Opening remarks at the International Women’s Day Celebration 

 

Speech by the European Parliament President David Sassoli

Madam Prime Minister Ardern,

Madam Vice President Harris,

Madam President Von der Leyen,

Madam Vice President Jurova,

President Michel,

Dear Colleagues,

 

I would like to thank Prime Minister Ardern and Vice President Harris for accepting our invitation to address our Assembly today to celebrate International Women's Day and reflect with us on the challenges ahead.

Prime Minister Ardern, Vice President Harris,

Our countries and our societies are united by deep historical, cultural, political and economic ties. And even in this dramatic situation for the entire world, we share the commitment to an economic and social recovery where no one is left behind.

Today cannot be a rhetorical celebration. We are in the midst of a dramatic crisis, which begun exactly a year ago and which saw women, girls not only in the front line in the health and emergency response, but also suffering the economic, social and material consequences of the pandemic in their daily lives.

Simone de Beauvoir said: "Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis will be enough to cast doubt on women's rights. These rights will never be vested. You'll have to stay vigilant your whole life.”

This quote fits very well with the crisis we are going through.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only consolidated injustices and inequalities, but it threatens to erase decades of progress in European women's battles over the right to work, to share childcare responsibilities, their autonomy in relationships, and respect for women’s rights and choices in emotional relationships.

In all our countries, women were the first to lose their jobs or end up being laid off. The sectors most affected by the economic impact of the pandemic are sectors in which the presence of women is high: tourism, culture, leisure and catering. The majority of the workforce that provides essential services for personal care is made up of women. Women represent 76% of healthcare workers and 86% of carers in the EU. As a result of the pandemic, many women have been forced to work part time or stay at home to care for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. The image of poverty in Europe today is a woman, a mother, with children.

Moreover, during the confinement, an even higher number of women have suffered violence from a partner or a family member in the home, without the possibility of escape, also because in many Member States there is still an incredibly lack of reception centres, help lines, or telephone emergency services, which are not adequately funded.

This pandemic has highlighted a perverse feature of our economic and social model, namely viewing poverty as a fault.

However, this pandemic has also highlighted how essential caring for others is to our societies and how it is a public good. We have seen how care work, which remains largely entrusted to women, is in reality everyone’s responsibility and needs to be recognised as a public good.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

We can fight against this pandemic and the social and economic impact it has and will have on people's lives only if we put women, girls and children at the centre of our response.

We must not do it as a tribute to a general principle - we must do it by harnessing the powers that we have, that this House has, to change the material condition of women for the better and help women take a leap forward and not backward in the transition we are in. The continent that has led the struggle for women's rights in past centuries is now called upon to promote the real equality of women as a battle for all.

First, women must be present on an equal basis in the places where decisions on recovery are made. That is why it is essential to unblock the directive on the presence of women on the boards of directors, which has been stuck in the Council for too many years. I count on the commitment of the Portuguese Presidency to this essential objective.

However, this is not enough. We must start from wage equality. Equal wages for equal work. Women in Europe earn on average 14.1 per cent less than men. This is not acceptable. We are therefore ready to work on the proposal presented yesterday by the European Commission on binding pay transparency, which we will put at the centre of our work.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Parliament fought for gender equality and the gender dimension "to be central priorities” in the seven-year EU budget and in the evaluation of the National Recovery Plans.

This may seem abstract, but if the recovery prioritises equality, then this will change the lives of people and women in countries in a concrete way, in cities, in workplaces, in schools and universities, in research.

And again, very concretely, we have the duty to establish that violence against women is a serious crime that must be sanctioned everywhere throughout the European Union. This is why we must continue to fight for the ratification by all EU Member States of the Istanbul Convention and to make violence against women a crime with a European dimension. It is not an abstract question, it is about who we are, it is part of our identity card as a major global actor and democratic bloc.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This dramatic crisis gives us a great opportunity to make the European Union a different and more equal place. We have many tools and many resources to do this, we have launched them with a great and united commitment and they are also available in the goal of creating a more just economy. Women and girls must be the protagonists of the recovery of our economies and our societies and lead it.

This must be the goal for all of us in 2021.

Thank you.