The elegant style of the IMF's managing director, earthquake fears in Bulgaria and an interview with the leader of a new feminist political party in Sweden.
Far from seeking to blend in with her male counterparts in a plain trouser suit, Christine Lagarde wears her femininity with pride. Whether it is with a silk scarf or a chic Birkin bag from Hermès, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made headlines with her elegant style. “She is unusual in being able to project authority, power and femininity all at once,” says Gillian Tett, US managing editor of the Financial Times. Lagarde is no stranger to being a lone woman in a man’s world. Before becoming the first female head of the IMF in 2011, she was serving as the French finance minister – the first woman in that role in any G7 country. Now 58 years old, Lagarde began her career at US law firm Baker & McKenzie in Paris in 1981; it was a clear choice for her as it was the only offer that came from a firm that had a woman in the partnership. Though she has navigated her role with poise, Lagarde has faced international criticism for pushing strict austerity measures on southern European states. She was forced to reverse this course of action when the strategy ended up causing more harm than good. Though a sense of recovery is in the air, the IMF is still having to focus on crisis management and looking for ways to keep itself relevant. “Never imitate the boys,” has become her catchphrase. In a New York Times interview in 2010 she said, “Just be yourself. We have plenty of energy, confidence and technical expertise to fit the bill and to hold the position without having to necessarily comply with the model that has been set by other people.”
Bulgaria has suffered from more than two dozen earthquakes in the past year. While they caused no injuries and little structural damage, the government is taking no chances. An earthquake simulator is now being built in Sofia to better inform residents how to react during a major quake.
All primary-school children in the capital will have mandatory earthquake training. According to Dr Emil Botev, head of seismology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, an earthquake of magnitude seven or higher could claim the lives of around 4,500 people in Sofia and destroy 40,000 buildings.
A new political party, Feminist Initiative (FI), may enter the Swedish parliament for the first time following September’s general election. Soraya Post is one of the party’s top names and the first ever Roma candidate in Sweden to be elected to the EU parliament.
Why has there been a sudden surge in interest towards FI?
Many people are ready to see a change for women, minorities and lgbt people. In addition to women’s equality, we’ve taken a strong stand against racism. Things are moving in the wrong direction both in Sweden and in Europe, with extreme-right movements taking seats in parliaments, and people are starting to understand that we have to act now.
Lots of people see Sweden as a beacon of equality – how is it that a party with FI’s agenda has become such a phenomenon?
If you compare Sweden to some other countries it might be better but it’s not equal. Issues such as women’s lower salaries and men’s violence against women show that.
You are also vice-president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum and have long worked with Roma issues. How do you plan to improve their situation?
The situation in Europe is appalling. The Roma have no human rights at all. We have to get this issue on the agenda and change attitudes. Today, most politicians assume that the Roma are the problem, while in reality this is a structural problem. Hundreds of thousands of Roma have no identity and beg on the streets. The EU has to start putting pressure on countries that ignore the problem.