AEGEE Seminar “Gender Issues in Europe”, Helsinki 25 March, 2004

Presentation 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 for me.

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. He said that on the first International women’s day nearly 90 years ago, millions of women and men attended demanding for women the right to vote, to hold public office, the right to work, to vocational training and to put an end to employment discrimination.

Mr Cox pointed out that despite much progress in the Union, women still continue to face discrimination, notably in politics, with 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 Europe as around the world.

The European Parliament discussed on March 8th many items concerning the status of women and also adopted the report on the conciliation of working, family and private life, the report on the situation of women of minority groups and the Daphne II program which 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 signal of the political will of Parliament to achieve progress in these issues across the policy agenda.

The Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities plays an important role in the development 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 itself . 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 women. 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 nominated by the new member states only 3 are women. I hope this does not predict a great backlash for women in the coming elections.

Hopefully the gender balance will improve in the European Parliament. But the electoral lists are closed in many countries. When the parties decide the ranking of the candidates you give your 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 eight women and eight 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 all. The number of women elected is proportional to the number of women candidates; if there are not many women, very few get elected.

Principles and texts concerning equality between men and women in the EU are found in many special directives and for instance in the following Treaties:

The Treaty of Rome 1957 already contained the principle of equal pay for equal work.

In the treaty of Amsterdam 1997 the principle of equality extending beyond the issue of pay was included for 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 to discrimination on grounds of sex.

An article (141) in the Treaty of Amsterdam contains a reference to equal pay for women and men for equal work of equal value.

There are a also number of directives on gender equality which issues must be transposed into national legislation in all 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 only 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 more readily able to serve as resource to women who have been sexually assaulted and get more easily 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. The operations ought to be bound by all United Nations norms and international human rights principles.

Although a great number of states signed the Beijing Platform For Action and pledged to involve women in conflict resolution on the decision-making level, the absence of women in peace talks has still been a practice until now. Maybe that is why in many cases the peace process has failed.

Mrs. Elisabeth Rehn is the rapporteur of Unifem on women in armed conflicts world- wide. In the report Women War and Peace she 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 dignity. It is estimated to affect 2.5 million women and children every year. In Europe only the figure is around 500,000 women and children who are trafficked for prostitution. All possible actions ought to be taken against trafficking, which is very difficult because many other types of crimes are linked with it and it is assumed that many very influential partners are involved. This requires co-operation between the national governments, international bodies, such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as between the NGOs. 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.

Development of democracy is highly dependent on the civil society and the NGOs.
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 are very strong. These societies also suffer from low economic growth.

Also 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 and to strengthen it. The civil society including NGOs has a major role and input in these endeavours. Very often, however, the national governments lack experience in communicating with the civil society. Cooperation between governments and international bodies is most important as is cooperation with and between NGOs; they can all learn from each other. The non-governmental organisations ought to be recognized by the national governments as partners. NGOs themselves ought to be aware of their roles and tasks in the society and that especially on the grass root level in creating possibilities for better understanding and peace.

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 traditions and the ways the civil society functions are quite different- even now there are big differences for example between the Nordic countries and the countries in Southern Europe In the former socialist countries the break down of the whole system has in many ways weakened the status of women. The biggest problems are unemployment and lack of services, such as day care centres in case women should get jobs, lack of adequate health services etc. Also in politics there has been a backlash for women, and their number e.g. in National Parliaments has diminished.

There are many questions as to what the future in the EU will look like. How big an influence will different religions have on the status of women, especially concerning her sexual health and right to determine over her own body.

In order to be able to build the EU so that it is a good place for the citizens to live in, where the social dimension of the society is deepened and where we reach real gender equality we have to change our ingrained attitudes, feel more responsible for each other, we have to get rid of xenophobia, racism, prejudice and ignorance.

This is not done overnight. This requires work for generations and that is why it is extremely important 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 he gave up his splendid career and went to Africa to work as a doctor. He answered: "This I owed the mankind because of my happy childhood.”

I want to stress that peace education starts in the homes as well as education in equality between women and men. In this women and mothers are in a key position: how do we raise our children. Do we ask our daughters to do something in the household because they 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 who dare to take advantage of the parental leave longer than the two weeks after the birth of a baby. They feel they do not dare and many employers have let them understand that their careers are in danger if they take a longer leave. Let us hope that the European Parliament will follow the recommendations of the adopted report on the Conciliation of working, family and 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 in Europe today and told you about my doubts and dreams. What the future will be like no one knows but all of you will take part in forming it; you are the future.


Linjasaneerauksen päätösjuhlat
Töölöläinen 31.3.2019

Laura-Finne Elonen hoitaa perheitä jo neljännessä sukupolvessa
Helsingin Sanomat 5.11.2013. Vain tilaajille.

Laura Finne-Elonen toiselle kaudelle International Council of Womenin varapuheenjohtajana ja tunnustuspalkinto
Lehdistötiedote 5.10.2006

Putinin luona teellä

Equality in the EU - Present and Future
AEGEE Seminar “Gender Issues in Europe”, Helsinki 25 March, 2004

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