EP President Article on International Women's Day
International Women’s Day must not be treated as an occasion for fine speeches. Instead, it must be regarded as an opportunity to reiterate once again the practical steps we can take every day of the year.
Far too many women around the world are still being subjected to violence, discrimination and mutilation and denied proper access to education, the economy and positions of leadership.
Genuine gender equality is essential if we are to address the challenges of terrorism, radicalisation, war and poverty. We cannot make the world a safer, fairer and more prosperous place unless we empower women to realise their full potential in all areas.
This is one of the reasons why the European Parliament has on several occasions given its most prestigious award, the Sakharov Prize, to courageous women who personify the struggle for women’s rights. I am thinking, for example, of 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, who became a symbol of the struggle against religious extremism after being attacked by a group of Taliban militants on her way home from school; of Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, who belong to the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi ethnic and religious minority that is being persecuted by the so-called Islamic State and who were abducted and forced into sexual slavery by IS. I will be meeting with Lamiya and the Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, also a Sakharov Prize laureate, later today, as both have been invited to Parliament for International Women’s Day.
How can a woman be a role model for her children and bring them up to be open and tolerant if she herself has been marginalised, denied access to education and prevented from playing an active role in society? Many conflicts, abuses and extremist acts stem from men’s fear of women’s potential, a fear that, sadly, leads all too often to violence and human rights violations.
I am proud to be the president of an institution that has consistently spoken out loud and clear in support of women’s rights. In addition to promoting those rights in all significant decisions it makes, Parliament has its own standing committee on gender equality and women’s rights.
Parliament has decided to make women’s role in the economy the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. All relevant indicators show that greater involvement of women boosts economic well-being and employment. For example, firms with more women in senior management positions are better organised and more profitable.
The economic marginalisation of women will cost the world EUR 11 500 billion over the next 10 years – a figure equivalent to the combined GDP of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.
So much remains to be done. Only 24% of managers around the world are women. And of those 24%, only 4.6% are CEOs. What is more, 655 million fewer women are in employment than men, and 88% of women between the ages of 30 and 39 saw their earnings decline when they had children.
The EU is leading the way is this respect. The proportion of women on the boards of major listed companies almost doubled between 2010 and 2015, from 11.9% to 22.7%. Although this is still not enough, we are moving in the right direction. And although still large, at 16%, the gender pay gap is shrinking.
The European Parliament supports the Commission proposal for a directive seeking to increase the number of women on company boards. Similarly, in connection with maternity leave, Parliament is calling for the introduction of European legislation that challenges traditional roles and ensures a fairer division of tasks within couples.
We are working for the economic empowerment of women and to address the gender pension gap.
Parliament itself must set an example as regards gender equality. We have already achieved a perfect balance of twelve women and twelve men among the chairs of our parliamentary committees. I have sought to ensure the same balance within my cabinet.
A few days ago, however, an extremely serious incident occurred in Parliament, when one of our Members launched an unacceptable attack on gender equality. In insulting all women, he displayed contempt for our most fundamental values. I will not tolerate such behaviour, in particular when it comes from someone who is expected to discharge his duties as a representative of the peoples of Europe with due dignity. I immediately opened an inquiry into the matter, which I intend to bring to a swift conclusion by imposing a penalty commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
So the struggle pursued by generations of courageous women is still far from over. But it is much more than a struggle led by women for women; it is a struggle in which we must all take an active part, day in, day out, for the good of humanity as a whole.