Tired of the founding fathers? Let’s celebrate the women building Europe

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

Margrethe Vestager is only one of many women actively building a value-based Europe at all levels. [European Commission]

Gender equality is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable Europe that has the buy in of its citizens – and this includes women at the heart of all decision-making, write Joanna Maycock and Petros Fassoulas.

Joanna Maycock is secretary-general of the European Women’s Lobby and Petros Fassoulas is secretary-general of European Movement International.

Cracking the glass ceiling is not just about having more women operating within a system, but also about transforming the nature of the systems of decision-making to ensure they are more inclusive, diverse and effective.

Nor is this about promoting women at the expense of ‘better qualified’ men, but about reconsidering what leadership skills and attributes, and what institutions and structures, are needed for transformative leadership in the 21st century.

It is also about promoting a diverse and intersectional leadership that tackles privilege based on gender, age, race, ability and sexual orientation and identity.

With 2016 coming to a close, we now look back at a year in which Europe as we know it has been shaken to its core, its values have been questioned and attacked in an unprecedented way, and its way forward is uncertain.

Women are woefully underrepresented in power and decision-making in Europe. Less than 25% of members of parliaments in Europe and 3% of CEOs in top companies are women. If we look at the judiciary, police, the media and universities the picture is similarly alarming.

The European project itself is a prime example of the over-representation of men. We have witnessed European summit upon European summit, where ashen-faced, middle aged white men in grey suits negotiate through the night, consistently failing to tackle the deep systemic challenges Europe is facing.

This institutional bias towards men, the absence of value-based leadership and the lack of apparent clear, effective, solutions to Europe’s multiple crisis contribute to an environment in which citizens feel increasingly alienated from traditional decision-making institutions.

Issues of equality at large are a major concern for European citizens, and at a time of low citizens’ trust in their political leaders, initiatives that promote greater transparency, and better reflect the makeup of modern European societies will help build a stronger and sustainable Europe.

One path that will help deliver on such endeavours would be the full implementation of Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty to promote both citizens’ participation in the decision-making process and overall transparency.

It is high time to not only recognise, but to make sure that the women of Europe leading the way, cracking the glass ceiling on a daily basis, are celebrated and supported.

This is why the European Movement International and the European Women’s Lobby are launching the Women of Europe Awards – to celebrate the women building Europe – on a grassroots level as well as on a political level.

The nominees for our awards include Catherine Day, the first secretary-general of the European Commission; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris; Adela Ionela Dinu, Romanian women’s rights activist; Esmeralda Romanez, Roma women’s rights activist; Edit Schlaffer, founder of Women Without Borders; and Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition.

These women are outstanding examples of how women at all levels are changing Europe and challenging the status quo, and the winners among them will be announced during a ceremony on 1 December.

Repeatedly we hear that there is no longer time and space for business-as-usual in Europe – that we all need to change our modus operandi to continue building a Europe based on values of human rights and equality.

The Women of Europe Awards show that this is already being done by creative and dynamic women who are actively building a value-based Europe at all levels. Their work is shaping the diverse and transformative leadership that Europe so desperately needs.

EURACTIV is a media partner of the Women of Europe Awards.

Subscribe to our newsletters