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EP President Speech to mark International Women's Day

Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Madam Chair of the FEMM Committee,

Madam Commissioner Jourova,

Representative of UN Women,

Secretary-General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, Ms Jean,

Dr Shiva,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, first of all, for the invitation to open this extraordinary meeting of the FEMM Committee.

I am delighted to see so many people here today, at this meeting to mark International Women’s Day.

Today is a day of celebration, but it is not just an occasion for fine speeches.

Because women are still subjected to violence, discrimination, mutilation and forced marriage.

Because women are still being denied proper access to education, the labour market, the economy, political life and positions of responsibility.

As long as this continues to be the case, we must fight every day - inside and outside the European Union - to uphold their human rights. 

Genuine gender equality is essential if we are to be successful in addressing the major challenges currently facing us – terrorism, radicalisation, war, poverty and unemployment.

We cannot make the world a safer, fairer and more prosperous place unless we empower women to realise their full potential in all areas.

The theme we will focus on this year is women’s potential in the economy.

In that connection, I should like to acknowledge the presence here today of the Secretary-General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, Michaëlle Jean - with whom I will be holding talks later - and the crucial role that organisation plays in this area, in particular in promoting women’s entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa.

As you are no doubt aware, I was Commissioner with responsibility for industry and entrepreneurship, and that was one of my priorities during my term of office.

I will now continue in my mother tongue, Italian.

Ladies and gentlemen,

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;

and 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 have just met with Lamiya and the Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, also a Sakharov Prize laureate, both of whom have been invited to Parliament for International Women’s Day.

I want also to refer to Latifa Ibn Ziaten, mother to the soldier Imad, who was killed in the terror attacks of Toulouse in 2012. In April last year she told us about the role of Muslim communities against religious radicalisation.

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?

Much of the conflict, abuse and extremism that we see around the world today is caused by men’s fear of women’s potential. Too often, that fear manifests itself in violence and the denial of rights.

The European Union needs to lead by example. We call on a collective effort from the Member States and European Institutions for the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

I am proud to be the president of an institution that has consistently spoken out loud and clear in support of women’s rights. 

Parliament promotes those rights in every significant decision it takes. It has its own standing committee on women’s rights and gender equality.

Coming back to the issue of women’s role in the economy, I should like to emphasise that all the indicators show that greater involvement of women boosts economic well-being and employment.

Firms with more women managers are more efficient and more profitable. 

The economic marginalisation of women comes at a significant cost: EUR 11 500 billion in lost growth between now and 2025, 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%. This is still not enough, but we are moving in the right direction.

And although still wide, 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. 

We are calling for the introduction of modern European legislation that challenges traditional roles and the unfair division of tasks within couples. 

We are also working for the economic empowerment of women and to address the gender pension gap.

We are trying to set a good example. We have already achieved a perfect balance among the chairs of our parliamentary committees: 12 women and 12 men. I have sought to ensure the same balance within my cabinet.

A few days ago, however, an extremely serious incident occurred in Parliament. One of our Members launched an unacceptable attack on gender equality. In insulting all women, he flew in the face of 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some of our Member States have had good experiences with the integration of women into the workforce, others have solid maternity leave schemes or are managing to attract more women to the sciences.

We are here today to salute the contribution of women to our economies, whilst also examining ways in which we can make progress by learning from each other.

We must share best practices in order to move forward together towards women’s empowerment.

The European Union is guided by its commitment to the principle of equality in its external actions as well.

Every year the European Parliament sends a delegation to attend the annual session of the United Nations Committee on the status of women; whilst there, our representatives meet delegations from across the world.

This year the theme chosen for the United Nations event will be in line with our event to mark International Women’s Day, with its focus on Women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

Parliament also attaches great importance to our cooperation on women’s rights and equality with candidate and accession countries in the Union’s neighbourhood.

We welcome the participants from those countries who are with us here today: I hope that the discussions we have over the next two days will enable us to step up our cooperation in this field. As part of this event, we will also contribute to the achievement of this aim by hosting the remarkable exhibition arranged by the Association of International Women’s Museums and joining Commissioner Carlos Moedas in honouring women innovators this evening.

The battle for equality has been carried on by courageous women for several generations, but it is far from being won.

This is not a battle of women for women. This is a struggle for all of us, for the sake of humanity.

Many thanks for your attention.

I wish you all two days of fruitful work.

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