CHAPTER THREE: EQUALITY
Platforma mulheres – chapter 3 and women’s rights
From the 19-20th of September we were gathered as part of the Connect Europe project in Lisbon, Portugal at the invitation of our pourtuguíse partners, Platforma portuguesa para os direitos das mulheres – or Portuguese platform for women as they are called in english. A social, cultural and humanist non-governmental organization, independent from political parties, religious institutions or governmental structures, whose members are women's rights NGOs.
After working for women’s rights since 2004 they where perfect to host the events centering around Chapter 3 in the European chapter for fundamental rights; Equality. For two days we explored and debated the fundamental rights with experts, members of the national- and European Parliament and at public events with citizens and women’s rights activist. In the end we learned that not only is the chapter still relevant today, when it comes to women’s rights it seems that the EU is fundamentally important to prevent national states from going backwards when it comes to protection of the fundamental rights.
The role of civil society in the creation of the Charter
On September 19th Connect Europe visited the Portuguese Parliament. Here, the member of Parliament and former vice-president of the convention for the EU charter of Fundamental rights, Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos, greeted us for the meeting on the importance of the charter today with a special message; the important role of civil society organizations when it comes to maintaining the rights in the charter at the political system today.
“So many of us don’t know what the charter contains and the possibility the Charter opens to each citizen.” He says, then goes on to explain the role of the civil society in the creation of the charter where he himself played a great part in its development.
20 years after it’s creation it remains one of the most ambition civil rights paper, an innovative initiative that received a lot of critics and oppositions in the beginning for clashing with constitutions in the different membership countries. One of the reasons for the eventual success of creating and acceptance of the charter was the involvement of the civil society. As it was created and debated the working group where Pedro was part, they received thousands of inputs, criticism and propositions from civil society all over Europe. Inputs that was essential for getting the charter approved in the end.
Today the charter remains ever important – but it is not without its problems. The main issue is that it first and foremost is unclear how we are to understand it; as a law or a set of directions? And secondly that people are not used to organize around a charter. But today, he says, we are at a turning point. And perhaps the 20-year anniversary of the charter is the perfect time for civil society to revisit the charter and once more give their inputs for the preservation of our fundamental rights as Europeans as well as inviting the public to participate and learn more about the Charter.
The fiscal crisis and the charter
For Pedro one of the fundamental rights in the charter is equality between men and women:
Equality between men and women
Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.
The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex.
This entail of cause a long range of issues, issues that we explored the next day in the European Parliament Liaison Office in Portugal, Lisbon. Here Maria Manuel Leitão Marques, MEP – Group of Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats and Isabel Romão, expert on women’s rights, debated parity, gender pay gap and gender budgeting, moderated by Euro news journalist Isabel Silva.
As Pedro explained one issue is that the charter was ratified in 2009, the same time as the fiscal crisis swept through Europe and challenged the social structures in the Union. The social rights were not being used by the Commission or politicians to fight the austerity as a response to the crisis which impacted the fundamental rights of the citizens.
As Isabel Romão also pointed to, strict budgeting as the response to the fiscal crisis had a massive negative influence on the equality in the union, not at least equality between men and women. Today the chapter remains as relevant as ever as there continue to be a great division between the genders when it comes to political representation, job opportunity and equal pay for jobs of equal work.
As Pedro Valenta da Silva, Chief of staff at the European Parliament Liaison Office put it “All times are good times to discuss the charter and chapter 3 of Equality.” That day wasno exception.
The work of Élaine Vogel-Polsky, champion of women’s right in EU
At the public event at Graça on the eve of the 20th, Platforma Portuguese had arranged for a screening of the documentary of Élaine Vogel-Polsky – the story of the lawyer and feminist who dedicated her life to fight for equality between men and women in the European Union. Here we learned of the story of the inspirational woman and champion of women’s rights and how she used the part in the Lisbon treaty on equal pay to fight in the courts for parity in the workplaces across Europe. By doing this she proved that the European Union can be used to ensure the civil rights of it’s citizens.
As the director, Agnés Hubert, said it is important to tell these stories. To remind us of the struggles, our rights and last but not least that as well as there where founding fathers of the union we also had the founding mothers who shapes the system in their image.
So in short, we had the opportunity to reflect upon the creation of the Charter, of the history of women’s rights in the union and the state of equality today. Much have been done and much remain to do when it comes to ensure that all member states ensure the rights of Chapter 3. But what does the future hold? As Ana Sofia Fernandes from Platforma Portuguese puts it: “Now that we for the first time see a woman as president we expect parity to be embedded in the work of the Commission.”
We have seen EU legislation being used to fight for parity within the Union but we also know that many issues still remain today and that our rights in fiscal crisis situations are being pressured making it as important as ever that we have strong civil society organizations to insist on these fundamental rights. And so we look ahead for a new revitalization of the Charter and Chapter 3.
Push the play-bottom and watch a recap of the events in Lisbon.