AEGEE Seminar “Gender
Issues in Europe”, Helsinki 25 March, 2004
by Laura Finne-Elonen, President of ECICW
Equality in the EU -
Present and Future
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
I wish you all warmly welcome to
Finland. I am very pleased that AEGEE, the European Youth Forum
for Gender Issues,
decided to hold
this congress on Gender Issues here in Helsinki. Thank
you Mrs President Susanna Ritala for inviting me to speak on
equality issues in the EU countries, it is a great honour
A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the traditional
International women’s day in all countries. Violence
against women was the central topic which was brought up
in Finland on that day -
How to prevent violence both in the streets and in the homes,
conjugal violence and sexual harassment in the work place.
In Brussels, the President of the European Parliament Mr
Pat Cox made a statement to mark and celebrate this day.
the first International women’s day nearly 90 years
ago, millions of women and men attended demanding for women
to vote, to hold public office, the right to work, to vocational
training and to put an end to employment discrimination.
Cox pointed out that despite much progress in the Union,
women still continue to face discrimination, notably in politics,
a glass ceiling limiting their advancement in many organisations,
including the European Parliament itself. Women also continue
to be victimised through rape and trafficking as well in
around the world.
The European Parliament discussed on March
8th many items concerning the status of women and also adopted
on the conciliation
of working, family and private life, the report on the
situation of women of minority groups and the Daphne II program
is to prevent violence against youth, women and children.
In 2003 the Parliament already had adopted the resolution on
gender mainstreaming, which would enhance the participation
of women in
decision making. This time the Bureau had agreed to set
up a high level group on gender equality. This was a
will of Parliament to achieve progress in these issues
the policy agenda.
The Parliament's Committee on Women's
Rights and Equal Opportunities plays an important role in the
of the status
of women. It is also one of the targets of the lobbying
actions by the
women NGOs, especially the European Women’s Lobby.
However the possibilities of the NGOs to influence
the EU are not very good
because the EU lacks an established systems for cooperation
with the civil society except for the Trade Unions.
At the UN these
possibilities are better as the NGOs can achieve a
consultative status and attend meetings and conferences.
Let us look at the equality situation in the National
Parliaments and in the European Parliament and Commission
The statistical figures are not at all satisfactory:
The average amount of women in the Parliaments in the
current member states is 25%, and in the new Member
States is only
14.6% . Out
of twenty commissioners only five are women and of
the Members of the European parliament only 31% are
When the new
member countries were allowed to send observers to
the Parliament of
162 observers only 22 are women. And of 10 future commissioners
by the new member states only 3 are women. I hope this
does not predict a great backlash for women in the
the gender balance will improve in the European Parliament.
the electoral lists are closed in many countries. When
the parties decide the ranking of the candidates you
vote to the
list and not to the person. This system is not very
favourable for women candidates. In Finland we vote
for a candidate
only and the result is one we can be proud of: in 1996
men were elected to the EU Parliament, in 1999 seven
women and nine men.
In many of the new member countries
women have had great difficulties in getting on the lists at
of women elected
is proportional to the number of women candidates;
if there are
not many women, very few get elected.
and texts concerning equality between men and women in the
EU are found in many special
in the following Treaties:
The Treaty of Rome 1957
already contained the principle of equal pay for equal work.
the treaty of Amsterdam 1997 the principle of equality extending
beyond the issue of pay was
the first time into
the European treaties as one of the basic objectives
of the Community. In the same Treaty there
is an article referring
on grounds of sex.
An article (141) in the Treaty of Amsterdam
contains a reference to equal pay for women
and men for
of equal value.
There are a also number of
directives on gender equality which issues must be transposed
member states.The future Constitutional Treaty
was vividly discussed
and debated last year. The women’s organisations
hoped to get “equality
between men and women” included. We did
not succeed, the Constitution now mentions
only “equality”. The resistance
was immovable. This unwillingness to change
existing ways to work is hard to understand
(especially for me as a woman). In 2001 I
attended the Citizen’s Forum in Brussels
just before the EU summit in Laeken. I proposed
in the plenary that the NGOs present
should in a message to the Summit Meeting demand
balanced gender representation in the Convention,
but the chair of the meeting
(a male Parliamentarian) said that there is
no need for that kind of message “ because
equality is a principle of the EU!” And
what happened: we got a Convention with about
100 members and only 14 of them were women!
Ireland is going to take up the discussion
on the Constitutional Treaty this spring. Probably
the chapters on security
and defence are going to be rewritten in order
to make a compromise. I’m afraid nothing
will be changed in the text concerning equality.
