Development Commissioner Neven Mimica said that he would be the most vocal defender of gender equality in his work on Thursday (26 March), two days after he returned from a global forum in Addis Ababa dedicated to the role of women in politics.
Mimica met with a small group of Brussels journalists to debrief after his first 100 days in office, but gender equality dominated the discussion.
Mimica said that when he chose his own priorities in the Juncker Commission, he realised that gender equality was an overarching issue in development cooperation.
“Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is something I would like to be quite visible in every program we make,” he said, adding that the European Commission would strive to make its development programs “gender-proof” and “gender-sensitive”, and that it would be tested for the extent to which it helps close the gender gap.
“Gender is definitely a priority, and this will be ever more visible in our concrete development actions,” Mimica said, adding, “I will be the most vocal male feminist” in the College of Commissioners.
“The reason for this is simple. I really believe that development cannot happen if half of the world’s population is left behind,” he added.
Gender equality was not only an issue of human rights, Mimica argued, adding that women’s empowerment is also about smart development, and smart economics, and is intrinsically linked to the global goal of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.
The Commissioner mentioned that the European Year for Development 2015 has monthly thematic blocs, and March is dedicated to gender equality. But more importantly, he referred to the Women in Parliaments summit held in Addis Ababa earlier this week, co-hosted by the African Union and co-financed by the European Commission, which he attended.
Mimica said this was indeed a big conference, which brought together over 400 female members of parliaments and governments from all over the world, and was an occasion to discuss how to face global challenges in an innovative way.
He said that the percentage of women in national parliaments had nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Indeed, 22% of parliamentarians worldwide are women, up from 11.3% in 1995. But, as UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in Addis Ababa, this still remains a low percentage. Globally, in only 19 countries, the President or the Prime Minister is a women, and of those, 10 are in Europe.
Africa gives the example
“It’s impossible to explain how half of the world’s population can be really heard if they are not properly represented politically,” Mimica said.
As a positive example, he mentioned African countries, Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa in particular, for achieving major progress in terms of the representation of women in parliament. He explained that as a result of a gender quota introduced in Rwanda, this was the only country with more women than men in parliament. In South Africa, the percentage of women was nearly 45%, and in Mozambique, 40%.
He also said that during his trip to Ethiopia, he visited a women’s association assisting victims of domestic violence, and praised the “extraordinary work” he saw there.
Speaking about the sustainable development goals, which are to be decided by the end of the year to replace the Millennium Development Goals, Mimica said that the goal of gender equality should rank very high.
“Among these goals it’s really gender equality and women’s empowerment that must have a very prominent role. This is really what the European Union, the member states, and our Commission, will really focus on,” he said.
Mimica insisted that the EU would emphasise gender equality as a “standalone” sustainable development goal, but also as an overarching theme helping to implement all other sustainable development goals, which are expected to be universal and apply to all countries, developing and developed.
EurActiv asked Mimica how the EU be an example for the rest of the world regarding gender equality, while the photos at EU summits usually show mostly “men in black”.
Mimica said that when it comes to his experience, when he served as European affairs minister in Croatia, 72% of his ministry was composed of women employees.
“This was the best ever administration I ever had in my career,” Mimica remarked, adding that he wanted to see a similar gender distribution around him in the Juncker Commission.
As Mimica spoke to the press, five female Commission officials sat beside him.