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Procedure : 2006/2135(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0416/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0416/2006

Debates :

PV 31/01/2007 - 23
CRE 31/01/2007 - 23

Votes :

PV 01/02/2007 - 7.11
CRE 01/02/2007 - 7.11
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2007)0021

Debates
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 - Brussels OJ edition

23. Discrimination against young women and girls in the field of education (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0416/2006) by Věra Flasarová, on behalf of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on educational discrimination against young women and girls (2006/2135(INI)).

 
  
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  Věra Flasarová (GUE/NGL), rapporteur. – (CS) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate having had the opportunity to draw up a report on discrimination against young women and girls regarding access to education, and I would like to thank everyone in the committee for their helpful cooperation.

Education has always been of enormous value to society. In the past, people saw access to education in the same way as access to wealth – it was a selective matter. Those without wealth or privilege faced difficulties when it came to securing an education. The situation was even worse for foreigners, immigrants, dissenters and people of other races. Women, too, had their access to education and in particular higher education hindered by prejudice and the sharply demarcated social environment in which most were obliged to move.

Archaic stereotypes that have persisted for thousands of years do not surrender easily to the needs of civilisation. They live on in people’s thoughts and behaviour even though nobody admits to them publicly. I would not wish to rummage around in anyone’s conscience, but scattered fragments from the Middle Ages, if I may put it as simplistically as that, have remained with us. If that were not the case, if our culture had deeply rooted principles of equality, we would not find ourselves having to address this problem.

My report was based on the idea that education is a lifelong process. Nevertheless, as you will no doubt agree, the best time for gaining qualifications, and for personal and career development is when one is young. It is a process that should be free from all kinds of discrimination, the worst of which are the economic restrictions affecting, in particular, the weakest sections of society. If we are not capable of eliminating the impact of the economic handicaps affecting boys and girls equally, we should at least reduce that impact as much as we can, along with those forms of discrimination that are addressed in this report.

Evidence from various EU countries has shown that at the start of the educational process, factors of gender disadvantage are scarcely apparent. School attendance is compulsory and the factors that hamper children’s development affect both genders equally. I refer in particular to handicaps such as diagnosed disorders, parental neglect and misdiagnoses, which lead to children being excluded from standard education systems. These are highly significant factors. Discrimination against young women and girls in education is nevertheless spoken of only in passing. We know that girls and young women are just as gifted and as motivated towards achieving higher education as their male counterparts. The ratio of male to female students is by and large equal. In some kinds of higher education establishment, girls are even in the majority, which reflects the social stereotypes whereby some occupations are considered typically male and others female. We often hear about systems that foster other forms of discrimination such as low wages in so-called female occupations. It can be argued that gender-specific handicaps faced by girls and young women have their roots in the dilemma over whether to start a family and raise children or whether to continue studying and develop a professional life. While young men can go on to gain further qualifications after they have finished studying – indeed it is even expected of them – young women have this dilemma to grapple with.

The modern trend among both sexes is to postpone settling down and starting a family. This is due not only to changes in lifestyle, but also to the difficulty of reconciling family and career, particularly when there are small children to care for. The world of work is enormously competitive and requires unstinting commitment. This is where women fall behind men in statistical terms. In proportion to men, the number of women reaching the upper echelons of higher education and of scientific establishments is falling. Much smaller still is the number of women taking up leadership posts. These are the manifestations of gender discrimination in the area of access to education. To an extent, however, discrimination also affects women who have already achieved a high level of education and high social positions. They cannot win, even when they have overcome all obstacles, because society still automatically associates professional success with men and looks upon women moving in this small forbidden area as intruders.

In spite of all the problems faced by successful women in the workplace and at home with the family, I view the situation with optimism. I feel that as time goes on the problem will disappear of its own accord. It still remains true, however, that unless we can find effective ways of helping young women in particular to make the link between education and career growth, on the one hand, and motherhood and the family on the other, discrimination against women regarding access to education, and all of the problems that go with it, will persist.

