think we should use are the tech company’s mistakes. This is where we come back to women. In an effort to correct for having excluded them from the industry, the big tech companies have funded studies and trainings that show how to curb bias and change culture to make room for and set the conditions for women to thrive. Let’s use that too.

And then there’s Iceland -- the number one country in gender equality in the world, where a woman ruled as president for 16 years and the women’s movement organizes a national strike EVERY YEAR to ensure that progress on equality never stalls. We should spend a lot of time in Iceland when we design the future of Europe.

And finally, we have a new academic framework in the study of real leadership practice that teaches exactly the things we need to know. Like, the difference between managing and mobilizing, inspiring and enforcing, and creating sustainable solutions vs short term easy fixes.

The only missing ingredient is recognizing that women are the way to get this done.

We need to stop seeing feminists as evil, hairy, and dangerous bitches best left alone. Instead, I propose we start looking at women and their movement as allies and an engine for change.

Conveniently, Women are already on the streets and mobilized. Our people are in the field and very motivated. Because the stakes for us in this European game of history are very, very high. And there is not that much time.

The disrupted power structure of today is the perfect moment to redesign europe and for women to reach in and grab the equality that neither empires, nor dictatorships nor communism nor, in the end,  democracy has ever given us.

And by us, I don’t just mean just the bitches in glasses. I mean all women equal to all men in the interest of all of our children.

And the best news about a political revolution lead by women? Unlike other revolutionaries, we don’t eat our children. We feed them.


Zuzanna Ziomecka is editor in chief of Newsmavens. 


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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