The President of the House of Representatives reveals the reasons leading her to politics, her views on increasing the presence of women in public life, and what her generation owes the next.
Interview: Ioanna Christodoulou
Photos: Panayiotis Mina
Regarding your position, your youth and gender are topics of criticism. How do you feel when the focus is on these?
Criticism is legitimate. Everyone has the right to an opinion and to judge accordingly. However, what is not legitimate is prejudging ideas and points of view by recycling stereotypes and behaving towards others in a derogatory and disparaging manner for no other reasons than gender, age, social stature and other criteria irrelevant to their abilities. Under no circumstance can we allow criticism of this sort to be a deterrent. On the contrary, criticism of one’s skills and abilities should galvanise us to step up action to prove that we can contribute to protecting and strengthening the rule of law by ably addressing all challenges facing us on equal terms. Ultimately, society will judge according to results, with the only criteria being our work and actions.
In your career, was active participation in politics expected? Did you ever imagine yourself in the position you are in today?
I have and will always believe in active participation. Given my firm beliefs about what was happening, the disappointment I felt and the need for change, inactivity was never an option. If we genuinely want change for the better, we must be part of it. For this reason, from an early age, I involved myself in public matters, initially through volunteering, then by taking on specific roles. At first, it never crossed my mind that, one day, I would become Speaker of the House, a position of great honour, responsibility and duty to society. In politics, we should not focus on the office but on ideals and, by building bridges through collaborations, find a way to be productive and of use to our country.
Why are there more men than women in politics?
The answer is simple. We live in a male-dominated society with deep-rooted prejudices. These stereotypes need to be eradicated, their glass ceilings shattered by equal opportunities. In doing so, democracy and the rule of law become strong. We cannot speak of participatory democracy and inclusive society when 50% of the population is under-represented or does not participate equally in policymaking. We must address this shortcoming by implementing decisive measures and policies to serve democracy, plurality, equality and freedom. Only in this way will we be able to enjoy a society that is just, tolerant and diverse.
How can women in public life strengthen their presence?
It requires structural changes. It is not enough to discuss percentages only. Progressive policymaking will encourage more women to participate actively and, in due course, run for office. Education is an essential component of this equation. It is the catalyst of reform strengthening the gender dimension in all areas of public life. Female role models need equal promotion through various media platforms. There is a need to restructure policy to balance work with personal life and to promote horizontal reforms such as the budgeting and implementation of the said policies by every ministry as a matter of priority. At the same time, actions and initiatives are necessary to inform and encourage civil society to participate in this vital effort that concerns us all.
In this intense period on the global stage, what is the biggest challenge from your position?
The biggest challenge is creating synergy among reformists to commit to the principles and values to build a safer, more just, and equally promising future for coming generations. To address citizens’ disillusionment about politicians, politics and institutions we must respond to the people’s demand for honesty and transparency in government. We must comprehend the imperative to secure a better, more humane tomorrow for our children – one without discrimination, stereotypes, exclusion, and inequality. We owe it to children growing up in fear and insecurity, those experiencing the consequences of a global pandemic and war, and children struggling to survive.
Lately, the House of Representatives is attempting to connect with the people by being more communicative; can you comment?
Our objective is to invest in participatory democracy by constantly informing the people. The House of Representatives must be more accessible and better at communicating its work and enhancing interaction with citizens. In this way, we will better serve our roles and missions and dissolve the shell of introversion enveloping offices and institutions of government. We aim to build an interactive relationship with society to listen to its needs and concerns, particularly of young people, to encourage them to be more involved and participate in their community.
Ideally, what legacy would you like to leave behind?
In the wake of my office, I wish to continue efforts in order to encourage more women and young people to play significant, assertive roles in public life.
What would you add to, “The world would be a better place if... ”
If we could see past the microcosm of ‘Me’ to the macrocosm of ‘We’, proceed with honesty and reform while constantly trying to be more humane, approachable, and enlightened by what unites us and vigilant against what divides us, the world would be a better place.