 
  
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  Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I wish to begin by congratulating Mrs Flasarová and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on this excellent report. It represents a comprehensive and balanced overview of the problems women and young girls face in education and later in their professional life.

While the fight against all forms of discrimination is a core principle of the European Union, the fight against gender discrimination has gone a step further. All Commission departments must take gender differences into account when preparing proposals.

In the field of education, there has been a positive evolution, as your report also states. In the European Union there is no discrimination in access to education for young girls, and girls often achieve better marks than boys. Nonetheless, there are serious problems in some parts of the population. The report points to vulnerable groups where gender differences may combine with other factors to exclude women and girls from the full benefit of education.

Our first priority is to attend to the needs of these groups and to point to effective solutions. Our work will focus on efficiency and equity in education and training systems, because gender discrimination is a component of a wider social and cultural problem and requires wide-ranging measures.

In 2007 we will produce two major communications. The first is on pre-primary education. Early-start programmes produce short-term results, but they also build lifelong learning capacities and develop the values that reject discrimination.

The second communication this year will address education and immigration. Immigration contributes to European growth and competitiveness. However, PISA results show that immigrant children tend to have lower school results. In some cultures young girls face specific handicaps.

In the new Lifelong Learning Programme, equality of opportunities is a transversal priority. Its first call for proposals has just been published. The progress report on education and training 2010 for the whole decade will take another look at the benchmark on science, mathematics and technology and at the gender balance in these careers. I am happy to report that the initial target has been achieved – actually this is the only target out of five benchmarks in which we are progressing quite well in the 27 EU Member States.

My services and those of my colleague, Mr Potočnik, in research, have worked together for some time to fight gender discrimination in scientific and technical careers. This work can benefit other sectors and we will build on it.

In the field of the information society, the digital divide is growing. As your report points out, women can benefit from new technology. My colleague, Mrs Reding, is leading an initiative on e-Inclusion, which takes gender issues into account, and the European Social Fund has a strong tradition in fighting gender discrimination. The regulations for the period 2007-2013 can fund actions in all the aspects pinpointed in your report. These are considerable opportunities for education and training that are provided for by the structural funds.

Let me thank you once again for your report.

 
  
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  Edit Bauer, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group.(HU) One of the crucial questions concerning human resources is that of education. Discrimination in all areas is counterproductive to the development of society, but is especially so in the field of education. I would like to emphasise two aspects of this subject.

The report, which I particularly value for its balance, speaks of the most common forms of discrimination. It does not, however, mention that child poverty and the associated early school leaving create a situation that renders lifelong learning impossible, for the foundations are lacking and therefore there is nothing to build on at later stages. It is true that, according to the statistics, in EU Member Sates early school leaving is higher among boys, but we need to recognise that the reason for this is mainly poverty, which affects women more severely than men, and that this is all the more true in the case of single parents, whose significant majority is increasing. In fragmented families the risk of poverty is greater as well.

The other concern which the report highlights is the situation of those suffering multiple discrimination, namely women from the various minority groups. It is unquestionable that discrimination in education against national and ethnic minorities, the Roma, people living with handicaps, as well as those struggling with learning disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia is a daily problem in most Member States. The anti-discrimination directives of the European Union makes it a condition that governments take measures aimed at achieving equality, yet in several Member States such an initiative comes up against a narrowly understood constitutional ban on discrimination. Thus we have witnessed in the case of one Member State the Constitutional Court rule unconstitutional the article of the anti-discrimination law which would have allowed for interim positive measures to be taken in the interests of equal opportunity.

It is my conviction that without such interim measures, it is impossible to create equal opportunities.

 
  
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  Teresa Riera Madurell, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President, I would like to begin by congratulating Mrs Flasarová on the good work she has done on such an important issue as equal access to education, which lays the foundations for providing men and women with equal opportunities in the workplace and in most areas of our public and private lives.

Of all the obstacles which are still in place and which are mentioned in the report, I would like to refer to three in particular.

