7TH COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONFERENCE OF MINISTERS
RESPONSIBLE FOR EQUALITY BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN

GENDER EQUALITY: BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN DE JURE AND DE FACTO GENDER EQUALITY

GULISTAN PALACE, BAKU, 24-25 MAY 2010

Opening of the Conference

Address by Ms Karin NORDMEYER, representative of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe

Madame Chair, Madame Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I have the honour to address this distinguished assembly on behalf of the Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations of the Council of Europe in my capacity as Chair of the Gender Equality Transversal Group.

The Conference of INGOs is one of the four pillars of the Council of Europe. The 366 INGOs that enjoy “participatory status” with the Council of Europe deal with a tremendous cross-section of citizens’ concerns, reflect and promote the interests of civil society on a pan-European basis. The Conference of INGOs is fully engaged in the strengthening and deepening of the core values of the Council of Europe and is convinced that in particular, equality between women and men is a key element to make a difference in the lives of 800 million Europeans.

With regard to the Action Plan on “Taking up the challenge of the achievement of de jure and de facto gender equality”, which will be one of the outcome documents of this ministerial conference, I can assure you, that the Conference of INGOs is ready to accept the invitation of co-operation and close consultation with all bodies of the Council of Europe when it comes to the implementation of this Action Plan. You can count on us! We will effectively contribute in making gender equality happen. When we talk of de facto gender equality we want to implement women’s rights, which are human rights and must be fully recognised. Let me quote the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: “Progress for women is progress for all”.

We know that it requires a strong political will in all countries in order to overcome the remaining obstacles in gender equality. Gender mainstreaming and positive action, including gender budgeting strategies and of course the allocation of adequate resources, are strongly required. The economic crisis is no excuse to refrain from strategies for the inclusion of a gender perspective in all programmes and policies.

We are convinced that positive action indeed allows for the removal of structural gender stereotypes and differences in the treatment of women and men. To say it in the words of the Deputy Secretary General Mrs De Boeur-Buquicchio: “Women should no longer function in the public sphere according to standard male norms or better to say: to male dominated rules.“ Education on all levels – as well by the media – will be such a positive action leading to changing attitudes and to overcoming gender stereotypes, which are a major obstacle to the advancement of women.
Do women have today the same access to power, to political participation, to economic, social and cultural resources? We all know the answer to this rhetorical question. Women do not have the same access to the opportunities offered to men – in some fields we actually see a regression, even in the use of quotas, which we feel to be seen as a good tool to achieve de facto gender equality. Let us create more positive action to promote women’s access to economic independence and to all employment and in particular to eliminate the gender pay gap. It is good for women in Europe to know, that we have the possibility of lodging collective complaints against Article 4 of the European Social Charter which is on “equal pay”.

Let us not forget to ask for developing actions to promote access to justice for all women and on all levels. Women must have equal rights in private and family life. No doubt: we recognise some progress made for women and men in the reconciliation of private, family and professional life by having in force new laws in some countries, such as Germany. But it is still not sufficient for women: when young mothers are back to work after parental leave, they often do not find the same position as before – it depends mostly on the “goodwill of their boss”. Europe has highly educated women but they are not integrated into the labour market. Thus, Europe has the most well-educated housewives in the world. Can Europe afford to overlook that female competence and economic power?

On the other, hand we see that the younger generations more often equally share responsibilities and benefits of paid and unpaid work, in particular home and family responsibilities. By this, girls and boys can be educated on an equal footing and be taught how it works to share responsibilities. Looking at the segment of the high paid decision-making positions, they rarely show up women, with the exception of situations in Scandinavian countries. Looking at the segment of unpaid work, that is still mostly the burden of women. Nevertheless, we do not want to miss the unpaid, voluntary work done on all levels and spheres of the civil society which is quite an essential part of our daily life. An excellent example of civil society voluntary engagement of women is the “Let’s read together”- project in Finland. Women teach the Finnish language to illiterate immigrant women and girls in their community, to the effect that also social skills, cultural attitudes and integration are learned by both partners.

What about the role of men in the preparation and implementation of equality policies? It is of high importance to have them on board. I will stick to the strong opinion of the Conference of INGOs, that de facto gender equality depends mostly on the empowerment of women and is based on women’s rights but must be achieved by men and women in close co-operation.

De facto gender equality cannot be achieved in Europe without guaranteeing women's sexual and reproductive health and the right to safe and legal abortion for all European women.

Let me draw your attention to the combat of all forms of violence against women. It is probably the most serious obstacle to achieving equality between women and men and it perpetuates inequality. Moreover, violence against women is a violation of human rights, which, in addition remains a high cost factor to our economies.

Certain groups of women are particularly exposed to violence and discrimination. We therefore especially welcome acknowledgement in the Action Plan of the multiple discrimination faced by migrant women and girls, by lesbian and bisexual women and girls and transgender persons, and by women and girls with disabilities.

Let me have a brief look at the roles of women in the prevention of conflicts and peace building processes. Last year we could listen to the reports by women from Kosovo1 and their concerns: Women play a multi-layered role in conflicts: they are combatants and must thus be evaluated according to gender-based criteria. They are also victims of brutal sexual violence, of violations of their human rights. And they are victims of war and post-war actions that “normalise” sexual violence. On the other hand they are also strong and powerful actors who contribute to the peace process, who help with the reconstruction efforts, and who consider the prevention of new conflicts as an essential task.

Finally we very much welcome the fact that the Conference of INGOs is involved as an observer in the drafting of the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” with the CAHVIO and that we can actively contribute the knowledge and know-how of civil society actors.

The Conference of INGOs is convinced that equality between women and men must come to reality in all countries and on all levels. It is the prerequisite for democracy and social justice. However it is still a lot to do in the empowerment of women.

To end with words of Kofi Annan: “The future of our planet depends on women.”

Thank you for listening.

1 All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.


1 All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.