Women should be at the centre of the future of the European
Union, because the equal participation of both the sexes economically,
politically and socially is a question of justice and democracy; a question of
forward-looking open-mindedness; a question of whether the European Union can
ever consider itself a bastion of cross-regional integration and co-operation,
if half of the population is still left behind.
Women should be at the centre because no organisation can fully commit to the abolishment of poverty in developing countries, if it cannot have equal pay in its own: if women are still subject to worse working conditions, forced to work longer hours; have less rights; or are paid less than their male counterparts. The European Union as a whole cannot be involved in the prevention of child marriages, in ceasing the proliferation of Female Genital Mutilation, or Child Trafficking, if half the population of the nations within it still face prejudice and negative gender stereotypes; are still deprived of their fundamental rights to control their bodies; when one out of three women suffer from some type of violence. Fundamentally, at the centre of all future EU policy should be the question that if in Europe there are more women qualified than men both in secondary and higher education, why do women still not hold as many administration positions and top management jobs? And why are more Europeans not asking these questions?
These issues have been well noted by MEPs, who have passed multiple non-legislative resolutions on the matter. There have been one hundred and one International Women’s days, yet the issues recognised again and again have not seemed to ameliorate.
Economically, policies must change and refocus to achieve equality between men and women. Despite progress on some gender inequality issues, much remains to be done to reduce pay gaps, remove ‘glass ceilings’ on women’s careers and remedy their lack of economic independence. Steps must be taken to remove the preconception that it is just the mother of the household that must balance work and personal life, and we must encourage the fathers to choose between the roles if they see fit, offering improved paternity pay and thereby dissolve the stereotype that it is just the fathers that must both work and look after the household. The problem with achieving these goals boils down to inconsistency: there has been a deadlock among EU member states on the draft maternity leave directive. The differences in progressiveness of culture in each member of the European Union prove to be stumbling blocks in the path of EU directives and legislation.
A prime example of this is Spain, exemplified in the country’s regard to women’s abortion rights. The right of women to sexual and reproductive health and freedom of choice, including contraception and abortion, should be fundamentally acknowledged and propounded by all member states, however in some of the most advanced, such as Spain, the deeply religious roots of the nation exacerbates the issue of abortion.
The lack of consistency even from the more powerful members means that in areas such as this, it is difficult to track and therefore encourage further improvement. A survey of women subjected to domestic violence by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUAFG) in 2014 found that about a third of all women in the EU have experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. In today’s society, in the advanced bloc that is the EU, this is not acceptable: the issue is consequently a public, not a private issue, being that ‘violence against women is an extensive human rights abuse in all EU member states.’ (EUAFR) By putting the safety and security women at the centre of the future of the EU, no longer will crimes such as these be ‘systematically underreported’ due to the fact that in some EU countries it is less culturally acceptable to talk about the problem than others. (EUAFR) quite fundamentally, whilst EU programmes help to promote gender equality in a number of key areas, gender budgeting is not applied systematically to the EU budget: most research today carried out by the EU or cross-national organisations focuses on men and then is extrapolated to women: women need to be the central focus and not an afterthought.
These deeply engrained and normally overlooked cultural differences between the EU member states help us to understand how many of the sweeping legislation or other steps fail to work properly. However, it seems ironic that the EU is a strong de jure advocate of Women’s equality, however only 9 out of 29 of EU commissioners are women. The European average of women in politics is 22.3%, with Nordic countries leading the way with Sweden and Finland in the top ten of the rankings, yet with countries such as Rwanda, Andorra, Cuba, Seychelles, South Africa and Nicaragua in amongst and mostly above the rankings of these countries. If the European Union is supposed to be a role model of great political equality, it is not doing a very good job. Many debating forums point to gender stereotypes surrounding the role of women and their capacities to deal with the trials and tribulations of European politics, but this argument is tired, and it is boring.
In today’s world where women are shaking off the shackles of societal stereotyping, and more and more men are becoming involved to reject the backward thinking of the past, the issues themselves should have progressed and developed along with the times. But they have not. Women’s rights, like all human rights, do not concern only women or men, they concern all of us, and of course men have their own equality issues, which I cannot discuss in this one article. But fundamentally, ‘men and women are not and never will be the same, but they should have the same rights.’ (Marc Tarabella)
With the end of 2015 looming, it is reassuring
that the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU has put gender equality
and women’s empowerment as one of the main priorities in the EU development
cooperation agenda. The empowerment of women is not just an aim in itself, it
is a key to progress of any post-2015 goals and a precondition to ensure full
and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for
action. With leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and Kosovo’s
Atifete Jahjaga, the vitality and determination of women in leadership roles
must be recognised. But the potential strengths, contributions and dedication
of women still have not been accepted by society on a wide-scale, especially
with the expansion of the European union to include countries with vastly
different cultures and attitudes with regards to women. Whilst Europe
is an extremely old continent, with a culture that is arguably deeply rooted in
sexism, it is paramount that the European Union keeps women at the very
epicentre of its future legislation, putting pressure on the member’s states,
so that 100% of member states deliver the economic, social and political
opportunities so well deserved by 50% of its population.