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The empowerment of women in the European Union

Little by little, women are coming to power in a European Union that takes pride in its plans for gender equality, despite the fact that many people do not consider such equality a done deal.


Mario Muñoz Lozano


Two weeks ago, 63-year-old judge, Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou, became president of the Hellenic Republic, the first woman in Greece’s history to take this office. Moreover, she was the first woman to preside over her country’s Council of State, Greece’s supreme administrative court, and is recognised for her defence of refugee and minority rights and civil liberties.

Whilst two months ago, three other important female appointments were made: Germany’s Úrsula von der Leyen, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, and France’s Christine Lagarde, to three of the most important positions in the European Commission.

The first, as president, will guide the EU’s plans over the next five years and, at 60, is the visible face of the block. A doctor by profession, she is mother to seven children and was the Minister of Family Affairs and the Minister of Defence in Germany.

Vestager, at 51 years of age, is one of the executive vice presidents, responsible for managing the threads of a Europe that will strengthen its policies in pursuit of complete integration in the so-called digital age. The Danish politician was Commissioner for Competition during the previous European executive’s mandate, and Minister of Economic Affairs and the Interior in her country from 2011 to 2014.

With them, is 64-year-old Lagarde, who is President of the European Central Bank (ECB), the world’s second bank after the United States Federal Reserve. A French lawyer and economist, she was Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), between 2011 and July of last year, and long before that she was France’s Finance Minister.

Furthermore, another 10 women are on the payroll as part of the group of commissioners who direct the European Commission.

On this list are the German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who since 2005 has led the block’s leading economic power and was re-elected for a fourth term in March 2018.

The 65-year-old German lawyer and physicist was the first woman to reach this position in her country and Forbes magazine has referred to her as ‘the most powerful woman in the world’ on several occasions.

Last October, 22-year-old Sophie Wilmes was named interim prime minister of Belgium, also the only woman to take this position.

51-year-old Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has been president of Croatia since 2015, an office she will hand over, on the 18th February, to Zoran Milanovic, who defeated her in the second round of presidential elections on 5th January.

Then there is 34-year-old Sanna Marin, who, on 10th of December, was elected Finnish prime minister by the country’s parliament and is the world’s youngest head of state. Marin leads a centre-left coalition of five parties, four of which are led by women and three of whom are under 35.

And the list of interesting, intelligent and important women continues in a similar vein.

Outside of the block, but still in the region, the first female prime ministers are coming to power: in Norway, Erna Solberg and in Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir; alongside the presidents of Georgia, Salomé Zourabichvili, and Serbia, Ana Brnabic.

Gender policies in the EU

The integration of gender-based perspectives has been established on an international level as the primary global strategy for gender equality since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.

The initiative became an official political focus of the EU and its member states in its legal basis, the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), which undertakes to eliminate inequalities between men and women and to promote equality in all actions.

With its community action programmes, policies on gender increased, from equal opportunities to affirmative action to cross-cutting equality policies.

However, the measures taken are insufficient and gender problems continue in many countries within the block where the majority of discussions on equality in the world are heard; yet within its nations, citizens criticise the lack of direct application of the favourable gender rules, beginning with equal pay.

On average, women in Europe earn 16.2% less than men, according to 2016 data from the European Statistics Office (Eurostat).

In recent statements, the president of the European executive, Úrsula von der Leyen, committed to tackling the pay gap under the framework of the gender equality strategy.

Unfortunately, while EU directives establish minimum standards and common aims, the decisions on how to apply its numerous policies on social inclusion and the fight against discrimination depend on the governments of the member states.

Often, national manoeuvres and wrangling can delay, dilute, or completely block gender sensitive policies. Hence, the states lagging furthest behind are required to create databases disaggregated by sex, present national reports and submit to the verdicts of the supranational courts.

Without the force of community regulations, many member states would continue refusing to adopt stringent laws against discrimination at work, sexual harassment and domestic violence. (PL)

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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