International Women's Day is not only a time to celebrate the invaluable contribution women make in society, but also a time to remember that gender equality is an issue that must be prioritised not only today, but every day. The equal rights of men and women were enshrined in the EU treaties over 60 years ago and unquestionably there has been progress across the EU and worldwide. Whether it is in business, education or politics, significant strides have been made to empower women, tackle discrimination and overcome obstacles that have held back equality.
Yet in Europe still today there are significant gender pay and pension gaps making women more vulnerable to social exclusion. Women are victims of widespread gender-based violence and harassment, while remaining significantly underrepresented in political decision-making across all levels of government. Standing up for gender equality is not simply a matter of fairness and equity, but of fundamental importance for democracy, community cohesion, European integration, well-being and economic prosperity. We know we need to do more.
As President of the EU's political assembly of local and regional leaders, I deeply believe in the importance of empowerment, protection and equal rights for all Europeans. As the level closest to citizens, local and regional governments play a leading role in women's emancipation, yet it is estimated globally only 5% of mayors and 20% of local councillors are women.
I therefore call on the Member States to uphold their commitment to the EU treaties on gender equality and ensure that their selection of members of the European Committee of the Regions is not only based on regional and political balance, but also on gender equality.
Europe was built on the founding principles of equity and justice. Today we celebrate the diversity of Europe that rejects discrimination in all its forms and we believe that social, economic and political progress will only be achieved by empowering every citizen. We must always stand up for positive change. We must give women and men an equal voice in Europe's future. It is about time after all.