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On the weekend my friend and colleague Poul Nyrup Rasmussen published an appeal to vote in this week’s European elections. I wholeheartedly support this, and would like to add a special call to women voters:

Dear Sisters, dear friends:

You have a vote in these European elections. Many of you do may not see the “use” of this vote; surveys show that women are more skeptical about the EU than men. Moreover, in the Europe of 2009 we women have to do more housework than men, in most Member States we are still responsible for the vast majority of childcare tasks, and we have to work 54 days a year (17%) longer than men in order to earn the same as they do. Is it really worth taking time out of our already busy lives in order to vote in these elections?

The truth is that the European Parliament can make a huge difference to women’s lives; and it already has done in a variety of areas, especially in the fields of gender equality and women’s rights. The EU’s Daphne Programme provides EUR 116 million to fight sexual, psychological and physical violence, having had its funding doubled on the intiative of my good friend Lissy Gröner MEP. Or take the example of the report by PES MEP Edite Estrela, which, if passed, will raise the minimum maternity leave from 18 to 20 weeks and will introduce a minimum of two weeks of paid paternity leave. The women of Europe also suffer disproportionately from low pay, exploitation and social exclusion, and it is the PES which has fought tirelessly for progress in these areas, for example by voting for a universal 48-hour working week. These are just some of the ways in which the EU can make a progressive difference. And all of these moves have had the support of PES MEPs, almost always in the face of opposition from conservatives.

PES Women in Lithuania

And PES Women has played a central role in putting women’s issues on the European agenda over the course of the last five years.

In 2006 we organised a petition against people trafficking and sexual slavery in advance of the World Cup, which was presented to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and we brought together PES justice and home affairs ministers in support of this. This coordinated action put the issue firmly in the spotlight. It was discussed by the EU Council, leading to increased monitoring of prostitution and people trafficking over the period of the World Cup. What’s more, just this year we led efforts to block right-wing proposals by the Czech Presidency to water down European childcare targets. By coordinating MEPs and PES ministers from Spain, Hungary and Slovenia in opposition to the moves we made sure that Europe continues to work towards the high quality, universal childcare facilities that families across the EU deserve.

But there is also much more to do. In the PES manifesto we propose a Women’s PES Women - MarseilleRights Charter, improved parental leave, increased childcare targets, the protection and extension of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, a commitment of 0.7% of EU GDP to external aid and a European Charter for the Integration of Migrants. These are all proposals that will have a real effect on the 260 million women living in the European Union, and millions more outside our borders. Indeed, the European Women’s Lobby recently gave the PES the highest score of any European political party in its Gender Equality Audit.

Of the three largest groups in the last European Parliament, the PES Group was the most politically coherent, had the best attendance record, and had the highest proportion of women MEPs. This all goes shows that we have the policies to improve the lives of Europe’s women, and the political will to make them a reality.

Street campaigning - LithuaniaBut above all, my message to you is: vote! Vote to make Europe what you want it to be, vote to support women everywhere, vote for women and men that will fight for equality, dignity and justice. The EU can and does make a difference in our lives: the question is whether that difference is positive or negative.

And above all, think of all those women who fought so hard for us to have the right to decide. Each one of us owes it to them to express her democratic choice in these elections.


Author :
EurActiv Network