- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Equality: the European Union makes it happen!


We have just celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. But is it still relevant today?

A small reminder of our history: before the 20th Century women had absolutely no rights. They were considered inferior beings and therefore not able to make their own decisions. This was particularly true for married women. It was only in 1942 in France, for example, that married women could work and only then on the condition that they weren’t taking the positions of other people!

It was only after the Second World War in Europe that discrimination against women that had been written into law started to disappear.

But it was the construction of Europe with the Treaty of Rome that gave the campaign for equality real impetus.

In 1965, women got the right to work without the permission of their husbands.

In 1972 the notion of “Equal work, equal pay” first appeared and in 1975 discrimination against women was finally banned.

Since the year 2000, the national implementation of European directives have aimed at combatting inequality in the workplace and in politics. Do you really know all that the European Union has done for us? And it’s not over… on 8 March at the European Parliament we celebrated what has been achieved (a lot) and what still remains to be done in order to achieve real equality between women and men.

In 2010, the European Parliament adopted the Women’s Charter, to spread equality throughout all European policies (gendermainstreaming), and the Strategy of Equality between Women and Men for the period 2010-2015. In the EUROPE 2020 Strategy, increasing women’s participation in the economy is crucial if we want to achieve the objective of becoming a competitive and sustainable economy. My visit to the European Parliament on 8 March persuaded me that we can still count on the European institutions to promote equality in Europe. And all the more so now given that the person responsible for equality at the European Commission is Viviane Reding.

The Parliament’s work in 2010 in the following areas is awaiting the agreement of the Member States (in the European Council ) before being accepted: 20 weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of paternity leave on full pay.

A binding resolution to combat violence against women with a European protection mandate.

Last Tuesday the Parliament has voted on two new resolutions (non binding): women in poverty and equality in general. For the first time in this resolution, we speak clearly about the strong measures to be taken by the Member States “such as quotas” in order to bring more women in the decision-making roles and in particular on the board of directors. The word “sacrilege” was adopted by the majority of MEPS! When we know that only Norway, Spain and France have adopted quotas, this will make many heads of state howl. It would seem that Commissioner Reding has decided to impose the measure from Spring 2012 with the objective of 30% in 2015 and 40% in 2020. The vote in a commission of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies last week in which quotas became law was nothing more than was expected.

The resolution demands binding measures to ensure that there are more women in politics and demands that the European Commission sanctions countries that do not work to reduce the gender pay gap between women and men.

Last but not least, we are waiting on a report in April on measures to be taken that favour female entrepreneurship.

To close this editorial celebrating the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day let’s leave the last word to Viviane Reding while sending her all our support for future actions: “Gender equality is more than just a slogan; it is our social and economic responsibility. I am confident that together, we can make it happen”.