Firstly, the gender-based digital divide. Jointly with the Member States and within the context of the Lisbon Strategy, the Commission must take appropriate measures to ensure that women have access to information and communication technologies and benefit from them under equal conditions, because, if Europe is to be a knowledge-based economy, information and communication technologies must play a fundamental role in our employment and competitiveness strategy and women must participate under equal conditions with men. In this regard, it is important to stress that there are fewer women in the educational, scientific and technological fields.

Secondly, like the last speaker, I wish to mention school leaving, which is higher amongst girls, and it is therefore recommended that Member States take measures to encourage girls to remain in school as long as boys and to complete their education. The necessary measures must also be taken to remove the obstacles faced by women when it comes to continuing their higher education and their life-long learning.

Thirdly, in accordance with the Declaration on the Specific Characteristics of Sport adopted by the Nice Council of December 2000, I would like to emphasise the fact that more account should be taken of the social, educational and cultural functions of sport and hence the need to eliminate the discrimination suffered by women in sport as well. As we have done on other occasions, we must condemn situations such as the Wimbledon prizes, which clearly discriminate against women.

 
  
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  Eva-Britt Svensson, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (SV) Mr President, I should very much like to thank the rapporteur, Mrs Flasarová, for her very important report on discrimination against young women and girls in the field of education. The EU Member States no longer have any legal restrictions that discriminate against girls and women when it comes to access to education. As in so many other contexts where gender equality is concerned, however, what actually happens is governed by structures other than the purely formal rules. That is why, in spite of the formal rights they have, girls and women are under-represented among those who take their studies or academic careers further. It is, then, structures and old, ingrained patterns of gender stereotyping that determine the framework for women’s and girl’s education. That is why the rapporteur rightly focuses on the need for a strategy that has to start early and that requires teachers and other staff in schools to receive training in gender equality. Increased awareness, knowledge and training pave the way for building a just society for all, irrespective of gender, class and ethnicity.

 
  
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  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (PL) Mr President, as I only have one minute to speak on the issue of discrimination against women and girls in education, I shall do so from a Polish perspective. I should like to point out that since the economic changes which took place in Poland in connection with its accession to the European Union, financial reasons have become the major contributing factor to discrimination in education.

Society is now far less cohesive, wages are low, industry has disappeared, unemployment is rife and there are no job opportunities for new graduates. All this has led to unprecedented numbers of young people having to leave their homeland and seek work abroad, a humiliating experience. The situation is aggravated by a reduction in the number of places available at state higher education institutions, although this is compensated for by places available in private establishments. However, not everyone can afford to attend the latter. In this context, any effort to investigate potential minor instances of discrimination involving girls’ access to higher education becomes a superficial approach. It amounts to creating problems where there are none. In fact, the situation of girls in Poland may be more favourable than elsewhere because Poles treat women with special respect, as a consequence of their devotion to Our Lady, which stems from their Catholic faith.

 
  
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  Marie Panayotopoulos-Cassiotou (PPE-DE). – (FR) Mr President, education is a basic right that should not be undermined for any reason, be it cultural, social, material or otherwise. It is a condition essential to the future blossoming of individuals and, above all, to their economic and social integration. It is the responsibility of the Member States to eliminate all inequalities and to create the necessary conditions to enable everyone - both men and women - to have access to education and to choose their profession and the direction that their profession will take without having to face discrimination of any kind.

Regrettable though it may be that the report is rather confusingly structured, Mrs Flasarová’s report is nonetheless full of suggestions for doing more to promote equality between women and men in the field of education. I congratulate the rapporteur and hope that the adoption of the report during the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All will lend still more weight to the European Parliament’s proposals aimed at eliminating lingering stereotypes.

In spite of the fact that equality between men and women now constitutes a basic principle in our societies, sexist stereotypes and prejudice towards women do still exist and are responsible for forms of segregation and discrimination that are quick to have an effect on women’s choice of studies, as well as on the length of time they spend in education. If sexist stereotypes still undeniably constitute an obstacle to women’s access to education and limit their choice of studies, the perpetuation of certain models, and in particular the preponderance of women in certain forms of training, for example in the professions of nurse and primary school teacher, also leads to an imbalance that hampers the progress of women.

