Maria Rauch-Kallat, a well-known political figure in Austria and pioneer for women’s rights, gave iGlobenews an exclusive interview. She discussed women rights, politics, the pandemic, her role as President of Austria’s Paralympic Committee and Club Alpha, a non-partisan women’s organization she founded 30 years ago.
Maria Rauch-Kallat is not only a very accomplished woman, she is for many Austrians one of the first top female politicians who helped govern Austria for many decades. She served as the General Secretary of the Austrian People’s Party from 1995-2003. As a member of both Chancellor Franz Vranitzky’s and Wolfgang Schüssel’s governments, she served as Austria’s Minister for Environment, Youth and Family from 1992-1995 and as Austria’s Minister for Health and Women from 2003-2007. In addition, she was a member of the Austrian parliament for 10 years.
Her passion to fight for women, children and those less privileged marked her personal and political career. As a leader of Austria’s women’s movement, she is a strong supporter of women’s quotas. It is OK to be a quota woman she says. Women should be more courageous and apply for top positions. Her advice for women is that they should not wait for the “prince” to kiss them – since there are more frogs, than princes out there. Do not wait for the dream job to come to you – but actively pursue it and above all, women should not be afraid to fail.
The second most important factor in promoting women’s equality is to convince companies, also mid-sized companies, that mixed teams at the top are much more effective than ‘mono’ teams made up only of men. Many studies have shown that companies perform better if they are headed by mixed teams. Supporting women in top positions therefore has an economic benefit for the companies and for society at large.
During her time as Austria’s Minister for Women she promoted a pension reform which will raise the pension age for women to equal that of men by 2030. She supports the program of the current Kurz government to make pension-splitting obligatory. Ironically, it is mostly men who up to now have taken advantage of this tool to increase their own pensions. Women so far have been reluctant to take advantage of pension-splitting, where the pensions of both partners are added together and split. Once the reform is fully implemented, women will also automatically receive higher pensions.
As President of Austria’s Paralympic Committee, she sees the inequality between women and men also among top handicapped athletes. For handicapped women, sports is an add-on, which involves time and money many do not have. Austria’s Paralympic team consists of 24 athletes, 18 men and 6 women. To date Austria’s six medals at the Paralympics have been achieved by male athletes, including the historic gold, silver and bronze medals for Austria’s male hand bikers on the Fuji International Speedway. In the future, Rauch-Kallat hopes to equalize this gender gap, by finding more sponsors willing to support women Paralympic athletes.
Women are disadvantaged in many areas. The COVID pandemic has exasperated the already existing inequalities. Pay inequality cannot be changed overnight, but supporting more women to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professions would help close this pay gap. These will be the jobs of the future. Women need positive role models and Anna Kiesenhofer, Austria’s gold medal winner at the Tokyo Olympics, can serve as a positive example to women. She is proof that a top mathematician can also be a top athlete and very attractive at that. Being a success in a STEM area does not mean you are a nerd. Old stereotypes need to be combated. Rauch-Kallat actively supports igniting the passion for STEM professions already at a young age. It is necessary to start this process in kindergarten and through the parents, who play a significant role in influencing the choice of profession of their children.
Club Alpha, the non-partisan women’s organization Rauch-Kallat founded in 1986, was created to provide women the possibility to network and has a mentoring program also in technical fields. It was the first such organization in Austria promoting women’s leadership in science, art, business and politics.
We discussed the negative role of social media in advocating a certain body image and in pressuring girls and women of all ages to act and look a certain way. Social media and MSM’s intrusion into the private lives of individuals often dissuades many capable individuals, including women, from even starting a political career. Since women are more often victimized on social media than men, the role of social media in furthering negative female stereotypes is huge. The increased digitalization during the pandemic has added to the already existing pressures of the online world.
A favorite question of Maria Rauch-Kallat is what would a world without men be? According to her, it would have “no men, no crime and happy fat women”. Her advice to all women, “don’t diet for men…only diet for health and feeling good”. A statement which one can wholeheartedly support. Equality of the sexes will be achieved only when not only mediocre men but also mediocre was created to provide women the possibility to network women can occupy high positions. The vision of another pioneer in women’s rights, Françoise Giroud, (“Le Sexe, La Morale et La Reine Victoria”, Le Monde, 1 March 1983) was: “Women will be truly equal with men only on the day when an incompetent woman is appointed to an important post”.