Being the Changes (representing the changes). This message tattooed in the middle of the cleavage of Ewelina Dobrowolska, a 32-year-old lawyer, sparked controversy days ago in Lithuania .
While some politicians in the Baltic country, of 2.7 million inhabitants, criticized the convenience or not of Dobrowolska having this colorful tattoo (and some more), social networks were filled with images of stamps on the bodies of other citizens and of messages of support for this woman, in her thirties, mother of a baby and – here is the controversy – recently appointed Minister of Justice of the Baltic Republic.
Dobrowolska reacted on national television: “If I were a man, I would not be under such scrutiny.” For Jolanta Reingarde, an expert at the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), based in Vilnius, “the difference in standards for men and women is very great.”
Lithuania left behind an all-male government in October that ranked the country 22nd in the European Gender Equality Index 2020, well below the EU average, even behind Latvia (17th) and Estonia (18th).
“That government was a scandal,” exclaims Ieva Giedraityte, a researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences of the University of Vilnius, over the phone.
But after an election won by Ingrida Simonyte, an old woman known for her austere hand as finance minister of the conservative Patriotic Union party between 2009 and 2012, the country has seen key positions in the institutions have been filled by young women in a matter of weeks.
“I want to show, with my example and that of my colleagues, that not only men can be at the top, but also women,” Simonyte told Reuters. In the Executive there are eight men and seven women.
The three parties that make up the current government coalition are headed by a woman. Under the baton of Ingrida Simonyte, 46, are the chess player Viktorija Cmilyte, 37, who leads the Liberal Movement and also chairs the Seimas (Parliament); and Ausrine Armonaite, 31, leader of the also liberal Freedom Party and Minister of the Economy.
In addition, 27% of the 141 seats in the Seimas are held by women, which is five points more than in the last legislature. “It is a big change for us. People clearly wanted something different, ”says Reingarde.
Many enthusiasts of the airs of feminism blowing in Lithuania have been quick to proclaim that the Baltic country is close to the Finnish model of gender equality.
Other analysts, somewhat more cautious, maintain that it still takes time. “It is wonderful that there are women in the front line, but we have to wait to see what policies they design,” Reingarde repeats over the phone.
As a first gesture, the new government may ratify the Istanbul Convention, which condemns violence against women.”I am also hopeful that they will pass some law that facilitates [work and family] conciliation,” adds the EIGE expert, who, however, believes that the other side of the coin of this government is that “it remains conservative.”
Due to the party’s ideology, “there will be struggles that will not be easy. Such as reproductive rights and homosexual marriage, ”he continues.
The expert believes that the prime minister and her Cabinet are in favor of advancing in both ways, but that at the end of the day, the party to which she belongs – and especially her voters – would be against it. “In addition, in the Seimas there is still not a critical mass of women” to promote this type of reform.
Ieva Giedraityte, somewhat more skeptical, doubts that the Government will ratify the Istanbul Convention because she assures that “the conservative party is divided on human rights” and does not believe that “there is sufficient support in society.”
To all this is added the tremendous influence of the Catholic Church in society (almost 80%), and some vestiges of the Soviet era, in which homosexuality was criminalized. “It didn’t exist,” Reingarde explains with a certain irony.
“Part of the change is thanks to joining the EU . Lithuania had to include a lot of gender perspective in politics. There was a lot of willingness to enter the West, ”explains Giedraityte.
The debate is open and despite the social advances, crystallized in the most egalitarian government in history, many analysts believe that what the country is actually experiencing is the phenomenon known as glass cliff ( glass cliff ).
“When there is a crisis and the chances of failure are very high, political parties tend to put a woman in front,” illustrates Reingarde. This way, if it fails, she does. “As for example happened with Theresa May and Brexit,” he illustrates.
The credibility of the coalition’s liberal partners was called into question by several cases of corruption, but now “people think that these two women are going to save their parties,” says Reingarde.
Lithuania is going through a health crisis (1,254 deaths and some 130,600 infections of covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University ) and is entering a deep economic crisis that encourages the ghosts of austerity, although the prime minister has removed that possibility.
Lithuania, then, faces a multi-crisis, but as the most iconic female figure in the country’s recent history, Dalia Grybauskaite, who presided over the Baltic republic for a decade (2009-2019), declared on Facebook: “Women (…) they are not afraid to take leadership in difficult times ”.