|Thank you for allowing me this
opportunity to speak before you today.
Let me first thank you for your thoughtful words
about the appalling events in London last week. I know that we are all
united in our condemnation of these indiscriminate terrorist attacks. This
committee’s concern for the respect and dignity of every individual
represents values that are the absolute opposite of those of the
terrorists. Together, across Europe, we will continue to work for a safe,
as well as a fair society for all our citizens.
I join you as the UK minister with responsibility
for both gender equality and wider equality issues. As a former chair of
the Labour Party Parliamentary Committee for Women, these are issues
particularly close to my heart and I am delighted to have been appointed
at a time when the UK Presidency has the privilege of presiding over the
Council of Ministers gender equality portfolio.
We are all committed to a Europe that brings
together the talents of every citizen and maximises the potential of every
individual. Equality between women and men, prohibition of discrimination
and celebration of diversity are core principles of the EU.
I recognise and applaud the important work that
this committee, and the European Parliament as a whole, plays in seeking
to make this shared vision a reality. Your work in relation to the
position of women in Turkey has been most valuable and I congratulate the
rapporteur, Emine Bozkurt, for highlighting important issues. I value
dialogue with this Committee and look forward to answering your questions
I am sure you will already know that the UK’s four
overarching issues for our Presidency are climate change, Africa, economic
reform and security. You will certainly know how vital these issues are
for women and how seriously they are taken by women. One of the recent
champions for a better response to climate change is Wangari Maathai, an
inspirational Kenyan woman who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004. She led
a campaign to plant tens of millions of trees across Africa to slow
deforestation. The movement grew to include projects to preserve
biodiversity, educate people about their environment and promote the
rights of women and girls.
Yesterday Kofi Annan marked World Population Day by deploring the
discrimination faced by women and girls across the world. Two thirds of
the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty are women; two thirds of
the world’s illiterate people are women, but as Kofi Annan also said
yesterday, there is no tool for development more effective than the
empowerment of women. Development is an important theme in the plans for
gender equality during the UK Presidency.
On security what we do together in Europe is critical to a peaceful future
for us all. Just last week in London, in the shadow of the terrible
terrorist attacks we experienced, we remembered and celebrated the end of
the last World War. Since 1945 the strong ties we have forged in Europe
have given us unprecedented decades of peace. The progressive enlargement
of the Union has brought more and more countries under the protection and
safety that comes from mutual respect and shared values.
As far as economic reform is concerned there can be no doubt that the
contribution women can and do make is vital to our continuing economic
growth and prosperity. I will say more about that shortly.
Before that, I would like to thank Mme Jacobs and
her Luxembourg colleagues for the excellent work achieved throughout their
In particular I pay tribute to her robust
leadership of the EU during difficult negotiations at the United Nations
Commission on the Status of Women. We should all be delighted by the full
reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in March
this year. We must continue to make progress on the twelve policy areas of
critical concern as identified at Beijing.
2005 is a year of several anniversaries in the
campaign for gender equality – the tenth anniversary of Beijing, the mid
point of the Lisbon agenda and the five-year review of the millennium
development goals. As the international community reviews progress we can
feel some pride at what has been achieved, but we must recognise where
more work is required.
We must face the reality that not enough has been
done; gender equality has not been achieved and the Millennium Development
Goals are not on track. This poses challenges for the world but also for
the European Union.
As President of the Council of Ministers, we will
be working closely with Luxembourg and Austria to drive this agenda
forward, drawing from the Luxembourg Ministerial declaration in March, to
reaffirm the challenges we face. We will work in close partnership with
the European Commission and the European Parliament to achieve success.
One of the key conclusions from earlier this year
was the central importance of institutional mechanisms to consolidating
and expanding gender equality.
Governments and civil society together need to
make the case for gender mainstreaming and we must be able to explain what
gender mainstreaming is. How do we make the case for it in, say, transport
policy, or funding for sport?
Institutions that are repositories of knowledge
and disseminators of information are crucial to answering these questions.
Thus one of the important issues on which we wish to make progress is the
European Gender Institute.
The absence of reliable gender disaggregated
statistics and the difficulty of effective communication between EU
Institutions, governments, academics and social partners across the member
states are significant barriers to creating effective policies promoting
A European Gender Institute committed to greater
co-ordination, dissemination of good practice and providing effective
tools for gender mainstreaming will be a valuable addition. The UK
Presidency looks forward with interest to what you and your Parliamentary
colleagues have to say about this proposal.
I would like now to turn to another significant
matter on the agenda for the UK Presidency.
One of the wider priorities of the UK Presidency
is to take forward the ‘better regulation’ agenda.
In the gender field, the RECAST dossier is a good
example of simplification and clarification of the acquis. We aim to make
good progress during our Presidency. It is sensible to co-ordinate seven
Directives and case law into one intelligible package, especially as some
of those Directives date back to 1975 and 1976. The world of work and
pensions has come a long way since then.
Rulings by the European Court of Justice have
added greatly to the rights of workers (especially, but not only, women)
and the responsibilities of employers. It is important that we work
towards a clearer and simpler legislative framework.
I read with interest your comments on the
Commission’s proposal. We now need to engage in dialogue between Council
and Parliament to complete this important piece of work.
Alongside these legislative and institutional
innovations, the UK Presidency welcomes the Commission’s recent
Communication on Non-discrimination and the proposal for a Year of Equal
Opportunities for All in 2007.
