Report of the conference "Women in Europe : Reaching Parity" - November 19th

- 2009/12/14 -
On 19th November 2009 the conference “Women’s Europe. Reaching Parity” took place at the European Parliament in Brussels. Organised by the Robert Schuman Foundation together with the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis (FAES), Ano Pro Evropu, the Ithaka Foundation and the Constantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy (CKID), this conference marked the completion of a long project that had the support of the European Commission as part of the “Citizens’ Europe” programme.

With a large audience in attendance the Chairman of the Robert Schuman Foundation, Jean-Dominique Giulani, inaugurated the day of debate together with Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission.
The latter illustrated the existing limits in terms of parity in spite of the progress made:wage differences, difficulties in reconciling private and professional life, violence against women and difficulties in accessing positions of power.
According to Ms Wallström a society based on real parity would benefit everyone and is in fact a democratic, social and economic necessity.
First of all political parties have to be encouraged to increase the number of women candidates on their lists. However political pressure will not be enough, hence the need to establish quotas.
Finally the Commissioner launched an appeal to heads of State and government who were to meet that evening to appoint people to the new positions created by the Lisbon Treaty for them to show the example, notably for them to appoint at least one woman to a position of responsibility.

Debates then continued around three panels that focused respectively on “the present state of women’s participation in political life in Europe”, “local and regional life” and “young women and politics”.

The first panel comprised representatives of the partner foundations. Each of them presented the situation of male/female parity in their country, notably referring to the conferences organized in May in Athens, Bucharest, Madrid and Prague as part of the “Women’s Europe” project. In spite of undeniable progress made, notably in Spain, all of the speakers pointed to the under-representation of women in decision making posts. Speakers also mostly agreed with regard to the solutions to provide to remedy this situation, notably in terms of the leading role played by the EU and the importance of acting on a legislative level by establishing quotas. The law alone is not sufficient however: support has to be found in strong female solidarity and educational work that will make it possible to rise beyond stereotypes and prejudice.

The second panel brought together women who are active in political life and in associations, who bear witness to the difficulties encountered in asserting oneself in a world created by and for men. The main obstacles encountered are difficulties in reconciling private and professional life, selection procedures which are tailored to suit men, prejudice with regard to women and consequently a lack of self-confidence. The achieve parity the law is certainly an important tool. The establishment of quotas, together with financial sanctions, the funding of childcare and making careers flexible are the adequate solutions to provide. But educational work is also necessary. Identification models have to be reshaped at school, in the media and in the work place. Finally the profiles of women who are already models have to be raised, since exemplarity can play a major role in encouraging and promoting confidence.

The highlight of the day was the speech delivered by Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former President of Latvia and Vice-President of the Reflection Group on the Future of the Union who was warmly welcomed by the public but also by the many journalists in attendance – whom Ms Freiberga ironically accused of turning their attention to her as candidate of President of the European Council because she was a woman and not because of her competence.
Ms Freiberga pointed out that although European women enjoyed a privileged position in comparison with women in other parts of the world equality was still a long way off.
The law, notably that of quotas, is still the main tool to take things forward but this must go hand in hand with a constant fight to counter prejudice. In a democracy every human being has the right to develop his/her talents without being impeded by stereotypes. Women are often accused for their lack of ambition, but when they do show it they are labelled as being aggressive and masculine as if femininity and leadership were incompatible.

Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities closed the morning debates maintaining that the Commission supported the battle for parity. The under-representation of women is indeed a democratic shortfall and a waste of talent.
Several levels of action should be promoted: encouraging political parties to put more women candidates forward in eligible positions, limiting the number of mandates to promote representatives’ turnover, leading awareness raising work, fighting against gender stereotype, improving policies to reconcile private and professional life and finally developing women’s networks, in politics and the private sectors, and giving greater profile to those who occupy high level positions so that they serve as models.

Finally the afternoon panel led to an exchange of views between young women involved in European political life. The speakers mainly highlighted three elements: the need for greater solidarity between women, notably the youngest, who tend to try to face problems alone; the importance of early involvement in social action to acquire the necessary know-how to enter politics (since women are the focus of sharper criticism in this area than their male colleagues); but above all the cultural challenge. The idea of leadership is mainly masculine since women remain linked to their role within the family. Greater turnover amongst the elites opening the way for the younger generations would be most welcome in this context. The new generation has been raised with a more open mentality that has greater awareness of the issue of parity.

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Speeches Photos
Documents liés :

November 19th Programme Download Pdf Report
Watch the video of the presentation of the project “Women’s Europe. Reaching Parity”
Jean-Dominique Giulani, Chairman of the Robert Schuman Foundation
Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission
Read message from Rodi Kratsa, Vice-President of the European Parliament
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Vice-President of the Reflection Group on the long-term future of the EU
Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social affairs and Equal opportunities
Conclusions by Pacale Joannin, Managing Director of the Robert Schuman Foundation