< Viewpoints < 2006

“Women are still abused, discriminated and denied fair political influence”

[02/05/06] The most important revolution of our times has not gone far enough: the liberation of women. In spite of many women’s rights conferences, agreed norms against discrimination and political pledges about gender equity, there is a deep gap between daily reality and our rhetoric.

Women continue to suffer physical violence on a shocking scale, they are discriminated against in the labour market and are grossly underrepresented in almost all political assemblies. Europe is no exception.

The standards are set; what is lacking is genuine implementation. Male-dominated political organs have not responded with sufficient energy to these human rights violations.

Violence against women has too often been seen as solely a private matter. Such “privatisation” of the responsibility should not be accepted. It is now recognised that domestic violence is indeed a human rights problem – authorities have a responsibility to take action to prevent such abuses.

That women tend to be lesser paid than men for similar jobs has been explained as a consequence of market forces outside the control of political authorities. However, equal pay for equal work is part of the revised European Social Charter and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) core standards and should be protected by law.

The lack of female politicians has been blamed on the absence of interested candidates. The truth is that male politicians often have protected their positions of power. Where honest efforts have been made to encourage the nomination of women, the balance has improved.

In other words, the political tools are indeed there if we have the will to promote change.

Serious implementation requires both a strategic and a comprehensive approach. One experience is that a sustained move towards gender equity depends to a large extent on social and family policies. Change in a number of countries has been promoted by three factors, in particular:

• contraception, which made it possible for women to decide when to have children;
• child care centres, which made it possible for both parents to have a job;
• the possibility for women to find employment and thereby to achieve economic independence.

Whatever political strategies are framed, they will be effective only if women are fully represented in the decision-making assemblies. This of course goes for governments and parliaments, but also for regional and international fora.

The Council of Europe is no exception. In the Parliamentary Assembly no more than 26% of the members are women and in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities the figure is 27%. Among the Ambassadors in Strasbourg only 13% are women and among the 46 current Foreign Ministers not more than five (11%) are female. This will change; the question is, how fast?

Women’s rights and gender equity cannot, however, be seen as a concern for females only. The role of men in this struggle is crucial – as decision makers, voters and family members.

The contribution of males is also included in the new Council of Europe effort to combat violence against women. A task force has been set up and a pan-European campaign is being prepared, to be launched in November.

This campaign should be strongly supported.

Thomas Hammarberg


This Viewpoint can be re-published in newspapers or on the internet without our prior consent, provided that the text is not modified and the original source is indicated in the following way: "Also available at the Commissioner's website at www.commissioner.coe.int".