Populism is on the rise in Europe. Flowing from fear, poverty, inequality and growing global complexity, fueled by media manipulation and misinformation, it represents a noxious blend of patriotism and patriarchy, tradition and nostalgia. It is about power and control by traditional forces, which is always negative for women.
At the same time, we are experiencing an unprecedented engagement in women’s rights. Women are mobilising on the streets, on social media, across sectors and borders and political divides. Women from Poland to Britain, from Turkey to Hungary, are at the forefront of the mobilisation against populists and fascists for a more equal, sustainable and peaceful Europe.
It is certainly important to appreciate how far we have come in the last century in strengthening women’s rights.
As the largest alliance of women’s organisations in Europe, the European Women’s Lobby recognises the importance of efforts by the European Union (EU) on this front, noting that equality between women and men is one of the EU’s ‘founding values’. The women’s movement has been a pivotal player in the European project, collaborating with governments, trade unions, businesses and EU institutions to drive real and lasting change in the lives of women and men throughout Europe.
Even so, gender equality in Europe has stagnated and even gone backwards in some areas. Entrenched gender stereotypes result in occupational segregation in the labour market as the sectors where women work are undervalued and underpaid. Women’s life-long earnings are lower than men’s by almost 40 per cent, which, in the long term, impacts on their economic independence and heightens their exposure to poverty.
The burden of unpaid and low paid care work continues to rest on women’s shoulders - especially on migrant women - and women simply have no time to be able to invest in paid work and political participation. Men continue to dominate leadership roles at powerful central banks, nance ministries and in the top positions of the largest companies. We know that one in three women in the EU (62 million women) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence after age 15.
It is time for a reinvigorated political impetus to put women’s rights and gender equality at the centre of the EU project. The EU can and must lead the way.
A political strategy for gender equality and women’s rights would enable policies and legislation at EU and national level to be monitored, through a system of annual reporting and ministerial oversight.
Such a comprehensive European policy and legal framework should also include commitments to put an end to all forms of male violence against women, including the ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, in addition to the appointment of an EU Coordinator on violence against women and girls. Gender- equal institutions, from local to EU level, should also be an important consideration.
Furthermore, specific resources should be made available for women’s rights and for women’s NGOs in the EU, and neighbouring and developing countries, applying a gendered lens throughout the entire EU budget.
We know what works, we know what to do to change the situation and we know what is possible: this is now simply a matter of political will! We need a massive programme of investment in women’s rights. We know that it is not just possible to achieve gender equality, but that it is also necessary; necessary for happier, healthier, more equal and more sustainable societies.
Hopeful of strengthening the power and voice of women to shape the future of Europe, we have been and continue to be inspired by the mobilisation of young women in Europe and the depth and breadth of their advocacy. They have understood that at this rate of progress, they will not see equality in their lifetimes - and they simply do not accept this.
For more information visit www.womenlobby.org.