Indeed, school plays a very important role in establishing and promoting equal rights for girls and boys, irrespective of their origins. Not only pupils but also teachers need to be made more aware of the importance of equality in all areas. The rapporteur rightly notes the important role of the media in shaping public perception of, and attitudes towards, the professional training and development of young women.

I wanted to conclude by noting that women’s access to lifelong education is also a key factor in their contribution to the knowledge-based society, as is the possibility of less conventional qualifications acquired at various stages of life being recognised.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – (RO) Doresc să o felicit pe dna Vlasarova pentru raportul realizat. Pentru a deveni cea mai dinamică şi competitivă economie bazată pe cunoaştere, este imperativ ca în Uniunea Europeană educaţia şi accesul la cunoaştere să fie prioritare. În Uniunea Europeană familiile cu venituri mici locuiesc în zone mai sărace, adesea situate departe de locul de muncă sau de instituţii educative, fapt ce adânceşte polarizarea socială şi inegalităţile dintre persoane. Statele membre trebuie să se mobilizeze pentru combaterea abandonului şcolar şi ridicarea nivelului de formare al tinerilor.

Pentru ca tot mai multe femei să aibă o activitate profesională, este necesar accesul la învăţarea continuă şi existenţa serviciilor şi infrastructurilor care să permită concilierea vieţii profesionale cu viaţa de familie, în special pentru familiile mono-parentale.

În România, noul stat membru al Uniunii Europene, 55% din absolvenţii de învăţământ superior sunt femei şi 48% din salariaţi, iar 38% din companii sunt conduse de femei. În privinţa rromilor, în România există clase de copii de origine rromă, care învaţă în limba rromani de la grădiniţă şi până la învăţământul profesional. De asemenea, există condiţii create pentru educaţia copiilor cu nevoi speciale încă de la ciclul preşcolar.

Anul 2007 este anul egalităţii de şanse, iar educaţia reprezintă elementul esenţial pentru viitorul Uniunii Europene. Fondurile structurale ar trebui să sprijine învăţarea continuă şi utilizarea noilor tehnologii pentru a combate excluderea socială. Încă odată felicitări raportorului. Mulţumesc.

 
  
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  Anna Záborská (PPE-DE). – (SK) We often come across the opinion that maternity and family are natural and even insuperable obstacles that prevent many women from gaining higher education and academic degrees, or pursuing lifelong education. Are they really obstacles? Yes, they are. However, these are obstacles resulting from our way of life and it is possible to overcome them.

I am a physician and a mother. I know that studying medicine is a life-long challenge. Furthermore, I am aware of how much time and energy women dedicate to their families and children. But I also know that women can make outstanding physicians. I would like every young woman to be able to opt freely to study medicine if she feels it is her duty to heal others. I would like her to be able to decide in the full knowledge that in the future she will make a good physician and a good wife and mother at the same time. The report on the discrimination against young women and girls in the field of education deals with these issues as well. It points out the fact that the values of family and maternity should not be at odds with those of education. Maternity is the natural mission and desire of every woman. Unless we manage to harmonise the roles of women as mothers and professionals in everyday life, the European promise of equal opportunities will remain hollow.

I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to my fellow MEP, Mrs Flasarová. Together with my colleagues from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, we greatly appreciate her work on this report. We unanimously supported her in the Committee on Women’s Rights, and I would like to call on the plenary to approve this report as well.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, access to education is a fundamental human right, but unfortunately it often amounts to little more than empty words. Both sexes have similar opportunities to acquire higher education, and female graduates actually outnumber their male counterparts. However, there are significantly fewer women than men at the higher levels of academic careers. Women represent only 43% of doctoral graduates and barely 15% of university professors.

It is harder for women to continue in education because of their limited opportunities to access lifelong learning, and also because of their domestic commitments. The Member States should put in place a flexible adult education policy, especially in terms of adjusting course programmes to suit the needs of women on maternity leave. It is also essential to take advantage of new technologies in the field of education in order to meet women’s needs. One example would be using the Internet to facilitate distance learning.

