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One in two MPs should be female, says Schittenhelm

An appeal by Dorothea Schittenhelm of the People’s Party (ÖVP) to increase the number of female parliament members (MP) has received approval among government and opposition representatives.

Speaking on today’s (Thurs) International Women's Day (IWD), Schittenhelm said every other spot on all parties’ electoral lists should be occupied by female politicians. She said a law affecting general and provincial elections was needed to raise the number of female delegates. "Well-meant recommendations and suggestions did not help," the chairwoman of the ÖVP’s women’s department said. She underlined that various similar calls expressed in the past went unheeded. Setting up a law to enforce a change was the only way to substantially change the situation.

One in two members of the Greens’ parliamentary faction are women. The four other political parties represented in the parliament have significantly lower percentage rates. The situation is similar in Austria’s nine provincial parliaments which feature 448 delegates altogether.

The Greens said they were willed to form a bipartisan partnership for a law for more women in politics. SPÖ Women’s Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek expressed support for Schittenhelm’s suggestion as well. Heinisch-Hosek said chances that her faction backed a partnership for a reform were high.

A two-third majority is needed to set up a law for a 50 per cent quota of women on electoral lists. It is unlikely that such a bylaw comes into affect anytime soon since the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – the strongest opposition faction – said it would not join an initiative for such a constitutional law. Heinisch-Hosek also made aware of the "blockade politics" of the ÖVP faction in the past concerning pro-female reforms.

The women’s minister referred to a controversial debate in parliament last year when male ÖVP members tried to keep their female colleagues from campaigning for a change of the national anthem’s lyrics. Former ÖVP Women’s Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat wanted to present her draft bill in what was her last parliamentary debate before she left politics.

Several ÖVP members deliberately ignored time limits on MPs’ speeches when they entered the podium to refer about a variety of issues from pig farming to the upcoming introduction of a new artificial sweetener. Rauch-Kallat was scheduled to speak at the very end of the summit. Their fellow ÖVP colleagues’ actions kept her from informing the parliament about her idea to change some parts of the anthem.

The ÖVP’s male members eventually failed in stopping the campaign. The anthem now tells of Austria’s "great daughters, sons" (Heimat großer Töchter, Söhne) instead of praising just the country’s "great sons" (Heimat bist du großer Söhne). ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf allegedly masterminded the initiative against Rauch-Kallat’s draft bill presentation. Kopf never commented the issue. He has so far also ignored Schittenhelm’s appeal for a change of Austria’s voting law for more women in politics.

Rauch-Kallat got active in this concern a few months after Heinisch-Hosek was forced to abandon a similar campaign when she was told by fellow SPÖ-ÖVP government members that Austria had to deal with more important issues than whether the anthem’s lyrics should be altered or left unchanged. Heinisch-Hosek yielded at that time and pointed out that she would stick to an alternative version of the anthem which considered Austria’s women anyway whenever she sang it.

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