Earlier this week, MEPs debated and voted on a report on 'Progress on equality between women and men in the EU in 2013' in Strasbourg. This was landmark appraisal of the state of gender equality in the EU, and the affirmation of the Parliament's role of pushing forward such crucial issues as the gender pay gap, sexual and reporductive rights, removal of "glass ceilings" and appropriate social protection for women.
Among the many important topics the report treats, the issue I wanted to highlight was empowering women in entrepreneurship.
As a woman entrepreneur and a women's rights activist, I know first hand that this is a important way to foster women's leadership in society. The role of women in small to medium enterprises and especially in social enterprises is crucial for the EU 2020 goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Watch my speech here:
On Tuesday March 10th, the European Parliament adopted the resolution with 441 votes to 205, with 52 abstentions. Despite progress on some gender inequality issues, much remains to be done to reduce pay gaps, remove “glass ceilings” on women’s careers, remedy their lack of economic independence, improve their work/life balance, including parental leave, and protect their rights and access to contraception and abortion.
My Socialist and Democrat colleague, Marc Tarabella, who was responsible for the report, said: "The verdict is less than glorious: change is too slow and women's rights are suffering the effects of this. But the majority in favour of the resolution shows that the European Parliament backs the fight for wage equality, efforts to combat violence against women, agree on maternity leave proposals and safeguard access to abortion."
The resolution assesses the situation in 2013 and highlights the following key policy challenges:
- wage and pension gaps, women’s position in political and economic decision-making, and the impact of economic crisis on women (poverty),
- improving the work/life balance, child care systems, maternity and paternity leave,
- rights to sexual and reproductive health, including contraception and abortion, and
- combating violence against women.
MEPs also urge EU member states to:
- enforce the directive on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation,
- unblock draft legislation on women on boards and promote educational policies that encourage women to make their careers in science, technology and ICT sectors, and
- tackle the problem of women in part-time, low-paid and precarious work and ensure quality care is available for children and other dependent persons.
Sharing family responsibilities, paid paternity leave
Given that more flexible working arrangements can improve women’s participation in the labour market, but may also affect their wages, MEPs encourage women and men to share family responsibilities. Fathers should have a right to at least 10 days’ paid paternity leave, they say. MEPs also urge the EU Council of Ministers to end the deadlock among EU member states on the draft maternity leave directive, blocked since 2010.
To help improve the work/life balance, MEPs call on the European Commission to offer EU member states more financial support for affordable childcare systems. They note that the Commission itself reports that childcare costs are the key reason that mothers cite for not returning to work or working part time.
Sexual and reproductive health rights
MEPs reiterate that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive health rights, including having ready access to contraception and abortion.
"Women and men are not and never will be identical, but it is in everyone's interest that they should have the same rights", commented Mr Tarabella.
The Labour Party in Europe, together with our colelagues in our Soclialist and Democratic group in the Parliament will continue to fight for gender equality througout Europe, the UK included.