Women in the European Union

Monday 15 April 2019

This article wants to address the place of women in the European Union (EU): equality, right to vote; how the EU has been and continues to be a driving force behind these changes? Among the emblematic figures of the Union, several women: Simone Veil, Marguerite Yourcenar and Louise Weiss, to name a few. Are they today rightly recognized for their role in European integration?

The voting rights of women in current EU member countries have progressed unevenly. Although Finland was one of the first countries in the world to recognize universal suffrage in 1906, other countries, such as France (1946), Belgium (1948) and Greece (1952), extended voting rights to women  only in the aftermath of the Second World War. Hence, only a few years before the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957, not all future Member States had progressed at the same pace on the issue of gender equality.

Equality between men and women will, however, be one of the fundamental values ​​of the EU since its creation and is now enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)[1]. Moreover, Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)[2] enshrines equal pay for men and women for the same function. The same article also allows positive action to  strengthen the position of women in the work environment. Nevertheless, the gap between values ​​and facts, still needs to be bridged as parity has not yet been achieved within the European institutions, be it within the European Parliament (EP) (36,2% of women among the MEPs) or the European Commission (EC) (39% among management positions such as Heads of Units and Directors)[3]. The situation is even worse when one looks at Member States where, in 2018, only 5 out of 28 heads of state and government were women[4].

Regarding the EU's actions on gender equality, in addition to extensive legislation on the matter[5], the EU has also taken several concrete measures such as the creation in 2006 of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)[6], an EC Strategic engagement for gender equality[7] or the EU Council Gender Action Plan 2016-2020[8]. Moreover, the EP plays a significant role in supporting equal opportunity policies, in particular through its Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). Finally, the latest significant action of the EU in order to take into account the role of women in European integration, was for the EC to take advantage of the International Women's Rights Day of 8 March 2019 to rename the page "Founding fathers of the EU" of the EU's official website into "EU Pioneers"[9]. This change was intended as a way to pay tribute to some of Europe's most iconic female figures: Nicole Fontaine, Ursula Hirschmann and Simone Veil, elected as first woman President of the EP in 1979 and having contributed significantly to the strengthening of the institution's role and prerogatives.

Thus, the place of several female figures in European integration is now recognized and celebrated in the same manner as their male counterparts. Since its creation, the EU has undoubtedly played a major role in the progress made for equality among all European citizens, an issue that goes beyond the gender issue since the EU is committed to act against all forms of discrimination[10].

[1] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12016M/TXT&from=EN

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT&from=FR

[3] https://www.touteleurope.eu/actualite/egalite-entre-les-femmes-et-les-hommes-ou-en-est-on-en-europe.html

[4] Idem

[5] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/59/l-egalite-entre-les-hommes-et-les-femmes

[6] https://eige.europa.eu/

[7] https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/gender-equality

[8] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/59/l-egalite-entre-les-hommes-et-les-femmes

[9] https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/history/eu-pioneers_en

[10] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/nondiscrimination_principle.html?locale=en

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