Today, as you may or may not be aware, is International Women’s Day. It is an annual event which seeks to celebrate the cultural, economic, social and political achievements of women. It comes, this year, just one day after the announcement at the Oscars that Kathryn Bigelow is this year’s winner of the much-coveted best director trophy, for her film The Hurt Locker – she is the first woman in the history of the Academy Awards to win this prestigious title. It also comes on a day when a law in India is to be put forward before the legislature, requiring that a third of seats in the country’s Parliament must be reserved for women.
It has been argued in the past that International Women’s Day should be abolished altogether on the grounds that if we have to mark such an event it must mean that we do not have equality. Two years ago Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, agreed. If full gender equality had already been achieved, then perhaps Commissioner Reding would have a point. Yet despite the fact that 53% of the population of Europe are women, they unfortunately occupy just 34.9% of seats in the European Parliament. Politics continues to be dominated by men, and as Gordon Brown pointed out today the numbers of women in senior management posts across Europe remains dismally low.
There are, however, many changes to be proud of. Since the last parliamentary term, there has been an increase of 4.7% in the numbers of women who are elected to the European Parliament. The number of women chairing the various committees and sub-committees in the European Parliament has increased by 50%, while the number of female Vice-Presidents of the parliamentary committees has risen to six out of 14. Within the European Parliament there are several organisations and bodies with a mandate to tackle gender equality, including the Equality and Diversity Unit, which seeks to devise, monitor and implement equality and diversity policies within the General Secretariat of the European Parliament. In addition to this, the European Parliament boasts an Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities (COPEC), which has the task of proposing and monitoring gender equality measures in the European Parliament Secretariat.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2010, several special events have been planned within the European Parliament. I am pleased to say that this year looks set to be as action-packed as ever. As my colleagues and I will be busy voting in Strasbourg this week, most of the events have been scheduled to take place in Brussels in one week’s time. Today, nevertheless, a debate on violence against women has been organised between MEPs, the Association des Journalistes Parlementaires Européens and representatives of women’s associations. On 16 March, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, will be opening a debate on the theme of violence against women, and this will be followed by the inauguration of the contemporary art exhibition ‘Women & Women’, organised by José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil MEP. Several key political figures have been invited to speak at the Parliament on this day, including Bibiana Aído Almagro, Spain’s Minister for Equality, and Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have become priority issues for the European Parliament, and International Women’s Day is an ideal occasion for thinking about how these aims can be achieved. You will see from my now complete Women in Power project that representation of women in politics has advanced a great deal in recent years, and although there is still a great deal more to do to improve their status, we certainly have a lot to be pleased about. Women in Power was launched with the aim of drawing attention to women’s achievements, and I believe that it has been successful in doing this. Let’s just hope that by International Women’s Day 2011 there will be even more women occupying powerful political roles than there are at present.