Focus on greater women's representation in decision-making

In April 1999, on the occasion of a European conference on gender balance in decision-making, a declaration on women in decision-making was signed by ministers from 13 EU Member States and an action plan was launched. Meanwhile, research by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) shows that much remains to be done in its member organisations to achieve balanced women's participation and to "mainstream" equality policies, and ETUC will thus launch an equality plan.

A European conference on gender balance in decision-making was held in Paris on 15-17 April 1999, organised with the support of the European Commission by a number of French ministries. The event focused on balanced participation in political and professional life and the role of NGO s and social partners in promoting a gender balance. At the closing session, a declaration on women in decision-making was signed by ministers from 13 EU Member States. The declaration aims to ensure balanced participation by women and men and recommends that European institutions, governments and political parties take measures both in the electoral field and in the appointment of members of advisory bodies. Furthermore, the French government presented an action plan defining a strategy for partnership, including changing women's image in society and steps for renewed democracy to achieve parity in participation.

The commissioner responsible for employment and social affairs, Pádraig Flynn told the conference that: "Increasing the numbers of women in political decision-making is a crucial task. However, it is important to stress that what is at stake is not simply the quantitative objective of a numerical balance of women and men in decision-making bodies; rather it is the qualitative objective of actually improving decision-making. Studies have revealed that a critical mass of around 30% of women is needed to create the necessary dynamic for improving the quality of decisions allowing the concerns, needs and interests of women to be taken into account. The different but complementary and mutually enriching views of women and men should be reflected in all policies shaping the citizen's life. This is a question of social justice; this is a question of economic sense; this is a question of the strength of democracy in the EU."

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) announced that it backed the declaration and action plan. ETUC has carried out a detailed survey of women?s representation in the policy bodies of its own member organisations (national confederations and European industry federations) and analysed their equality policies. It finds that, while progress has been made since 1993, women are still under-represented at the policy-making level, and that even though the vast majority of confederations now have equality policies, there are still no plans for mechanisms and procedures to "mainstream" equality into their policies, especially on collective bargaining. ETUC has therefore declared its intention to launch a three-point equality plan at its July 1999 congress in Helsinki. The key aims of this plan will be:

  • to increase women's representation in policy bodies and collective bargaining;
  • to develop mechanisms and procedures to "build the equality impact into policy-making and implementation" (mainstreaming); and
  • to close the gender wage gap.

The choice of methods for the implementation of the equality plan will to be left to each individual member organisation, but ETUC aims to carry out a mid-term review after two years and an in-depth evaluation before its 10th congress in 2003.

ETUC demands that Member States make available enough good-quality childcare and "eldercare" provision, and fund maternity pay and parental leave benefit, without which it argues that a fair balance of work and family responsibilities between men and women will not be achieved.

Finally, ETUC calls on employers, especially at European level, to take part in a social dialogue working group on equality to discuss specific issues, such as equal pay for work of equal value. The group could also discuss general policies, like the EU Employment Guidelines and pay policy, to ensure that those policies mainstream equality and, if necessary, change them so that they do.

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