EU must lead by example on gender equality

Written by Madi Sharma on 1 July 2015

The new round of appointments to the European economic and social committee (EESC) are a chance for the EU to prove its commitment to the union's fundamental values, says Madi Sharma.

When commission president Jean-Claude Juncker proposed his new college of commissioners last October, not only did he fall short of expectations, he also failed the women of Europe by appointing only nine women out of a total of 28 positions.

This lack of commitment to gender equality in the union, where 51 per cent of the population are women and were awaiting concrete actions on gender balance, demonstrated that the new EU leadership would continue the injustice whereby women continue to be underrepresented in the decision making process in every institution of the European Union.


Statistically this places Europe behind countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Rwanda - countries where the EU insists that democracy can only be secured by increasing the participation of women.

The impact is that we are now witnessing initiatives such as the maternity leave directive and women on boards being left on the sidelines to expire, exactly because there is no political willingness from the male dominated EU leadership to decisively tackle these issues.

Despite strong words towards equality, actions are invisible and women have been left behind once again. Expectations were raised before the European elections and during the commission appointment process that more females would be at the centre of political initiatives, the results have proved otherwise.

Nevertheless, an opportunity has now arisen for Europe to prove its credentials and competence in constructing a system based on justice, respect for equality and social integration for all, with values built upon the very foundations of the EU established as in the treaties.

By October 2015 the council of the European Union along with the commission will be called to appoint the new members of the European economic and social committee from lists submitted by member states.

The EESC is the 'house of civil society' and its role is to promote participatory democracy and advance the values upon which European integration is founded. Nevertheless, the current proportion of women members at the EESC is less than 23 per cent, and is in no way representative of the citizens it speaks for. Last year in the EESC plenaries 46,000 votes were cast by men, and just 13,000 votes by women - the discrimination speaks for itself.

48 members of the European parliament, the European Womens Lobby, myself and European citizens who signed a petition, strongly urge president Juncker and the council to appoint new members with consideration for gender balance, thus representing civil society in accordance with the committee's mandate.

This can only be the start for a greater change of ethics and practices within Europe which further needs to consider balanced representation within all its institutions, political representatives or administrative staff.

It is hypocritical to request that nations implement something we ourselves have failed to do. The EESC itself has written many opinions stating there needs to be greater gender balance within the EESC and throughout decision making in Europe.

The principle of participatory democracy as envisioned by the founders of the union and the voters who cast their support during the elections demands that society is represented proportionally to the governing institutions, a fact which only provides legitimacy to the decisions and policy drawn from these institutions.

We need a better Europe but it requires leaders to be willing to move beyond the past and take initiatives with strong vision.


About the author

Madi Sharma is president of the human rights committee at the European economic and social committee (EESC)

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