Equality between women and men is one of the European Union’s founding values. It goes back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay became part of the Treaty of Rome.

The EU and its Member States have made significant progress in addressing inequalities between men and women over the last decades and have helped to change the lives of many European citizens and their families in a positive manner. However, inequalities still exist.

We are at the forefront in, amongst others, promoting equality between women and men in the labor market, promoting female entrepreneurship, strengthening opportunities for women in rural areas and combatting violence and sexual harassment against women.

We are also dedicated to putting forward a set of key actions in terms of enhancing equal opportunities for men and women, beneficial to all citizens throughout the continent because we strongly believe in women as actors of change.

Women taking action

Aleksandra Banasiak actively participated in the events of Poznań in June 1956, one of the first civic disobedience acts opening the path to the fall of Communism in Poland and Europe.

On 28 June 1956, the streets of Communist-ruled Poznań were flooded by around 100,000 protesters demanding the improvement of working and economic conditions, as well as the liberalisation of the political system. The protesters chanted, amongst others, slogans such as: ‘We demand bread’, ‘Away with labour exploitation’, ‘We demand free elections’. The protest was violently supressed by the military. Aleksandra Banasiak, a 21 year-old nurse from the Franciszek Raszeja Municipal Hospital in Poznań at that time, was the first to go out onto the streets to tend to the wounded. With bullets flying around her, she saved many demonstrators. She also helped the wounded officers of the Office of Public Security against whom the workers were protesting. She, herself, sustained a ricochet gunshot wound.

In 1992, she became head of the Poznański Czerwiec (Poznań June) 1956 Association, whose mission was to commemorate and educate about the events of 1956. She was awarded the European Citizen’s Prize by the European Parliament on the 60th anniversary of the protest. In recent years, despite her advanced age, she has personally participated in many demonstrations against the current government in defence of a free judiciary, or for women’s rights.

Women as protectors

These women are real child rights champions in Sweden and they are admirable in so many ways. I had the opportunity to work with them in the fight against gender-based violence as European Parliament Coordinator and Spokeswoman on children's rights. Their commitment is an inspiration to many, including me. They devote their time to the protection of children, putting them first on the political agenda, from combating violence against children, at school and at home, to protecting them online, or providing shelters for the most vulnerable.

Some play a key role for women and girl victims of violence, taking them by the hand and helping them during recovery. I also support their important work to raise awareness, for example with social media campaigns to which I participate actively to advocate for change, from ‘endFGM for girls’ to a porn-free childhood (Porrfri barndom). I am impressed not only by their determination but also their courage, which is even more relevant these days when we see that in some Member States, the space for civil society is shrinking, especially for women's organisations.

In times when populism and sexism are growing in Europe, they need our support more than ever. As Rapporteur of the Istanbul Convention to prevent and combat violence against women and as the person responsible for the European Parliament’s work against child abuse online, I have worked closely with some of these women, sharing best practices with other countries, creating networks and building bridges in order to ensure that women's rights and the best interests of the child are respected across Europe, but also in EU external actions. Together we want to make sure that children are given a voice, and most importantly that their voice is heard.

In the pictures you see representatives from Swedish organisations Friends, BRIS, Ecpat, Porrfri barndom, Barnombudsmannen, Unizon, International Commission of Jurists - Sweden, Council of the Baltic Sea States, Childhood foundation, lawyer Charlotte Nordström, BRY, Barnrättsbyrån, Barn och unga Brottsofferjouren, Caritas, Talita, Ersta, Tre ska bli noll and Föreningen ASTUB.

Foto: Gustaf Adolfsson

Women farmers

For me, rural women are genuine heroines. They are mothers, daughters, homemakers, educators, family farm workers (mostly) or managers (only 30% of EU farms are managed by women), guardians of the local culture, heritage and tradition all at the same time. They take care of both the family and the economy. Their working hours are 24/7: taking care of the household and family activities, but also supporting farming and agricultural businesses. Almost half of rural women never go on holiday. Being a rural women is a job that never stops.

