The gendered impact of war, climate and social crises demands a large and rapid increase in the number of women in politics, conference speakers say.
Leaders at every of the European Union and beyond, participarting in the European Committee of the Regions conference to mark International Women's Day have united to call on decision-makers to accelerate efforts to achieve gender equality.
The conference, which was held on 14 March 2023, was entitled "From Local to Global: Fostering Women's Leadership in a Changing World". Speakers emphasised that the biggest challenges of our times – including war, the climate crisis, poverty, unaffordable housing, unequal pay and uneven access to healthcare – have a very large gender dimension, and that, at the same time, women continue to be alarmingly under-represented in regional, local and national politics.
In his opening statement, Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: "Gender equality is a fundamental condition to achieve a fairer and stronger Europe. The reality is not pleasant: not only parity is not advancing at the pace that is needed, but gender equality is being undermined by forces who want to diminish women's rights. We need a comprehensive approach that strongly tackles any form of discrimination, condemns all forms of violence against women but also tackles the challenges women face every day. The European Committee of the Regions is committed to do more and better, starting with our own example as a political assembly but also mainstreaming gender equality in all policies."
Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, stressed: “Involving more women in decision-making enhances the credibility of democratic institutions, leads to more inclusive governance, and empowers women to improve their communities. The EU is strongly committed to this goal with our Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in External Relations making gender equality a priority of all EU external action."
Evelyn Regner, Vice-President of the European Parliament, said: "Women are strong – yet, our societies still make it much more difficult for women to achieve their dreams. For many years already we are fighting persistently for example for equal representation. We experience strong resistance from all sides like when negotiating the so-called women on boards Directive. It took 10 years to finally have the Directive signed but we are still far from 50:50 – in enterprises and political leadership too. That is why I am happy to see that conferences focussing on fostering women's leadership are taking place everywhere –also in regions and cities. Societies change, and we have to make sure that they change everywhere to the better. At local and at global level, in private and in public enterprises and the political field. Together we can make Europe more equal: a more equal Europe is a better Europe for everyone."
Tanya Hristova, Mayor of Gabrovo, Chair of the European Committee of the Regions Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture, said: "Working to improve women's wellbeing and ultimately making gender equality a reality must be a priority for all of us, including us, the local leaders. This because the local and regional level is often the first contact point, first-hand service provider and law enforcer. Therefore, promoting gender equality and eliminating gender-based violence must be a daily endeavour for all local and regional authorities. We must foster gender equality and participation of women in our political decision-making and policy-shaping, including at the local level. As the local level is the ground from where women, as men, most often begin their political careers."
Other speakers, including local and regional political leaders from cities and regions in the EU, Ukraine, and the Balkans and from civil society in Egypt called for all levels of governance – European, national, regional and local – to accelerate efforts to close the gender gap in politics. Women leaders presented their experiences of responding politically to security, social, economic, health, and environmental crises in their regions and cities and the challenges of persuading male-dominated assemblies to recognise the specific impacts on women.
Participants included members of the Young Elected Politicians Programme (YEPs) created by the CoR as part of its effort to give a political platform for young politicians. The programme is gender-balanced.
The conference was held on the eve of a plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions. In a section of the plenary devoted to current topics of particular concern to EU regions and cities, the region of Valencia will introduce a debate on the fight against gender violence. Joan Calabuig Rull (ES/PES), regional secretary for the European Union and external relations of the Government of Valencia, is expected to highlight: "Male chauvinist terrorism is the main problem of our society. Europe's regional and local authorities have a key role to play. This is a task that we have to carry out together, providing a comprehensive response with the necessary human and material resources. Ultra-conservative organisations, including in Europe, are targeting women's rights. This is a struggle in which we cannot take a step backwards. Every corner of Europe must be a safe place for women."
The European Committee of the Regions marks International Women's Day each year with a conference, as part of its broader strategy to promote gender balance in local and regional politics and decision-making, raise awareness and promote the exchange of best practices.
The European Committee of the Regions, as the political assembly for local and regional politicians in the EU, has a consultative role in the EU's legislative process. Its recommendations on actions that could be taken to achieving a gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of equality and democracy can be found in its opinion on "A Union of equality: gender equality strategy 2020-2025".
More background can be found in the following publications:
Multidisciplinary assistance to victims of gender-based violence, Valencia, Spain
Innovation centre for a technology company enabling women to find a work-life balance, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Childcare and childbirth policies, Umbria, Italy
Tackling menstrual poverty, Catalonia, Spain
Counselling for men on gender equality, Lörrach, Germany
Watch the event on the COR channel
Webstreaming to the Plenary Session: On the website of the CoR.
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