At CoR’s event on International Women’s Day, local and regional leaders discuss worrying trends and ask for concrete measures to support women in politics
Women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic: they are at greater risk of exposure to the virus as a majority of health and care workers are women, and their employment has been hit worse than men’s as women work in the most affected sectors by the COVID-19 crisis, with potential long-term impacts on pay and career. The lockdowns have widened the existing gender divide in unpaid care work, led to an increase in domestic violence against women, and disrupted access to support services.
Under-representation of women in regional and local politics also continues to be alarming, with women representing only 30% of the 1 million EU regional and local politicians. Only 17.2% of elected mayors, 34.1% of members of regional parliaments and assemblies, and about 36% of members of regional governments are women.
These worrying trends and figures were discussed at the event ”For more women in politics” organised by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. During the conference, the European Institute for Gender Equality presented the main findings of the Gender Equality Index 2020, with a particular focus on power in the local and regional political sphere. Figures show an unacceptable under-representation of women in regional and local politics. Data from the CoR Regional and local Barometer were also highlighted to illustrate how the pandemic is negatively impacting gender equality.
The President and the Members of the CoR, Members of the European Parliament and participants in the CoR’s Young Elected Politicians Programme (YEPs) highlighted the urgent need to address these crucial issues. They called for all levels of governance – European, national, regional and local – to put in place more efforts to close the gender gap in politics, address the problem of violence against elected female politicians and women in public life, and to fight all forms of sexist attacks targeting women.
In his opening statement, President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of the region of Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzitzikostas said: “We must take concrete action organising and supporting initiatives to empower women ahead of local and regional elections to overcome the discrimination and obstacles they encounter. It is also key to support women to stand as candidates in municipal and regional elections. While the pandemic is often hitting women harder, we must not let the crisis divert us from the need to improve gender equality, and to increase women’s participation in decision-making.This means engaging all the talent we have, of both women and men, equally, for a better society. This must be the case also for our Committee, and I count on all our members and their political families to work together with the national associations and delegations representing the 27 member states in order to drastically improve the gender balance of lists of members.”
President of the Government of La Rioja, Concepción Andreu Rodríguez (ES/PES), delved into the issue of lack of women in the highest political posts. “Despite the fact that 45% of members of regional parliaments are women, there are only 4 female presidents among the 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities. In La Rioja, it took 38 years to have a woman as the leader of the Government.” Andreu argued that “inertia of political parties, the lack of female role models and the difficulties to achieve an adequate work-life balance” are obstacles that hinder a greater presence of women in politics.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions and a member of the Azores Regional Parliament, said: “Having more women in politics would benefit every level of government enormously. Women’s leadership is essential to create more just and equal societies for all. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting women harder than men, so we must ensure the recovery will push equality forward, with real economic empowerment and investment in the care economy. We cannot wait another hundred years; gender equality must start now.”
The participants discussed how to engage actively local and regional politicians to enhance gender parity and tackle barriers that women face in entering politics, as well as identifying steps and ideas to close the gender gap. A number of young elected politicians shared their experiences at the local and regional level of addressing gender equality and parity democracy. Experts in countering misinformation and online hate speech demonstrated how women politicians can react effectively and in a structured way to online gender-based violence.
The event is part of an initiative launched in 2020 by the European Committee of the Regions to promote gender balance in local and regional politics and decision-making, raise awareness and promote the exchange of best practices.
The European Committee of the Regions, as the political assembly of local and regional politicians in the EU, has taken action to achieving a gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of equality and democracy with the adoption of the “Strategy for a gender balance in Members’ participation in the CoR” and the CoR opinion on “A Union of equality: gender equality strategy 2020-2025”.
International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Officially recognised by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.
This year’s theme for the International Day,”Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world“, celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
More background can be found in the following publications:
- CoR President speech at Confererence More women in politics 2021
- CoR Opinion A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025
- Strategy for a gender balance in Members’ participation in the CoR
- CoR Initiative “For more women in politics”
- European Institute for Gender Equality: Gender Equality Index 2020
- URBACT: Gender Equal Cities
- Study – The Gender Gap in the EU’s Public Employment and Leadership – 02-03-2021
- Women in politics in the EU: State of play.
- 4 March 2021: European Parliament event “Women’s empowerment and leadership in Covid times”.
- Interview with Concha Andreu (ES/PES), CoR rapporteur on the Gender Equality Strategy
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