Astrid Lulling, pictured, became a Luxembourg MP in 1965 and served as MEP from 1965–1974 and 1989-2014 for the Christian Social People's Party
Photo: Luc Deflorenne/archives
Astrid Lulling was the first woman in parliament for 34 years when she became a Luxembourg MP in 1965. She reflects on a 50-year struggle, which began in the parliamentary toilets.
Jess Bauldry: How did you get involved in politics?
Astrid Lulling: I worked for the trade unions, then in 1962 I became president of the socialist women’s organisation. In 1964, there were elections. I didn’t even think about it. There was a lot to do in Luxembourg. The women had no rights at all. They decided they should have one woman. I was the only woman in my party in the four constituencies.
What was it like when you were first elected MP in 1965?
There had been a woman elected in 1919 when we got the right to vote for men and women. I think she was there until 1931 so there were 34 years with no women in parliament. We were 56 members at that time and I was the only woman. They didn’t even have a ladies toilet. I had to use the men’s toilet. I didn’t have a problem. They put in a Chinese wall in front of the urinals. Then they called it the “paravent Lulling”. The men didn’t like it!
Did you dress differently to fit into the milieu?
When I was younger, dresses weren’t so provocative as they were afterwards. I remember when it was forbidden for women to wear pants [trousers] in the European Parliament. The interpreters, who were all women, came to me and said “if you wear a pant suit they can’t forbid it”. So, I bought a pant suit with a long jacket, I was never very slim, and I went to the parliament in Strasbourg wearing it. It was over, they could wear it. Things weren’t so easy at that time.
Did you ever have anything close to a #metoo moment?
Only once, in the European parliament with an Italian MEP who was chasing after women. He wanted to come after me to the lift. I saw that I couldn’t get rid of him so I went back to the bar. Then he gave up.
You never married. How did your career influence this decision?
When I got my job with the trade unions, my boss told me “if you marry, you will have to go.” At that time, married women were not employed. It’s not for that reason I didn’t marry. But it’s one reason.
Most of the women who became politicians in the 1960s weren’t married. Fortunately, my mother took care of everything. For me she was like the wives who stay at home. That was how I was able to do all of these jobs.
What has been achieved for gender equality since you began your political career?
The situation has improved but women don’t see it. We achieved a lot in giving equal rights and equal opportunities to women. The progress we had in Luxembourg concerning equality was based on the European directive. But over the last ten years, the European parliament and women’s rights community are so exaggerated. Their claims are so unrealistic that we can’t improve things any more, not with 28 countries. The directive we had in the 1970s, we will never have this again because there are so many countries.
What would you say to women today fighting for gender equality?
We had to have guts and be active. But women now only say “this is not good” or “that’s not good”. I tell them see the rights you have and then have the guts to claim your rights.