The post war situation in many countries requires
special attention to the position of women
and children. It
is positive that
the UN recently has appointed also councillors
on children's issues
in the peace troops. The number of women among
the peacekeepers has to be raised as they are
able to serve
as resource to women who have been sexually
assaulted and get
into contact with them. The peacekeepers ought
to be informed about
the vulnerability of women and girls and educated
to take this into consideration on their missions.
to be bound by all United Nations norms and
international human rights
Although a great number of states
signed the Beijing Platform For Action and pledged to
in conflict resolution
decision-making level, the absence of women
in peace talks has still been a practice
that is why
in many cases
the peace process has failed.
Rehn is the rapporteur of Unifem on women in armed conflicts
writes that the “bodies of women have
become the battlefield” in
armed conflicts. But she also reports that
e.g. in the Balkans the peace-keeping operations
themselves tend to create and even
be engaged in prostitution and trafficking.
In organised trafficking the girls and women
are usually told that they are going to get
a job in another country but instead they
are sold like cattle.
In Skopje in a market like this women were
forced to undress so that they could be examined
if they were good or poor "cattle".
In Pristina ten women were arrested on one
of these occasions, not the sellers nor the
buyers. The violence
against women in armed
conflicts creates deep hatred and persistent
desire for revenge between ethnic groups
and nations. This
passes on for generations.
The circle is very hard to break.
Trafficking in human beings is one the
worst insults against human rights and
It is estimated
to affect 2.5
and children every year. In Europe only
the figure is around 500,000 women and
trafficked for prostitution.
actions ought to be taken against trafficking,
which is very difficult because many other
types of crimes
it and it is
assumed that many very influential partners
are involved. This requires co-operation
between the national governments,
bodies, such as the Council of Europe and
the United Nations, as well as between
One of the
keys to combat
trafficking is access to education and
vocational training for girls
as well as raising the awareness to this
issue in the countries affected.
of democracy is highly dependent on the civil society and
Francis Fukuyama states in the book "Trust" that
it is the number of NGOs which shows how healthy the civil
society is: "As
citizens join together into organisations
they unconsciously build up a capital of social trust which
is not only the basis of democracy
and guarantees the equality of justice,
it also furthers economical growth". Fukuyama describes
societies which foster crime as societies where the civil
society is very
weak, there are only
a few organisations where democracy is
undeveloped, whereas the loyalty to the family and church
strong. These societies
also suffer from low economic growth.
Robert Putnam tells in his book "Making democracy work.
Civil tradition in Modern Italy" that
the more people are engaged in the local
NGOs the better democracy
seems to work.
In many countries one of
the biggest challenges now is how to build
up a functioning democracy
including NGOs has a major role and input
in these endeavours.
Very often, however, the national governments
lack experience in communicating with the
and international bodies is most important
as is cooperation with and between NGOs;
learn from each
other. The non-governmental
organisations ought to be recognized by
the national governments as partners. NGOs
to be aware of their
roles and tasks in the society and that
especially on the grass
in creating possibilities for better understanding
The future is hard to foresee.
In a couple of months
the EU enlarges
with ten new member states. How will this
influence gender issues? The culture and
the ways the civil
are quite different- even now there are
big differences for example between the
the countries in
In the former socialist countries the break
down of the whole system has in many ways
weakened the status
are unemployment and lack of services,
day care centres in case women should get
etc. Also in politics there has been a
backlash for women, and their number e.g.
Parliaments has diminished.
There are many
questions as to what the future in the EU will look like. How
status of women, especially concerning
her sexual health and right to determine
her own body.
In order to be able to build the EU so
that it is a good place for the citizens
the society is deepened and where we
reach real gender equality we
have to change our ingrained attitudes,
feel more responsible for each other,
to get rid
of xenophobia, racism,
prejudice and ignorance.
This is not done
overnight. This requires work for generations and that is
it is extremely
to give children
a good start in life so that they will
be able to feel empathy and responsibility.
Albert Schweitzer was once asked why
up his splendid career and went to Africa
as a doctor.
He answered: "This
I owed the mankind because of my happy
I want to stress that
peace education starts in the homes as
well as education
mothers are in a key position: how do
we raise our children. Do we ask our
something in the household
are girls and let our sons get away with
it because it is not the “task
for men”. Which kind of a rolemodel
of the father have the young fathers
got from their own fathers and
which kind of a model
would they like to pass on?
I am also
afraid that men are discriminated against
in their working place- there
are very few men
to take advantage
parental leave longer than the two
weeks after the birth of a baby. They feel
they do not
dare and many
that their careers are in danger if
they take a longer leave. Let us hope that
recommendations of the adopted report
on the Conciliation of working, family
private life so that men get better
possibilities to carry out their role as fathers.
I have discussed
with you some points of view on some aspects of equality
What the future will be like no one
knows but all of you will take part