Reshaping trust in Europe with women’s vision

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

Women make up half the world's population. Do they not have a right to half the representation, half the space and half the share of voices on all political issues? The deficit of women represented in European politics is obvious and, most of all, counterproductive, writes Véronique Morali.

Véronique Morali is the president of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. She is the president of Fimalac Development, vice-chairman of Fitch Group and the chairman of Webedia AlloCiné.

Tomorrow, the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society will convene a special meeting at the European Parliament to discuss how to re-create trust in Europe. Europe today is in crisis; we all know this. That crisis goes far beyond the very significant financial difficulties that our banking systems have been facing since 2007. It involves the need to recreate a sense of community and empowerment for collective action on a range of important social issues. This is a crisis of trust — a failure of public confidence in Europe's own institutions and leadership.

But if citizens feel increasingly distant from their political leadership is that so very surprising, when the institutions and leadership of Europe so visibly fail to reflect the communities they are intended to serve?

It's very obvious that there is a deficit of representation of women in European politics. At every level, from the European Commission to the European Parliament — including the European Council, the Court of Justice, the Central Bank and the Court of Auditors, women are not represented in proportion to their numbers, their skills, their talents or their rights.

One third of the members of the European Parliament are women. Look harder, and in four countries – Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg — women make up less than one-quarter of MEPs. In national parliaments, exactly half the 28 country parliaments of the Union are made up of fewer than one-quarter women. The European Commission, meanwhile, has never been led by a woman. Currently just 9 out of the 28 European Commissioners are women — again, barely one-third.

Does this matter? Well, for one thing, it's counterproductive. Any society or group that deprives itself of half the talents and skills available is hurting its own chances of success. It's also not fair. And a society that is unfair — which creates obstacles to the advancement of individuals because of characteristics that are not relevant, such as ethnic origin or gender — is a society that generates either bitterness or disengagement or mistrust.

I am convinced that the current failure of confidence in our institutions of leadership is closely linked to their poor representation of women. Of course you don't absolutely have to be a woman to understand what some people think of as "women's issues". For example, the need to ensure equal pay for equal work. The need that women must have the right to decide what happens to and inside their bodies. The need to put a firm stop to gender violence.  Or the need for women, like every other individual, to be free to take up the opportunities that their talents and skills deserve.

You don't have to be a woman, but it definitely helps. And it helps, too, if you understand that all issues are women's issues — that as half of humanity, women have a right to half the representation, half the space, a half share of the voices raised on every social, economic and political issue.

To resolve the crisis of confidence in Europe's institutions, we need a new model of leadership: one that involves every sector of society — not just one gender, one social class or one region, but everyone. If our societies are to evolve towards greater sustainability, more fairness, stronger growth and increased opportunity and social progress, women must be able to take their rightful place. We need women's voices to be heard and women's talents to be deployed so that we can construct a vision of the future that is believable and which inspires trust.

We at the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society are convinced that the active participation of women creates a movement of optimism and energy in the economy and society of a region. Every kind of data and macro-economic study confirms this. And it's clear to all that Europe could use a shot of optimism and energy. Those forces will be generated by institutions that are more credible because they are more inclusive and fair.

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