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IWD: EU Decries Low Women Representation in Politics

“Today, the percentage of women in politics is still far from being representative of our diverse societiesm”

The European Union has decried the low number of women in political offices, insisting that there is no just gender representation in politics.

A statement by EU on Thursday to mark the International Women’s Day read: “Today, the percentage of women in politics is still far from being representative of our diverse societies. The overall proportion of female members in single or lower houses of parliament currently stands on average at 33% in EU Member States and 26.5% globally. We must continue to do more to inspire and promote the inclusion of women in politics.

2024 is a landmark year for elections throughout the world, with over 4 billion people being asked to cast their votes, including more than 400 million EU citizens who will vote in June in the European Parliament elections.  On this International Women’s Day, we recognise the courageous activism of European suffragettes who fought for the right to vote when it was the privilege of men, and to every woman in all their diversity who plays a part in shaping a fairer and more equal society.

The statement added that: “In many parts of the world, regrettably women are still prevented from taking part in public life and in some contexts are entirely excluded from decision-making and public space. Across all societies, women continue to face discrimination and are at increased risk of online and offline violence. This is particularly acute for women politicians, journalists, and activists, in particular human rights defenders.

“In this year of elections, we encourage all women, including young women, everywhere to exercise their right to vote, to claim their space in society and to feel empowered to participate in political life.”

The statement said the global theme of the 2024 International Women’s Day is “Inspire Inclusion”, which is in line with this year’s United Nations theme “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”. Women’s participation in society is of the essence, including in decision-making positions.

It revealed that on 6 March 2024, Vice-President Jourová opened the Commission’s “Women in public life” high-level event in Brussels, in the context of the forthcoming European Parliament elections, noting that different panels focused on challenges faced by women in politics, journalism, and civil society.

It added that participants discussed why women decide to leave public-facing positions and identified concrete solutions to end this trend, including with the engagement of the media platforms, regulatory bodies, and political parties.

The statement decried that women continue to be underrepresented in politics. In 2023, only 6 Member States achieved a gender balance of greater than 40% in their members of parliament (MP), with 7 Member States having fewer than 25% female MPs.  The European Parliament is close to a gender balance of members of 40% women and 60% men.

It stated that: “As of January 2024, only 5 Member States out of 27 have female heads of state. Globally, women hold just 26.7% of parliamentary seats, 35.5% of local government seats and only 28.2% of management positions in the workplace. With the current slow pace of change, women’s share of workplace management positions will reach only 30% by 2050. The Commission will support Member States in developing and implementing more effective strategies to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, such as the introduction of gender balanced electoral lists that lead to better policies, to an anti-discrimination and anti-sexist culture and to stronger democracies that address the different social needs better.”

It further added that: “Today, the Commission also published its 2024 Report on Gender Equality in the EU, providing an overview of the progress made in implementing the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. Most of the actions set out in the strategy have already been accomplished. The first Commission led by a woman and composed of a gender-balanced College of Commissioners, and the first Commissioner for Equality have succeeded in putting gender equality at the heart of the EU agenda. The Commission also made sustainable progress in reaching gender balance at all levels of management. On 1 March 2024 women held 48.5 % of all management positions within the Commission.

The most recent breakthrough is the political agreement reached on 6 February 2024 between the European Parliament and the Council on the Commission’s proposal for a Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Directive is the first comprehensive legal instrument at EU level to tackle violence against women, which is still too pervasive. The Directive criminalises certain forms of violence against women across the EU, both offline and online. Female genital mutilation and forced marriage will be criminalised as stand-alone crimes. The most widespread forms of cyberviolence will also be criminalised, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (including deepfakes), cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, misogynous hate speech and “cyber-flashing”. The Directive also provides for comprehensive measures for victims’ protection, access to justice and support, such as shelters, rape crisis centres and helplines. These measures will benefit victims of all forms of violence against women which are criminalised at national level.

“The past four years were marked by several important legislative milestones advancing gender equality. Just one year after the adoption of the Gender Equality Strategy, in March 2021, the Commission put forward a proposal for a Directive strengthening the equal pay principle through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms. A political agreement on the Pay Transparency Directive, was reached in December 2022, in record time, paving the way for the adoption of the Directive in May 2023. The new transparency and remedies rules will help to ensure that the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, enshrined in the Treaty since 1957, finally becomes a reality on the ground.

As of August 2022, the new EU-wide work-life balance rights for parents and carers started applying. In September 2022, the Commission presented the European Care Strategy, linked to new targets on early childhood education and care to enhance women’s labour market participation. 

“In November 2022, ten years after it was proposed by the European Commission, the Directive on Gender Balance on Corporate Boards was adopted. This new EU law will help   break barriers hindering women’s career advancement.

On 8 March 2023, the Commission launched the #EndGenderStereotypes campaign, which ran throughout last year. The campaign challenges viewers to reveal and question gender stereotypes in career choices, care responsibilities and decision-making.

“In October 2023, the Commission became a party to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention. The EU is now bound by ambitious and comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women in the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum and non-refoulement and with regard to its public administration. This includes funding, policy, and legislative measures.

“In Autumn 2023, the Commission established an EU network on the prevention of gender-based violence and domestic violence. The network provides the space for Member States and stakeholders to discuss new and emerging issues of violence prevention, exchange of knowledge and good practice.

“The Commission will put forward a Recommendation on preventing and combating harmful practices against women and girls in the course of 2024. The Recommendation will identify actions that Member States could take on the ground to tackle harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, forced sterilisation, forced abortion and early and forced marriage.

“Throughout the years, the Commission has funded projects and organisations promoting gender equality and tackling gender-based violence through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme. All projects funded under the CERV programme are expected to take into account gender equality and non-discrimination in their design. Currently, two calls for proposals of a combined total of up to €35 million are open for submission to prevent gender-based violence and support victims, and to address the causes of the gender care gap and implement the Pay Transparency Directive.

“There was also progress in the EU external action. Advancing women’s equal participation and leadership is one of the priorities of the Gender Action Plan III for EU external action. Increasing the voice and leadership of young women in policy and decision-making is also a priority of the first-ever Youth Action Plan in EU external action. One of its flagships, the Women and Youth in Democracy Initiative is focused on strengthening the rights, empowerment, and participation in public and political life of youth and women as key actors of development and change. On March 14th the €11.5 million Women’s Political Participation component will be launched in the framework of the Commission of the Status of Women in New York.

“In November 2023, the Commission and The High Representative have issued the Joint Mid-term Report on the Implementation of the EU Gender Action Plan, focussed on the results of EU external action for gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment. Since the adoption of the GAP III three years ago, major new EU initiatives and programmes have been launched at global, regional and national level, including several Team Europe Initiatives supporting women and girls’ empowerment from sexual and reproductive health and rights to equal access to quality education, to access to finance for young female entrepreneurs.

In 2021, the EU renewed its commitment to the 2021-2025 roadmap of the ‘Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies’ launched in 2013. This is a global initiative to implement structural changes in the humanitarian system to address Gender-based Violence.”

Michael Olugbode in Abuja

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