I would like to sincerely thank you for the invitation to come and speak with you today and also welcome you to the European Parliament, I'm sure you will have a very interesting and productive day. I would like to congratulate WIDE on this initiative, as it is very important that we come together as women's groups to discuss developments and I am very pleased to be part of this
The enlargement of the European Union across Central and Eastern Europe is going to contribute to a more united and stable Europe. A unity based on common interests and shared values and a commitment to peace, social prosperity and stability and encouraging closer co-operation between countries. In Strasbourg last month the European Parliament voted on the ten accession countries, it was truly an exciting and moving experience. Essential to this whole process is democracy and respect for human rights, and the rights of minorities, and as we know gender equality is an essential human right and an integral part of social, economic and democratic development.
It is incredible that so many women in Europe and around the world still live every day in fear for their lives and are denied their basic human rights. We are still far away from a situation in the fifteen member states where men and women have equality. As a committee in the parliament we are constantly assessing the situation, developing further policies, lobbying, visiting countries, trying to get more action taken to achieve further equality. However, it is always a fight, because at the end of the day nobody wants to give up their own power
The EU has taken the lead in equality legislation on issues of equal pay, parental leave, health and safety, and non discrimination in the workplace. This year the directive on equal treatment of men and women has been revised and now there will be a new EU wide definition of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity leave. All these laws will have to be implemented by ordinary member states so in this respect the process of enlargement is an opportunity for new member states to implement what has already been achieved by the existing fifteen member states. But more importantly it is an opportunity to build on that and develop it further.
I think we have seen clearly that in some member states, there is an urgent need for change given some of the changes that have come about with the introduction of the free market, such as more marked inequalities between men and women in the transition to free market economies, higher unemployment, pay gaps have grown, childcare facilities have been scaled down and the number of women in decision making positions has also declined. We hope these laws will be a step towards promoting the role of women. We have been following these issues and have drawn attention to issues that we feel need to be addressed from experiences in our own countries, such as having the necessary institutional capacity to actually implement the legislation - judiciary, parliament, law enforcement agencies and relevant authorities at all levels.
We recognise the considerable progress that is being made by some of the new member states. Last autumn the Committee held a conference on women's rights and the enlargement of Europe. We had some incredible contributions from women promoting women's rights in Central and Eastern Europe. One of the contributors was the Lithuanian ombudsman for equal opportunities. There is also tremendous excitement and opportunities in Bulgaria for equality, they have drafted a new law on equal opportunities, and we need to share all these exciting initiatives and experiences that are happening across Europe in order to support each other in promoting the role of women in Europe.
Within my own European political party we try to share ideas through e-mail, attempting to include and understand the experience of minority groups and multiple discrimination. We try to look at issues from these perspectives as well.
As we see the process of enlargement developing in the ten countries we hope we can begin to focus more on the social and political equality of women as well as the economic. We all know that women are the first victims of budget cuts in social security, welfare and education. Without support in the area of family life it is very difficult for women to play their full part in society. This issue comes up time and time again when we are discussing a wide range of topics, the “work-life balance” is a serious issue that needs addressing at a European level, we don't have all the answers, that’s why it is so important for us to work together.
There are very serious and pressing issues that we have been able to take up during the enlargement process such as: trafficking in women, sexual exploitation, prostitution, child pornography, domestic violence. The Parliament and the Commission have been very active in trying to combat these issues at a European level in co-operation with member states, police, migration authorities and NGOs involved in the fight against exploitation.
These are international problems and they have to have international answers. We need to build awareness of the issues of trafficking locally as well in our own countries.
The Commission and the Parliament have been very active in the campaign against violence and discrimination. I will be very interested to see some of the results of the programmes supported by European funding, for example in Lithuania they are carrying out a review of the STOP programme. It would be interesting to explore the results and to compare them with some of the success and failures that have occurred in other member states so that we can learn from each other.
Of course with the elections coming up in 2004 the participation of women is high on our agenda. We all know that generally women are not well represented in any spheres of political life. Recently, in the National Assembly for Wales we have achieved a perfect gender balance through the recent elections, it is a shame that we are the only legislative body in the world with gender parity, an exception rather than the rule.While I am very pleased myself, we should not be so surprised when the parliament has a gender balance, it should be a normal occurrence by now.
A stark example of this is the Convention on the Future of Europe, a body that was set up to represent and reflect the people of Europe in the process of drafting a constitution for Europe, with the hope to make it more accountable, representative and relevant to people’s everyday lives. It has been set up with 105 voting members and only 17 of these are women. This is hardly a reflection of the population of Europe!
Our committee together with other groups have been closely following the Convention and lobbying for equality and women’s rights to have a central place within the constitution.
In the 1990's a lot of progress was made on the issue of women’s representation.
From 1991 to 1999 women’s participation went from 19% to 30% in the Parliament and from 11% to 23% in the governments of member states. Every year the Commission publishes a gender equality funding programme which supports projects through awareness raising, capacity building, etc. This year there is a focus on participation in political, social and economic life. We hope to not just maintain but increase the level of participation of women in the European Parliament although next year there will 25 countries participating we fear the numbers will decrease. At present, the observing members from the new member states include only 23 women out of 162 members. This is not a very positive indication of what may happen next year. I believe, we are all fighting the same battles and struggling with the same issues, hopefully with more women in Parliament we will be able to fight together.
This is our opportunity to do something, there are new challenges and opportunities facing us, now that the EU is in the process of setting up new structures and changing the rules it is the ideal time for us to have our say. WIDE has an important role to play in this and we should not miss this opportunity. Thank you very much for inviting me to talk with you today.
Jill Evans ASE/MEP