Focusing on women to build democracy

Photo of three women standing in line, with a smiling younger woman in the front and two older women standing behind her
Women are agents of democratic change © Ezequiel Scagnetti
Promoting women's participation in politics and ensuring that gender issues are incorporated into legislation and political practices are key objectives of the European Parliament's approach to democracy support.

Parliament's Simone Veil Programme helps empower women - and in particular women parliamentarians. This programme is Parliament's response to a need expressed by elected representatives from non-EU countries when visiting the European Parliament.

The programme makes it possible for women politicians and MEPs to discuss best practices to enhance women's participation in politics, make legislation gender-sensitive, and monitor the budgetary process in terms of gender. Some prominent areas of concern include marriage and family law, protection from gender-based violence, succession and property ownership, and nationality and citizenship.

The programme highlights women's influence over the legislative agenda in many countries.

More focused training sessions within the programme may cover topics such as:

  • consensus building, political negotiation and advocacy, including skills such as building alliances and mapping the political landscape to identify allies and opponents;
  • leadership and personal skills, including self-esteem, public speaking, self-assertion, well-being and resilience;
  • media engagement, political campaigning, advocacy and fundraising, in particular in the run-up to elections;
  • ways to challenge stereotypes and cultural barriers.
The principal beneficiaries are women from countries and regions that the European Parliament has identified as priorities in its annual programme. Parliament can also cater to specific demands from other countries.


  • ...

    24 November 2022

    On 24 November 2022, the European Parliament marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with a debate on the violations of Womens' rights in Iran.. MEPs Abir Al-Sahlani (Renew, Sweden) and Evin Incir (S&D, Sweden) were joined by an Iranian human rights defender and former Sakharov. They discussed the violence faced by women in Iran and what the European Union and the international community can do for the "Women, Life, Freedom" movement.

    The protests in Iran were unleashed by women activists, outraged by the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran's morality police for not properly wearing a headscarf. The protest quickly spread to many other sectors of the Iranian society, to become a revolt against the ayatollahs regime. Violent repression and executions were the answer of the regime against nationwide demonstrations.

    The European Parliament did not stay silent and adopted a resolution demanding accountability for the death of Mahsa Amini and calling for an end to violence against Iranian citizens and for the respect of women's rights.

    The conference was web streamed. Watch the Live interview on the violations of the women's rights in Iran here:

  • Brussels
    12-13 July 2022

    Simone Veil Programme for Women Empowerment: 'Communicating with impact, resilience and effective negotiation' for women-parliamentarians from Albania and Montenegro

  • Brussels
    31 March 2022

    Simone Veil Programme for Women Empowerment: Communicating and negotiating with an impact for women-parliamentarians from North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania

  • Brussels
    8 March 2022

  • Afghan women on the right side of the picture hold sheets of paper with messages while Talibans on the left side of the picture hold rifles on their shoulders.
    © Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

    1-2 February 2022

    Coming from different ethnic backgrounds, the 11 Afghan women who were nominated as Sakharov Prize finalists in 2021 were united in their defence of human rights, particularly women's rights. To honour their courage and their actions, the European Parliament hosted the "Afghan Women Days" on 1- 2 February in Brussels.

    The situation in Afghanistan continued to worsen since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, particularly for women and girls. Targeted by systematic gender-based discrimination regulations, they are eliminated from public life. Afghanistan has become the only country in the world, where secondary education has been banned for girls. Confined to their homes, women cannot access employment, healthcare, and justice, journalists have been intentionally targeted and peaceful demonstrations have turned violent.

    The Afghan Women Days was a praise to Afghan women, especially the 2021 Sakharov Prize finalists, for their immense courage in their fight for freedom and equality. It was also intended to maintain awareness and call on the EU and international community to be firm in addressing the needs of Afghan women, while providing assistance to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Journalists, civil society representatives and artists brought their testimonies on the situation on the ground. Brave and determined Afghan women, both in the country and in exile, including the Sakharov Prize finalists, engaged with stakeholders from EU and UN institutions to plea for their cause.

