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Important points 1994-1999

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EP secures commitment to equal opportunities across the board

 

The European Parliament is a women-friendly parliament. With 167 female MEPs, accounting for almost 27 per cent of the total number of 626 Members, it has some ten per cent more women in its ranks than the average figure for the national parliaments in the EU. With a committee devoted specifically to women's rights, it takes the lead in promoting women's interests across the board and across the European Union and can point to some major achievements in its latest five-year term of office (1994-99) which are making a real difference to women in their day-to-day lives.

Battered women, sex tourism, the sexual exploitation of children, trafficking in women and children, health, discrimination on the jobs market, promotion prospects, child-care and caring for elderly dependents, not to mention the perennial problem of balancing work with home life, are the big issues that face women everywhere in the EU. With the resolutions it has adopted and the input it has provided into Community legislation, as well as organising hearings and sending out delegations, Parliament has raised awareness of all these concerns and played a part in improving conditions for women. It has helped to break down the old taboos which often made discussion of problems such as domestic violence and women's sexual health impossible and it has pressed the European Commission and the Member States to implement measures to make equal opportunities a reality.

Mainstreaming

As a result of Parliament's efforts over the past five years, equal opportunities for women and men are now systematically incorporated into all major Community policy areas. It was under pressure from Parliament that an Equal Opportunities Group of five European Commissioners was set up, chaired by President Santer, to oversee the "mainstreaming" of equal rights and opportunities for women. This "mainstreaming" is carried through into the budget. The leverage Parliament exercises over policy-making lies in its power to adopt or reject the budget and it has secured a commitment to equal opportunities for some 40 different budget items, as well as an agreement with the Council on funding of 10 million euro for the Equal Opportunities Action Programme in 1999. Having secured these budget commitments, Parliament is making sure they are met by monitoring expenditure to ensure that women do enjoy equal rights in practice in, to name just a few areas, employment policy, training measures, transport, and the traditionally male-dominated areas of fisheries and farming.

The benefits are tangible. In 1997, for example, 4 million euro were made available to support women wanting to work in traditional fishing communities. Between 1995 and 1997, 95 vocational training projects targeted specifically at women were funded to the tune of 12.7 million euro. They included training measures for female job-seekers, actions to promote equal opportunities in companies and a seminar on the training needs of the victims of trafficking in women and of the public services dealing with them. Another example is the money earmarked to encourage self-regulation by Internet service providers with the aim of preventing the distribution of child pornography via the net.

Funds for battered women

Parliament's crowning achievement during its current five-year term, now drawing to a close, is to secure a budget line specifically for measures to tackle violence against women. With an estimated one in five women in the EU suffering violence at some time, this is a top priority for the European Parliament. Under the Daphne Initiative, which was instigated by Parliament three years ago and is now about to be placed on a five-year footing, with a budget of 25 million euro from 2000 to 2004, the victims - women, children and young people - of battering, sexual abuse, sex tourism and trafficking of prostitutes will get help. Co-financing will be provided for a network of NGOs and charities working in the field across the EU to help them set up help-lines, refuges and other forms of support. Calls from Parliament have also led to an action campaign: Zero tolerance of violence against women which is being organized in the Member States this year.

Violence against women was raised as a public health issue in a recent EP report on the state of women's health in the EU. MEPs also call in the report for specific health measures for women and for the legalization of abortion in cases of rape or where the woman's life is at risk. Two other reports addressed the problems of women working outside the home who find their way up the career ladder blocked by the glass ceiling on promotion and emphasized the need for more women in senior managerial positions.

This Parliament has raised the profile of women's rights at international level as well as across the EU. It sent a delegation to the UN Women's Conference in Beijing in1995 and has been pressing vigorously ever since for the EU to honour the commitments entered into at Beijing. The new Parliament to be elected in June will be able to build on the current assembly's achievements and expand its role in promoting women's rights still further as equal opportunities are enshrined in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Further information: Mary BRAZIER (tel. 0032-2- 284 2672 or email mbrazier @europarl.eu.int)

 

 

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