This is why I am a proud patron of the Croatian contest for the Most Exemplary Croatian Rural Women, a contest that celebrates rural women’s achievements. Their work is truly admirable, but we must help rural women by recognising their multifunctional role, their invisible work, their tremendous contribution to the economy of rural areas and food production by providing appropriate social skills, care and health infrastructure. As the Spokeswoman on an Opinion on the CAP Strategic Plans Regulations by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights & Gender Equality, I am putting all my efforts into protecting and empowering rural women.

Women in politics

With the theme for International Women’s Day 2019 being #BalanceForBetter and Brexit drawing ever closer for the UK, I feel it is important to look at the unequal gender balance in the Brexit debate and to highlight the excellent work that women across my constituency are doing to ensure their voices are heard on the matter.

A report published by Women for a People’s Vote has shown that Brexit will deeply affect women in the UK across all aspects of their lives, from healthcare, to personal finances, to protection in the work place. During the last election, only 208 women were elected to the House of Commons, representing only 32% of MPs. In the House of Lords, women make up 26% of the Chamber. Men dominate the decision-making positions within the Brexit Departments, government transparency publications from 2017 show women make up only 38% of the Department for Exiting the EU. With the public-facing ministerial roles and senior civil servant roles dominated by men, it is hard for women’s voices to influence the Brexit process.

Further to the political process dominated by men, the media surrounding Brexit is mostly male voices. A report by the Guardian found that only 26% of British news journalists are women. An analysis of five major political programmes have given men 58.65% of their airtime to male guests since the EU referendum in 2016. With women making up over 50% of the population, women’s voices are underrepresented in the debate.

Over the last year, I have spent a number of weekends campaigning across my constituency with local organisations, such as Devon for Europe, asking for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal and have seen a huge number of women turning out in support. This is why I feel it is important, on International Women’s Day, to recognise the tremendous efforts made by women in my constituency to have their voices heard and to make sure that they are fairly represented within the Brexit process.

Women activists

The European Women’s Lobby and I have been working throughout the legislative term to promote gender equality and women's rights. The cooperation has its roots in a European Parliament (EP) Report in 2012, which I wrote, on Women in political decision-making - quality and equality.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the EU is only half way towards achieving gender equality in six key areas: work, money, knowledge, power, time and health. With respect to the use of time, there has been some backtracking: the amount of time spent by women on cooking and housework has increased compared to men. Gender equality challenges are relatively similar across EU Member States. Only about 6% of Executive Directors, 30% of entrepreneurs, and 6% of venture capitalists are women.

The absence of equal participation by women in political and public decision-making has a negative impact on equality and democratic decision-making. It is also a question of the quality of decision-making, as talent and capacity are not determined by the X or Y chromosomes. If you leave women out of decision-making, then you’re failing to use half of the human capital and you’re leaving out a vast number of different life perspectives.

Signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women are committed to taking all measures, including positive measures, to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life.

Two key challenges for achieving parity are the lack of enabling societal environments, for example care services, and the difficulties of reconciling family and work. In 2016, the EP’s Women’s Rights & Gender Equality Committee gave an Opinion on the European Social Pillar, for which I was shadow Rapporteur. The Parliament addressed the need for measures to counter, inter alia, the persisting gender employment and pension gaps.

Regarding gender equality in decision-making, joint priorities with the European Women’s Lobby have included getting more women candidates, more women voters, and promoting actions that secure an environment which enables this.

In addition to specific policy issues, our cooperation has been strong on promoting tools for gender equality, including gender impact assessments and gender budgeting, which should be implemented at all levels and for all programmes.

Women volunteers

Mária Koštyálová is a volunteer for the Community of St Egidio where she works with marginalised and homeless people. A fresh graduate, Mária often says that the worst kind of poverty these people often experience is loneliness and hopelessness. This is why the primary focus of her volunteer work lies in building relationships with people who are in need. In order to help them to solve their problems, an individual approach is necessary.

For Mária, the saying ‘People’s Lives Matter’ is not just a catchphrase - she fills it with practical meaning. She cares for the most vulnerable people living on the edge of society: the homeless, the sick, the elderly, but also Roma children. They all need understanding and human warmth as desperately as practical assistance.

Mária is a "local hero" precisely because she cares about those less fortunate living around her, and she does it with passion. Despite her young age, she decided to dedicate her energy and spare time to people who are neglected by everybody else.