In addition to this, it is important to undertake a policy assessment concerning equal access to education, on the basis of statistical data including gender breakdown. This would help to resolve the problem of continuing inequalities as regards gaining qualifications, especially in higher and adult education. In addition, the European Commission and the Member States should try to combat popular stereotypes that cause women to be discriminated against in the workplace. In particular, it should be made easier for women to gain access to decision-making roles in economic, political and scientific fields. In conclusion, I should like to thank Mrs Flasarova, the rapporteur, for a well-prepared document.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) We may attribute it to the mass media, but gender stereotypes determine in advance the roles of men and women in society. Only rarely do journalists ask successful men in their interviews, ‘How do you manage to balance your career with the need to take care of the family?’ – and certainly not as often as they ask successful women. It is considered quite normal that in most cases it is the woman who sacrifices her career and gives precedence to the family. In some cases child care is a factor that diminishes the interest of women in continuing their education. Many women interrupt their studies due to maternity, and subsequently give up the idea of further education.

It is surprising that, while at the beginning of higher education programmes women outnumber men by a ratio of 59% to 41%, only 43% manage to gain a master's degree and a mere 15% achieve the level of professorship. In this context I welcome Mrs Flasarova’s report, which provides a detailed analysis of the levels of education achieved by women and their chances of placement in the labour market. At the same time the report focuses on specific elements of discrimination against young women and girls in the area of education. Education is a basic right and a key instrument of social integration. It is a recipe for dealing with poverty, especially for women coming from vulnerable social groups.

I therefore consider it important that the education programmes funded by the European Union are implemented and made use of, as they will serve to increase awareness of gender issues and of equal access to education at all levels. In conclusion, I would like to call on Member States to facilitate women’s access to education through flexible education programmes, for example, by means of computer-assisted correspondence courses, and to thus ensure the better integration of women into society.

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday at 11.30 a.m.

Written statements (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE-DE). – The access of Roma children throughout Europe to equal education is extremely limited, and many do not attend school at all. Those children that do go to school are systematically put into segregated schools or ‘special classes’ for the disabled, which are characterised by inferior quality of instruction and inadequate physical conditions. In some countries over 60% of Roma children are in special schools or remedial learning programmes as a result of inadequate teaching and testing methods.

Commissioner Figel’ has often accentuated the fact that education is the very best strategy for integration. I believe that the EU should not only provide a basis upon which to enhance discussion of the topic, but it should also channel it towards a European strategy on Roma rights. Preventing the marginalisation of the Roma must be the goal, and the tool – education – is accessible already, yet it is not efficiently used.

Segregation is a tool of disintegration and it costs the European taxpayers a lot. Especially in the light of demographic changes, the Roma could be recognised as a source of economic potential if governments were to take the steps necessary to allow Roma to realise their potential through education and access to the labour market.

 
  
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  Zita Gurmai (PSE).(HU) The basis of European society, founded on solidarity, is access to rights, resources and services, including various forms of education, without any discrimination. Access by all segments of society to education and instruction, and the abolition of gender-based stereotyping, are preconditions for economic growth and increased competitiveness. They are also necessary to promote social integration, to help reach Europe’s demographic and competitive aims.

Education contributes to the fulfilment of people’s potential, enables them to adapt to the ever newer challenges of a knowledge-based labour market, remain marketable, avoid the danger of marginalisation and acquire useful knowledge to satisfy the continuously changing demands of the market. Women aspire to the same things, but stubborn gender stereotypes make their careers more difficult in nearly all fields, even in education.

The low level of basic training, unemployment, or else limited life choices due to various factors, may lead to the marginalisation of large groups of people, especially as regards women. For this reason, access to a variety of educational forms and opportunities plays a key role in the fight against social marginalisation, in the struggle for women’s integration in the labour force and in battling the dangers of alienation.

Since investing in education and training takes a long time to pay off, governments, both local and national, have to make long-term plans while making decisions about their spending priorities. It is worth it, for it is in the service of a Europe built on solidarity and prosperity.

 
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