Why A Picture Of Four Female European Politicians Went Viral This Weekend

This weekend, Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, was in Germany for the Munich Security Conference. While there, he tweeted a photograph of four women from his Swedish-language Twitter account:

The picture went on to be retweeted almost 2,000 times. You can probably guess why.

On the far right, you have Ursula von der Leyen. She is the first female Defence Minister in Germany’s history, appointed late last year, and seen by many as a possible successor to Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (and possibly Germany).

Next to her sits Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the first female Defence Minister for the Netherlands. (It was actually Hennis-Plasschaert who first tweeted the picture, though her image failed to go viral to same extent as Bildt’s.)

The other two are not the first female Ministers of Defence for their respective countries — Sweden’s Karin Enström is the only one of the four with any military experience, and Norway’s Ine Eriksen Søreide is her country’s fifth female Minister of Defence. Still, the image of the four women appears to show that female Ministers of Defence in Europe are a growing trend: A few years ago, Carme Chacón became Spain’s first female Minister of Defence (she was seven months pregnant at the time), France had a female Defence Minister between 2002 and 2007, and the United Kingdom also recently appointed females to head their defence.

In an age where people are questioning the male-dominated spheres of the military all over the world, such a trend makes sense. Three women recently succeeded in passing the notoriously gruelling U.S. Marine infantry training course, though the U.S. is yet to have its first female Secretary of Defence.

“[Dutch politician] Neelie Kroes once said to me that old boys’ networks are the oldest form of cartels we have in Europe,” Hennis-Plasschaert told The Guardian. “She was right, but things are changing, and women can do similar things now.”

Still, some things take time to change. In the many responses to Bildt’s tweet, a number chided him for his description of the Ministers: They’re women, not girls.

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