  • Screenshot of the video conference
    © European Union (2021) - European Parliament

    21 June 2021

    The Simone Veil Programme for Women Parliamentarians kicked off last Friday 21 June. 10 Tunisian MPs and 4 media experts from the European Parliament came together for a first plenary session focused on social media strategies, dos and don'ts and community building. Over the next two weeks, the European Parliament will offer additional one-to one coaching to help female lawmakers from Tunisia optimise their use of social media.

    "Questions, graphics, emojis. Use everything in your hands to engage with your audience," said EP social media expert Camille Dupont, pointing out that in Tunisia, where Facebook represents 85% of all social media traffic, "live interaction is king".

    Facebook experts Vassilis Stefanidis and Robert Huqi gave Tunisian MPs tips on how to adapt political storytelling to the specificities of each platform to build sustainable and positive virtual communities.

    The social media landscape, best practices and trends in Tunisia is the first of five modules organised under the Simone Veil Programme, a democracy support tool that will make it possible for women politicians from Tunisia and the other DEG priority countries to exchange best practices with MEPs and European Parliament's staff and to strengthen women parliamentarians' weight in decision making processes.

    Organised in five practical modules, the initiative covers a wide range of topics, from political negotiation and advocacy skills to capacity building in leadership and resilience. Combining plenary meetings with individual coaching sessions, participants to the programme will also build practical knowledge and tools on media engagement, political campaigning and fundraising.

  • Brussels
    23 April 2021

  • Brussels
    29 January 2021

    Prominent speakers

    The European Parliament launched its first Simone Veil Programme event in 2021, gathering nine women parliamentarians from North Macedonia, EP Rapporteur Frances Fitzgerald, and DEG Lead Member for EP democracy support activities in the Western Balkans Vladimír Bilčík.


    During the current pandemic, women have been among the most affected by the crisis. Long-existing problems have been exacerbated and the burdens, which fall daily on women's shoulders, have become heavier. Women parliamentarians are also facing pressing challenges, struggling to make their voices heard and to exercise their leadership and representation prerogatives. Hence, the remote discussion, focussed on women leadership in times of global health crisis.


    The event allowed North Macedonian parliamentarians to empower mutually by sharing experiences in fighting the pandemic and finding tools to make full use of their potential as women-legislators, which is the goal of the Simone Veil Programme. Indeed, the programme aims at accompanying partner countries in strengthening their democracies by helping empower women parliamentarians. The discussion took place two days after the Sobranie adopted the law on Prevention and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.


    Women parliamentarians from North Macedonia and EP Rapporteur Frances Fitzgerald discussed:

    · How are women in North Macedonia impacted by the Covid-19 crisis

    · The main issues discussed in the process of the adoption of the law on Prevention and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence

    · How is the pandemic affecting the work as women-parliamentarian in the Sobranie

    · Presentation of EP Rapporteur's report on the gender perspective in the Covid-19 crisis and post-crisis period

    Through the Simone Veil Programme, the EP stands for gender equality and women's rights, as they are an essential and important element of the wider problematic of respect for human rights inside and outside European Union's borders. The programme was inspired by and took its name from women's rights icon and first president of the directly elected European Parliament in 1979, Simone Veil.

  • Brussels
    11 December 2020

    The Simone Veil Programme, EP's flagship project for women's empowerment, was launched on 11 December 2020. The conference on Women's Leadership and their Role in the democratisation process of their countries was moderated by the DEG lead-Member for Moldova - Dragos Tudorache.

    The President of the European Commission - Ursula Von Der Leyen, the President (elect, at the time) of Moldova - Maia Sandu, the EU Public Prosecutor - Laura Codruta Kovesi, and the President of Moldova's Constitutional Court - Domnica Manole joined their voices with other political leaders from the EU and Moldova to underscore the numerous barriers women politicians face in their struggle to defy stereotypes and prejudice and to promote inclusive societies and democratic change.

