The European parliament recently voted in favour of a report on equality between women and men in the EU. I am very happy with this decision, as it sends a strong signal for women's rights. However, the fight does not stop here - Europe is going in the right direction, but more remains to be done.
For example, when it comes to the labour market, the pay gap between men and women in Europe is 16.4 per cent - just one per cent less than in 2008. Progress is too slow. At this pace, we will not reach equal pay until 2084.
Employment rates are equally alarming. Only 63 per cent of women are working, for 75 per cent of men. If this continues, we will have to wait until 2038 to reach equality in employment. Given the economic crisis, member states should open their eyes to the benefits of improving women's access to employment.
"According to the organisation for economic cooperation and development, the EU's gross domestic product could increase by 12 per cent if men and women were truly equal on the labour market"
According to the organisation for economic cooperation and development, the EU's gross domestic product could increase by 12 per cent if men and women were truly equal on the labour market. The return to growth depends on this equal participation. So what are we waiting for?
Helping women get back on the labour market also requires improved maternity leave. The current directive dates back to 1992 and does not reflect all of the changes our society has undergone.
Birth rates are decreasing, not least because of the crisis, since uncertainty about employment and the economy pushes women to delay having children.
Furthermore, the European population is ageing. We must therefore increase fertility rates. Yet in order to do this, we need to provide parents with an adequate work-life balance. This requires good maternity and paternity leave, along with high-quality and affordable childcare facilities. We must work on this.
The report also addresses gender-based violence, which is still a reality in Europe, with 62 million women having experienced physical or sexual violence. We cannot turn a blind eye - further efforts are needed to eradicate this plague.
That is why we urge all member states to join the Istanbul convention. So far, only eight of them have ratified it and six haven't even signed it. This sends the wrong message to victims.
Europe must lead the way in ending violence. Therefore, parliament is asking the commission to make 2016 the European year of combating violence against women, and to grant sufficient resources to help raise awareness on this problem.
Finally, in terms of sexual and reproductive rights, women must have control over their body and health, by having easy access to information, contraception and abortion. Women should have the choice and be able to go through this choice in safe conditions.
Preventing women to do as they wish with their own body is insulting to them. As my colleague Sophie in 't Veld said last month, "Women are considered smart enough to run Germany or the international monetary fund, so they are certainly smart enough to decide over their own body".
It is not up to politicians to decide whether or not women can have abortions. It is a personal choice, in which politics should not interfere. What we can do, is ensure that if a woman does decide to abort, she receives proper care and assistance, without being judged. That is the difference between helping to improve a woman's life, and trying to control it.