Women standing up against cancer

The ‘We are not alone’ association aims to promote and improve all forms of cancer prevention, especially in women, to support women with cancer, treat cancer, educate and better inform patients, their families and the public in general, improving the quality of treatment and the social position of sick women and the protection of health in general.

On March 7 2017, the association launched a unique website ‘Nismo same’. During 2017, they initiated a project for transporting women to and from their chemotherapy sessions (You're not alone - you're coming with us!) where they managed to get a free taxi transfer for all women going for chemotherapy. Women can easily apply for the transport via a website. The first women were transferred to their chemotherapy sessions in March 2018.

The association is led by Ivana Kalogjera, a journalist who, after beating breast cancer, decided to help other women overcome the obstacles she faced during her own treatment.

These brave women publish their stories about their fight against cancer on the ‘Nismo same’ website thus inspiring, motivating and supporting other women who are dealing with different kinds of the illness. They also share advice and useful information for all patients, especially on how to deal with the personal challenges of the disease.

Women are family

Olga Michutová is really exceptional. She relentlessly helps orphans grow up in a family environment since 1996. She is the founder of ‘Family of Saint Zdislava’. Ms Šojdrová is a long-term supporter of her work. She is a real local hero and a pioneer of the family-type of care for neglected children and orphans. Her motto is “to create a new home with Mum and Dad”.

Women's power

"I think that our societies have everything to gain from proportional representation by women and men politicians. The fight for gender equality must go on."

"Same job, same salary. This seems logical. However, nowadays in Europe, this principle is not respected. When a European man earns a Euro, his female colleague only gets 84 cents. Just a few days before International Women's Day, these numbers will be widely commented on. They will be added to other statistics such as the employment rate of women: 11.5% less than men; the rate of full-time work - around 50% for women, 71% for men; and women’s pensions, 40% less than men.

There are real-life situations hidden behind these quite abstract numbers, a clear risk of precariousness for women during their professional life and beyond, which poses a huge challenge to our European society.

The issue of the persistency of a pay gap between men and women cannot be addressed without reflecting on the balance between work and private life. On this matter, the recent agreement reached on the Work-life Balance Directive, that the European Parliament still needs to approve, is a great step forward. This text sets out paternity and parental leave in all Member States. As women are mostly the ones who reduce their working time to take care of a handicapped child or elderly parents, this Directive also paves the way for leave for carers.

The glass ceiling. Women are still under-represented in the business world. They are missing from performant economic areas (science, technology) and are still not visible enough on company boards. When they want to start their own company, they are often faced with issues regarding finance, access to information or networks. This is why, during the last parliamentary term, the EPP Group supported an increase in funds allocated to developing female entrepreneurship. We also supported initiatives aimed at breaking the glass ceiling for women who want to access leading jobs.

We are taking small steps forward. But the political sphere is still not a good example. I think that our societies have everything to gain from the proportional representation of men and women. I can safely say that in Germany and within the CDU, we have had great experiences with female leaders!

When I am President of the European Commission, I will do my best for the college of Commissioners to respect gender equality. This is fundamental for me. Member States' governments will have to take their responsibilities.

I am convinced that the fight for gender equality should involve everybody because it will lead to fairer societies. This is why discussions on this topic shouldn’t be held only on the 8th of March.

Women looking forward

Ana Gordillo (Ibiza) who is 28 years old, has been responsible since June last year for managing the main tourist business association in Ibiza, the Hotel Business Federation of Ibiza and Formentera. She is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs in the sector interested in modernising the industry.

Ana started out in the hospitality sector through her family business, a modest family hotel in Ibiza that her grandfather founded. She started working at the hotel, learning hotel management and developing professionally while finishing secondary school studies in Ibiza. She always knew that training and studies were paramount, which is why six years ago, she graduated in Law in Barcelona.

From then on, she began to manage the hotel directly, where she began to implement new management systems, new forms of advertising and other aspects that gave the business a new impetus, new growth and development. Ana understood the tourist reality of our times and how it can help business. It is because of the great management of her own business that she became known in the tourism sector where she was elected President of the Federation of Hotels of Ibiza and Formentera. Since then, she has been doing continuous proactive work for the development of the sector in one of the most important tourist regions in the world.