I dedicated my past fifteen years in the European Commission to the respect of fundamental rights. Given the persisting level of discrimination on the basis of gender, the promotion of equality between women and men is particularly important to me. Recently elected as a Member of the European Parliament, I pledge to tirelessly pursue this fight.
Past legacy: Europe's strong commitment to gender equality
Ever since the Treaty of Rome introduced the principle of equal pay for men and women in 1957, gender equality has been a key principle in the EU. Since then, more than fifteen directives have been adopted on the issue. A specific Committee dedicated to defending the rights of women was even created in the European Parliament. Its members guarantee that each and every piece of legislation gives equal opportunities to women and men and ensure that women's talent is rewarded, not wasted.
Gender equality is not only a European fundamental right, but also a source of economic growth Viviane Reding MEP
As European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship from 2010 to 2014, in charge of gender-related questions, I contributed to this thrust. Because in my mind, gender equality is not only a European fundamental right, but also a source of economic growth. For this reason, I now wish to put the enhancement of the status and the role of women in our societies at the centre of the agenda for the next legislature.
Present fact: under-representation of women in the European Institutions
Despite the EU's commitment to uphold the above-mentioned values, the sad truth is that we don't comply with them within our own walls.
The 2014 European elections represent a missed opportunity to increase and broaden political representation. Even though the proportion of women steadily increases election after election, the share of women elected to the European Parliament only rose from 35% under the previous legislature to 37% this term. This percentage is higher than in most national parliaments but remains far too low to tolerate complacency. I also take note with indignation that none of the leaders of the four biggest political parties is a woman.
The 2014 European elections represent a missed opportunity to increase and broaden political representation
However there has been some progress within political groups. Our Group of the European People's Party allocated a higher number of key positions to women. For example, parity is respected with regards to Vice-Chairs. Within the wider Parliament organisation though, only one third of the Vice-Presidents of Parliament are women - an increase from three in the last Bureau to five (out of a total of 14). While eight women chaired a parliamentary committee or subcommittee during the last term, it increased to ten (out of a total of 22). Yet this remains largely unacceptable.
Most worryingly, the EU might even take some steps backwards. The large majority of the Commissioner candidates expected to be proposed by the Member States are men. Instead of undermining their commitment, it is time for the EU Institutions to be at the forefront of gender equality. We need to send a strong signal to the entire world that such balance is non-negotiable and must be struck.
Future perspectives: the need to translate good intentions into good practice
First and foremost, the European institutions must live up to their commitment to making continual progress towards gender equality. Together with outgoing female Commissioners, I launched a campaign to get “10 or more” women in the next College. In parallel, we should also incentivise European political parties to introduce genuine parity regarding their internal decision-making processes and the nomination of candidates for elected office.
In the meantime, the same rules should apply beyond political circles. Whatever her ambitions in whichever field, no woman should be denied any position simply because she is a woman. That means we should have the same chances to get jobs, full jobs, quality jobs. That also means that we should be more represented on corporate boards. In accordance with Article 23 of the Charter on Fundamental Rights, we deserve more say on economic and business decision-making. That finally means that the gender pay gap should be bridged.
To address this challenge, we need to be exemplary in the EU institutions and European political parties
Unfortunately, women are still lagging far behind men in terms of professional opportunities. To address this challenge, we need to be exemplary in the EU institutions and European political parties. That’s the first step necessary to translating the political commitments of the European founding fathers on gender equality into Europeans' everyday life.
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