Like you, we will wish to ensure optimum and
efficient use of EU resources. We welcome the Communication’s emphasis on
non-legislative measures to reach our shared goal of an equal and fair
society. Although we can all see gaps in the legislative framework, I know
we all recognise that culture change – changes in attitudes and behaviours
– are a vital part of achieving that goal. This Communication has the
potential to help us with that challenge.
We will continue to support an integrated approach
towards non-discrimination policy. We recognise, for example, that
disabled women, older women and Black and Minority Ethnic women require
complex and integrated – yet different – policy interventions.
The aim of the UK Presidency concerning the
proposed Year of Equal Opportunities is to make as much progress as
possible on this dossier.
All of these legislative dossiers will contribute
to achieving a Europe that is economically dynamic, but also, importantly
socially inclusive. This vision is central to our Presidency theme for
gender equality, which looks at women and work in the light of the Lisbon
strategy, Beijing and the Millennium Development Goals.
It is essential to focus our efforts on raising
employment levels across Europe and ensuring equal employment
opportunities for all. We face new challenges – the global economy, people
living longer and happily remaining active longer –our employment
strategies need to understand these.
Unemployment means wasted lives and wasted
opportunities. A job is the best protection against poverty and social
We need inclusive labour markets, free of discrimination, which offer
opportunities to all. The priorities of the UK Presidency in the area of
economic reform, employment, social policy and equal opportunities reflect
We will therefore focus both our key gender
equality conference and our informal meeting of gender equality ministers
on ‘women and work’. We will examine the critical role that progress
towards gender equality can play in helping the EU to deliver the targets
of the Lisbon Agenda.
We will look at examples of good practice both
from across Europe and from the developing world.
For too long too many women have been restricted
to so called “women’s work”: caring for children and elderly people,
customer service in shops, banks and offices; piecework for low pay, and
with little security. For everyone’s sake we need to continue to remove
the barriers that define what women can do, and encourage women to move
into new roles with a wider range of skills, as well as to set up their
own businesses. During our conference in Birmingham, we will showcase
different contexts in which practical solutions have been developed to
change the reality of women’s – and men’s - experience of work.
Across Europe the responsibility for childcare
still rests primarily on mothers. Now that we are living longer there are
new challenges in looking after elderly family members too. We all – men
and women – have personal lives that are important to us and our working
lives need to be flexible. In Birmingham we will look at a number of
different policies, structures and practices - including strategies for
childcare - to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate
fully in their workplace.
Birmingham is a diverse and vibrant city where
nearly a third of the population are from non-white ethnic groups. We will
be taking ministers to see women’s empowerment projects in the region from
a variety of different cultures, illustrating the different contributions
these communities make to the city.
During our conference we will also examine how,
for many women, particularly those with children or whose children have
grown up, just getting a permanent job can be really tough. Women deserve
much more than a series of temporary jobs and businesses and the economy
need the contribution women can make.
Ensuring that women have the right skills for the
workplace; helping them to feel confident and valued; putting in place
policies that ensure women can progress from basic level employment up to
the very top of their organisation; all these challenges need practical
initiatives, often at local level, to change our working cultures.
Women need to be properly and fairly rewarded for
the contribution they make. They need to have good access to health-care
and time for their own needs. Eva-Britt Svensson’s draft report on ‘gender
discrimination and health systems’ is very important in this respect and
the UK Presidency will be holding an event, Tackling Health Inequalities,
which will be looking at some of these areas.
I am delighted that you, Madame Zaborska, have
agreed to attend our conference and the Ministerial meeting that follows
it in Birmingham, as a representative of your Committee. We have planned
an innovative programme that will include direct learning from the
experiences of local women who have faced discrimination and overcome
The UK presidency will draft a statement at the
end of the ministerial meeting that will be presented to the Employment
and Social Affairs Council in December.
In the United Kingdom we have striven to raise the
issues of the developing world, working together with other countries both
in the EU and beyond.
The success of the Live 8 concerts in London,
Paris, Rome, Berlin, Philadelphia, Johannesburg, Moscow and Tokyo show the
groundswell of concern that our citizens share about supporting
sustainable change in the developing world. We need to listen to and to
learn from the experiences of developing countries; the positive stories
as well as the worrying statistics.
We know that without the education of women, the
economic independence of women, the sexual and reproductive freedom of
women – in other words, without the emancipation and liberation of women –
lasting change will remain a dream.
Mme Jacobs spoke to you in January with passion
about the needs of women in the aftermath of the Tsunami in Asia and she
included a representative from Mali, Mme Diakite Fatoumata N’Diaye, at her
We intend to build on this good practice at our
conference in Birmingham by hearing from developing countries as partners
in the global struggle for women’s equality. We will also be representing
the EU at the Millennium Review Summit in September and the United Nations
General Assembly, where we shall endeavour to raise the profile of gender
Madame Zaborska, I trust that I have given a
useful and comprehensive outline of our presidency plans for the European
Union in the gender equality area. Thank you again for inviting me to set
out our agenda.
The strength of the European Union is its people,
all its people. We must give everyone the opportunity to develop their
talents, first as girls and boys, then as women and men. Together by
working hard and listening to one another we can make this progress.
I look forward to the European Parliament and the
Presidency working in synergy over the next six months and I am pleased to
answer any questions the committee may have.