Education is a driver in our economy, a tool for challenging gender stereotypes and a prerequisite for empowering women and girls.
I was therefore very pleased when the European Parliament recently voted in favour of a report to promote gender equality in education. This was a non-legislative report covering a wide range of important issues relating to gender equality in education systems.
Unfortunately, not all MEPs seem to agree. The Tories and UKIP teamed up once again to vote against a progressive agenda on gender equality, with many arguing that this is not an area for the EU to be taking action.
Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states:
The Union shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.
This means the EU has supporting competence in the area of education. Whilst it is rightly up to member states to determine their own education policy, the Union has a responsibility to support them.
Research demonstrates the strong influence of gender stereotypes in education which constrain the choices students make throughout their lives. For this reason, it is vital that we widen access and participation for women in science and technology subjects. We face a projected skills shortfall in these fields and so it is necessary to encourage the full participation of all children. If we do not act now to make sure all children have the same opportunities to pursue their talents, we risk missing out on that talent and falling behind in an increasingly competitive global arena.
The report addressed a number of other issues including the importance of promoting equal representation in education leadership and management. Women are still underrepresented in senior leadership and decision making positions whilst being overrepresented in early years and primary education.
One other very important issue raised in this report was the need to tackle all forms of discrimination, bullying and gender-based violence in schools. It is estimated that as many as 10% of bullied teenagers have attempted suicide. This is clearly an area of deep concern and we should be doing all that we can to help member states to work together at all levels.
Finally, we asked member states to consider adopting age-appropriate sex and relationships education. I believe children have a right to be informed and that age-appropriate education will help keep them safe, happy and healthy.
The final report includes many of my own amendments, including measures to support children with special educational needs and increase efforts to tackle gender-based violence in schools.
I hope the adoption of this report will be followed with concrete action from the Commission and member states. All children – girls and boys – have the right to a learning environment in which they can thrive and fulfil their potential