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Europe, an opportunity for woman

Editor : Fondation Robert Schuman
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Sixty years ago, French women cast their first vote. Since that historic moment, women have continued to fight for their independence and for the goal which they most desire: equality, both in their public and professional lives.

What then, is the situation of women in Europe? Pascale Joannin, Director of the Robert Schuman Foundation, along with Elvire Fabry, Chief Project Manager, have undertaken a comparative study focusing on the place of women in the 25 member states of the newly expanded European Union. The title of this study, the 22nd note published the by the Robert Schuman Foundation, is, “Europe, an opportunity for women.”

This analysis demonstrates to what degree professional equality exists between men and women in the different European member states, and how these levels of equality differ from one member state to another. Beyond the most visible north-south divide, there exist numerous other disparities between member states, especially since the recent EU enlargement. The arrival of the 10 newest member states, for example, has caused a slight decrease in the level of female employment in the European Union.

Access to employment, career mobility, and salaries remain (although with some exceptions) sources of inequality in many member states of the EU. Part-time work, which tends to vary according to legislation, is a characteristic of many female European workers. Child care for working mothers is another service whose availability and accessibility varies according to legislation and/or country: France and Belgium, for example, are more advanced in this domain than their British and Irish neighbors.

As for political parity, women remain under-represented in almost all political endeavors. It is noted, however, that great variations exist among member states: in Sweden, 45% of parliament members are female, while in Malta the percentage is less than 8%! The differences can be explained through historical evidence (the first females in Europe to acquire the right to vote were Finnish women, in 1906, while the last to acquire this right were Portuguese women, in 1976), religious heritage (protestant countries have better female political representation than their catholic counterparts), the mode of voting, the existence of quotas enacted by political parties, and especially the will of political leaders.

For Pascale Joannin and Elvire Fabry, the European Union plays an essential role in reducing the inequality between women and men in all member states. The European Union is determined: its objective is to increase the level of female employment by 56% in the near future, while further increasing it to 60% by 2010. Nine community directives have already been adopted to treat this need, and they will be implemented with the help of financial means and specific structures.

Since 1979, the percentage of women in the European Parliament has continuously increased, reaching its current peak of 31%. France stands out as being particularly distinguished in this domain, as it enjoys 42,5% female representation in the European Parliament (although only 12% female representation in the National Assembly, where France holds 19th place among the 25 European countries in female national parliamentary representation!) and two presidents of the Parliament: Simone Veil (1979-1982) and Nicole Fontaine (1999-2001).

Equality between women and men is to be treated by the European Constitution as one of the most important fundamental values of the European Union, one which strives to be a model for the entire world thirty years from now. Will this trend be confirmed? We will soon find out after the upcoming European elections, if among the 732 European deputies that will be elected, female representation will increase.
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Pascale Joannin :
General Manager of the Robert Schuman Foundation

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