    "The Simone Veil programme challenges the barriers that women are still facing in politics. It is about creating a level playing field for men and women. So that women in top jobs can become the norm, not the exception." acknowledged Ursula von der Leyen while underlying synergies with the Commission's "ambitious vision on gender equality and women's empowerment for EU external action".

    The implementation of the Programme and its various modules with each priority country or region will start as from 2021.

    You can watch the recording of the event here.

  • Brussels
    25 November 2020

    The European Parliament is strongly committed to the fight against gender violence inside and outside European Union borders. On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2020, the EP turned its attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country sadly known for human rights violations happening in its territory, in particular sexual violence against women used as a weapon of war.

    In the film SEMA, survivors found the courage to break the silence, acting as protagonists in the documentary. SEMA tells the story of two women who survived rape and became victims of a society that unjustly condemns them to discrimination and social exclusion.

    The documentary, made with the support of the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation and the European Parliament, aims to give a voice to the victims (the title SEMA means "speak out" in Swahili) and straightforwardly depict the appalling fate of many Congolese women.

    This and much more was discussed in a debate gathering panellists speaking from Brussels, Kinshasa and Johannesburg, including MEP Assita Kanko, member of Mukwege Foundation, Maud-Salomé Ekila, coordinator of the National Movement of Survivors in DRC Tatiana Mukanire, and 2020 Sakharov fellow Esperande Bigirimana.

    Following a keynote address by Vice President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, they discussed the causes of sexual violence in Africa and its use as a weapon of war, the social discrimination and marginalisation faced by survivors and the importance of bringing the perpetrators to justice. They also explored ways of giving a voice to the survivors and restoring their dignity, including the Global Survivors Fund promoted by 2014 Sakharov Prize laureate Dr Denis Mukwege.

  • Brussels
    20-21 February 2018

    Members of Montenegro Parliament's Gender Equality Committee visited the European Parliament as part of an effort to strengthen the country's women legislators and civil society.

    Many MEPs also participated and displayed a keen interest in the programme, held in Brussels on 20-21 February 2018.

    Participants from the EU presented the Union's acquis (existing legislation) on gender equality. Speakers described how the EU institutions are organised to work in this area and shared best practices to empower women.

    MEPs' priorities

    MEPs reiterated that gender equality is a priority in the accession process of candidate countries, and that Montenegro needs to make progress in this area. In this regard, a key issue involves implementing the legislation that the country has adopted: adopted laws and action plans must be followed by reform efforts on the ground, with practical steps to improve the situation of women.

    Montenegrin women, the MEPs said, can count on the support of the European Parliament in their struggle for gender equality.

    Agreement of Montenegrin MPs

    Montenegrin parliamentarians drew attention to the fact that their country is geographically part of Europe, and insisted that EU accession would help it to transform and modernise.

    The country's gender equality legislation is already advanced. A gender equality law was adopted in 2007 and updated in 2015. Montenegro has also ratified the Istanbul convention.

    Nonetheless, the MPs agreed, much work remains to implement these norms in practice. Mentalities and culture need to evolve.

    Women's Political Network of Montenegro

    The Women's Political Network of Montenegro was set up in 2017, as a result of several years' efforts. The EU has offered the Network financial support.

    Including 14 political parties, the Network demonstrates women's ability to work together across party lines, despite Montenegro's highly polarised politics. The Network focuses its activities on topics on which it can reach consensus. These include:

    • the political empowerment of women,
    • changes in the electoral law,
    • quotas for women,
    • the image of women in the media,
    • promoting women entrepreneurship via dedicated budget lines in local budgets, and
    • combatting domestic and gender-based violence, which remains a serious problem in the country.

  • Brussels
    9-11 October 2017

    • Visit of the European Parliament.

  • Brussels
    8-9 March 2017

    • Inter-parliamentary meeting rallying parliamentarians from the EU and 12 non-EU countries to celebrate International Women's Day 2017, organised in cooperation with the European Parliament's FEMM Committee.

  • Brussels
    6-9 March 2017

    • Visit of the European Parliament.

  • Tunis
    14-15 July 2016