In March, let’s inspire inclusion

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

Every year, the 8th of March is the day when we celebrate the multiple achievements of women: social, economic, cultural and political. International Women’s Day also serves as a valuable reminder that the struggle in our societies for gender equality is not over and that systemic barriers that hinder women’s progress in all spheres of life still need to be dealt with. Starting in Manchester with Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, the suffragettes of the early 20th century, when women passionately campaigned for voting rights (“Deeds, not Words”), to the current fights for reproductive rights, equal pay and an end to gender violence, the quest for women’s rights has left a lasting impact on societies and changed narratives globally. The Philippines, where the whole month of March is National Women’s Month, embraces the importance of this annual moment of attention to deeds, not only words.

This year’s global theme “Inspire Inclusion” highlights that women’s participation in society is not just a desirable option but is a call for action to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes and create environments where all women are valued and respected. Recognizing the pivotal role women play in society, it is clear that their rights impact not only themselves but also the collective well-being of communities. When women are empowered, they serve as agents of positive transformation, uplifting entire societies.

A central focus of this year’s theme is the promotion of diversity in leadership roles and decision-making positions, highlighting the need for significant progress in this area. With the current slow rate of change, projections suggest that women will only hold 30 percent of management positions by 2050. In the EU, a mere six countries have achieved a gender balance of more than 40 percent in their Parliament, with only five out of 27 countries led by female heads of government. Much work remains to be done to achieve true gender equality in leadership.

Although these inequalities still exist, the EU has made significant progress in gender equality over the last decades, thanks to gender mainstreaming, legislation and specific measures for the empowerment of women. We intend to lead by example, and one of the ways to do this is by establishing gender-responsive and gender-balanced leadership at top EU political and management levels. Four women – Roberta Metsola, Ursula von der Leyen, Christine Lagarde and Nadia Calviño – are at the helm of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank, respectively.

The European Parliament is approaching gender balance with 40 percent women and 60 percent men. While it is important to have women participating quantitatively in decision-making, simply having them present is not enough. The EU has taken major steps in recent years to secure women’s rights, including passing legislation on equal pay for equal work, increasing female representation on European corporate boards and implementing a European Directive to end violence against women. However, these actions will only be effective if we remain dedicated and take ongoing steps to ensure they are implemented successfully.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as diversity in its most expansive form, are key priorities for the EU in its external policy. It is only by fully integrating gender and diversity into all aspects of the EU’s decision-making and responses to challenges, crises and conflicts, including EU’s contribution to rules-based multilateralism, that sustainable outcomes can be achieved, meeting the diverse expectations of our evolving societies.

The journey towards complete equality is a lengthy one, both within Europe and on a global scale. Unfortunately, in many regions, women are still prohibited from participating in public life and are completely sidelined from decision-making processes. Women worldwide continue to face discrimination and are at a higher risk of experiencing both online and offline violence.

The EU is therefore always exploring new ways to make sure that gender is at the forefront of its foreign and security policy, by infusing a gender perspective into our political dialogues, diplomacy and initiatives through solid gender analysis. We are inspired inter alia by Philippine diplomats such as Secretary Delia Domingo Albert through her pioneer role and advocacy for “Women in Diplomacy.” A concrete manifestation of our commitment is to ensure that 85 percent of all our actions throughout external relations contribute to gender equality.

In the Philippines, we collaborate closely with the government, civil society and the private sector to advance the gender equality agenda, in line with the Philippines’ Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Plan. Our actions include initiatives to improve access to sexual and reproductive health rights, strengthen mechanisms to support survivors of gender-based violence, empower women economically and socially. We provide dedicated support to women’s participation in driving the green transition. With the latest adoption by the Philippines of its fourth generation of a national action plan on women, peace and security, we are ramping up efforts to institutionalize the implementation of our partnership agenda throughout the country. Prioritizing the needs of women and girls is at the core of all our development and cooperation endeavors.

As we celebrate Women’s Month, let’s remember that gender equality is not only a basic human right, but also crucial for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Achieving gender equality and diversity, in deeds not words, is a collective responsibility, not just for a small group of experts. It involves ensuring equal opportunities in education and health care, promoting equal economic participation, fighting against all forms of discrimination and violence and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. Let’s join forces with women worldwide and strive towards a future where every woman and girl can live with dignity, freedom and true equality. Together, let’s inspire inclusion. Happy Women’s Month!

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Luc Veron is the Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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