IWD 2021: EU must have courage to stand up and defend women’s rights

We spoke to a cross-party group of MEPs on the occasion of International Women's Day 2021 and asked them for their thoughts on the most pressing issues facing women today.
From left to right: Assita Kanko (BE, ECR), Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (ES, GUE/NGL), Samira Rafaela (NL, RE) & Alice Kunhke (SE, Greens/EFA)

Meeting fragility with solidarity

Now, more than ever, we must defend women’s rights, writes FEMM Committee vice-chair Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (ES, GUE/NGL)

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, the COVID-19 crisis could reverse decades of gender equality gains. Before the pandemic hit, women were already su­ffering from segregation in the labour market with higher rates of job precariousness and lower salaries and pensions. Women also often did not even have access to the labour market because of the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work. In addition to increasing already existing inequalities, the pandemic has also been used by reactionary governments to restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The best roadmap for the women and girls coming years is the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on the EU Strategy for Gender Equality. A text that addresses all fronts including the need to develop a Care Deal ensuring quality care services in Europe, the incorporation of the gender perspective in the design of recovery plans and the full implementation of the Work-Life Balance Directive. The text also calls for measures to achieve equal pay, a regulation of teleworking compatible with work-life balance and quality employment and eff­ective actions against the ‘hostility’ of certain governments towards women’s rights. Our societies will be reshaped over the next decade. It is essential to focus on robust public sectors, responding to fragility with solidarity and incorporating women’s specific needs, their experience and skills.


Unlocking our full potential

Only when we respect the rights of women can we work towards a Europe that is truly equal, says FEMM Committee member Samira Rafaela (NL, RE)

Women are shaping the forefront of our battle against the COVID- 19 pandemic, making up 76 percent of healthcare workers across the EU. At the same time, the crisis is deepening pre-existing gender inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in all social, economic and political aspects of life. In our drive towards gender parity, we should not shy away from these unequal consequences of the pandemic. Our COVID-19 response and recovery effort must be gender-sensitive and respect the perspectives of women and girls in all their diversity. In order to unlock the full potential of women and girls, our priority should be to combat gender-based violence, safeguard girls’ education, and protect women’s reproductive health. Only when we respect the dignity and fundamental rights of women, can we work towards a Europe that is truly equal. The past year has once again illustrated that we cannot take women’s rights for granted, especially as women are being restricted when it comes to decisions over their own body. We must continue to fight these regressive trends within our borders to uphold our European values. The more we push for gender equality, the brighter our future. I wish you a happy International Women’s Day.


A basic human right

The EU must have the courage to stand up and defend women’s rights, argues LIBE Committee member Assita Kanko (BE, ECR)

"Help me. I’m getting married and I have to be a virgin on my wedding day.” Doctors are being asked questions like these here in Europe. For these scared brides to become ‘virgins’ again, they go to the hospital and ask a gynaecologist to issue a ‘certificate of virginity’. At its core, this is a medically pointless and socially degrading procedure. In Belgium, such operations were reimbursed by the State. Why are some Muslim women being reduced to hymens? And why are states complying in this act? For a conservative community, having a hymen can become a matter of life or death. On the wedding day, there must be blood. But who controls the chastity of the man? This is just one illustration of the cruelty facing women in Europe today, and we turn a blind eye. Marriage should be based on love and free will. This was one of my hopes as a kid growing up in a traditional community. I secretly prayed, but also worked hard, to become one of those who are free, equal and unafraid. In my work, I always fight for more women to enjoy that kind of freedom. The EU must have the courage to promote our European values, protect our way of life and the right to self-determination. It is not a matter of left or right. It is a basic human right.


A cornerstone of the recovery

Striving for gender equality is crucial if we are to make a truly equal European Union, writes LIBE Committee member Alice Kuhnke (SE, Greens/EFA)

The COVID-19 pandemic has, as we all know, exacerbated gender inequality. Women are on the front line of response e­orts but at the back of the queue in terms of recovery measures. They are disproportionately a­ected by the economic downturn, burdened by an increase in unpaid care work and subject to increasing domestic violence. Therefore, gender equality must be at the centre of our recovery e­orts and all relevant measures should be based on a gender impact assessment. Unfortunately, the Council and Commission have shown a severe lack of interest in gender mainstreaming the recovery. However, the message from the European Parliament is clear: equality must be the cornerstone of the COVID-19 recovery. However, achieving real equality is not possible without an intersectional approach. Discrimination on multiple grounds, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability and race, is also heightened during crises. This in turn makes access to information, healthcare, social services, and employment even more challenging. We must address this lack of equality with legislation. That is why I will continue to push the Council to honour its responsibility to protect all Europeans from discrimination and unblock the Equal Treatment Directive, so that we can create a true union of equality.