Monitoring women in politics

"Europe Back on Top with 50/50"

[Brussels, 7 March 2013] Yesterday, the European Women’s Lobby and the 50/50 Campaign Core Group of MEP’s, were joined by keynote speaker Olli Rehn, Vice President of the European Commission, and other high-level panellists for a full event to discuss gender parity in EU institutions, titled “Europe Back on Top with 50/50.”

The event - aimed to bring parliamentarians, advisers and activists together – was introduced by Campaign Core Group members Sirpa Pietikänen MEP and Franziska Brantner MEP, who reiterated the importance and value of women in political decision-making positions and the work still to be done before equal gender balance is achieved across European institutions. Pietikänen called for legislative support and stated that “men are not less competent, but they are not more competent”, also bringing attention to the fact that even when women are appointed high-level positions such as Vice-President, men are still appointed to President. Franziska Brantner reaffirmed the topic for the days discussion, that “gender parity is about real, modern democracy.”

Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the European Commission, was able to join the group as keynote speaker and shared his personal and professional experiences of gender equality – highlighting it as a “basic standard”, that should “not to be seen as isolated or separated from other areas” and as “more than a goal, but a pre-condition for reducing poverty.” Amongst many other recommendations, Rehn highlighted three areas to enable and encourage more women decision-makers. Firstly, that there should be reforms to enable and support women’s transition from education into the labour market; that those reforms should be incentivised; and thirdly, the continued need to change attitudes and to practice what is preached.

As part of concrete examples, Rehn emphasised that although women outnumber men in tertiary education they continue to earn less when they enter the labour market; that lack of childcare facilities also undermine women’s equal participation in following their chosen career, and work/life balance is still levelled at women more than men. Rehn spoke of the European Commission’s work towards gender equality, particularly in relation to women on boards, saying “Men are promoted on their potential, women on their performance - a problem we must solve.”

Zita Gurmai MEP went on to chair the panel, which included Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Anna-Maria Darmanin; JoAnna Wagner, Counsellor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the EU; and Serap Altinisik, Fundraising Coordinator and Policy Officer for the European Women’s Lobby.

Darmanin spoke of her concern that the gender dimension has disappeared from the Europe 20/20 Strategy (addressing European economic growth), that each pillar needs to include gender equality, and has to be integrated with and across other strategies. The Vice-President also spoke of how quotas are pivotal to achieve gender equality in the top jobs, and for the need to challenge negative attitudes around imposing quotas.

Policy Counsellor for the U.S. Mission to the EU, JoAnna Wagner also addressed quotas, and conceded that although the U.S. attitude is different, reaffirmed that the end goal remained the same for both the United States and Europe - to achieve gender equality. Wagner also spoke about women’s performance on boards compared to their male counterparts, and how gender equality legislation has regularly been pioneered in the military and followed through into other areas of U.S. society.

Serap Altinisik finished the discussion, highlighting the 50/50 Campaign in the lead up to the European Parliamentary elections, the renewal of the European Commission as a crucial opportunity for gender parity in the EU, and its importance in the democratic legitimacy of the European Union.

Campaign Core Group member Anneli Jäätteenmaki MEP closed the panel discussion, also addressing quotas to promote women’s inclusion, and drawing from her own experience said, “I am proud to be a quota woman, we must not shy away from this.”

The panel discussion was followed by an action outside the European Parliament with the 50/50 Campaign Core Group, Vice-President of the EESC Darmanin and attendees of the event to show their support for gender parity, and take part in a campaign film which will premiere shortly.

Photos from the event can be found on the European Women’s Lobby facebook page here.

You can sign and share the "Joint Declaration" calling on European actors to take concrete steps to ensure gender parity in the 2014 European Elections here.


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