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“Rights conquered aren’t rights for life. We will have to work every day to guarantee them”

By Paula

Foces (European Political and Governance Studies - Manuel Marín Promotion)

In March 2017, an interesting exchange of opinions took place at the European Parliament. “Women have to earn less (than men) because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent. They must earn less. That’s all.” affirmed Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a non-attached MEP from Poland.

“Now, I think I need to defend European women from people like you”, answered Iratxe García Pérez resolutely. She is a Spanish MEP from S&D, born in Baracaldo in 1974, and Coordinator and spokesperson of the EP Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, FEMM. A few days ago, she kindly welcomed La Voix du Collège in her bureau for this interview.

Two years after that harsh statement, has any progress been made within the defence and fight for gender equality?

I do hope some progress has taken place. As far as the fight for equality is concerned, we are talking about policies in the short, medium and long term. And the biggest and effective advances are those taking place in the long term: raising awareness, educating, changing mentalities. I do believe we are moving forward because, nowadays, I see there is a greater sensitivity regarding gender issues. Two years ago, we talked a lot about the statement made by Korwin-Mikke. A year ago, almost one million of women marched in the Spanish streets to claim respect for their rights. To me this represents a sign of hope, which shows that society is moving forward. We’re talking about it. Women are becoming aware that the rights already achieved might not be guaranteed forever. Therefore, we have to work daily to ensure them and their respect.

The problem is that, as I see it, an involution in other aspects is taking place. During the last plenary session in Strasbourg we raised again the issue: populist movements in Europe directly attack one of the core principles of the Union, which is equality. Examples as the Polish reform to reduce the right of abortion, the elimination of course related to gender equality at Universities in Hungary, or new political parties in Spain proposing to repeal the law against gender violence. I believe this is a worrying symptom of involution with regard to this matter.

Regarding this twofold phenomenon of evolution and involution, do you think that we, daughters, will have less rights that our mothers?

This is what is worrying me the most. The risk exists and, I guess, somehow it could happen. And that is precisely the reason why we need to make all citizens understand: not only women, but also men, boys, girls, children, all of them. We need to emphasize that, as I mentioned before, the rights already conquered aren’t ensured for one’s whole life. We have to work every day to guarantee them. And so, if that makes for a greater social consciousness, let’s take advantage of it – let us seize the moment. I really hope that this 8th of March will be a day for an equal or increased presence on the streets than last year.

Given the success of 8th of March 2018 general strike in Spain, previsions talk it may spread to other countries. Here in the European Parliament, will the MEP’s strike?

I’ll strike. Of course I will. Last year I striked and this year I’m campaigning actively to strike. In the Parliament, events related to Women’s Day will take place already the day before (7th of March), as the 8th itself most of us want or need to be in their countries. Personally, I want to be present on the streets and join the march.

All the claims being made need a strategy behind to turn them into reality. How is the EP working on it?

Here in the EP we have the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, which is composed by many different ideological points of view. But we have in common a very combative character! We bring to the table and to the public opinion fundamental debates: gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, gender violence, female genital mutilation or women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Moreover, within the EP we have a platform called “All of us”. Formed by some politic groups (S&D, ALDE, GUE and the Greens), it is a way of collaboration and cooperation among us related to the aforementioned issues.

Doesn’t the EPP group take part in “All of us”?

No, they are not part of the team. In fact, we have raised in several reports the need for a European Directive against gender violence, but there is one part within the EPP that is against this idea.

Figures speak for themselves: in 2018, only a 36,1% of MEP were women. It is almost twenty years since a woman was President of the EP, the unique cases being Simone Veil (1979-1982) and Nicole Fontain (1999-2002). Of the 14 vice-presidents, only 5 are women. Only in Parliament Committees, the 50-50 ratio is achieved. Is there a glass ceiling in the house?

Without any doubt. The glass ceiling exists in society and, as it exists in society, it is reproduced in all sphere and at all levels: in the political sphere, in the media and communications, in companies. In every single area. I always say this Parliament is not an island separated from the world.

Isn’t it a bubble?

No, we are not. Realities taking place are also reproduced within the EP and we need to struggle against them. The glass ceiling is evident. Thanks to feminist movements and thanks to the institutions, progressively more women participate in the political sphere. Nevertheless, there is a glass ceiling that we must break and, from my point of view, this will be done by legislating. I’m in favour of positive discrimination. When people argue “this person is worth for this position” I refuse to believe that: in many areas, such as a board of directors, there are no women because no woman is worth enough to be there. This is not true. There are capable women to assume those posts!

Why do women need to be constantly proving we are good at this or at that? Have men to show every day if they are worth? Well, why am I, as a woman, daily tested for being capable to be where I am? That greatly disturbs me. Moreover, when a woman is pregnant, the questions which pop up are always “What is she going to do?” or “How is she going to organize her life?”, which are both linked to the assumption that she will have to choose between her professional or her personal life. Whereas, when a man is becoming a father, we congratulate him without any questioning. This is an issue of balance between work and private life and time management. In politics, most of the times decisions are taken in dinners after the formal meeting. That’s when women are reconciling.

Definitely, we live in an unequal society which subordinates women. A lot of issues need to be addressed and there is still a lot of work to do. We are on our way.

Also, workers in the Parliament have raised the problem of sexual harassment through the blog #MeTooEP .

Yes, as I told you before, we are not on an island and, unfortunately, those behaviours also take place here. The main difference is that we are representing the citizens and therefore we need to serve as an example to them. If we don’t set an example respecting women, what are we going to expect others to do? That is fundamental to me.

Do you consider yourself as a reference for other women interested in European affairs?

The most rewarding part of my job is when a woman comes to me and tells me she is proud of me and of the work I’m doing every day. Imaging that my career in politics could serve as an example, that it could motivate other women, men and anyone, and that it could help them realize they can get whatever they want to achieve, is just amazing.

I would tell young people as you and your colleagues from Bruges and Natolin to act with passion and motivation. In the end, the effort is worth it. You should make the most of every single situation and grasp the moment. Do it. Of course, be reasonable but overcome your fears, make them go away. Never stop doing something that in the future you may regret not having done. It may be right or wrong, but at least you will have tried. When I came to Brussels I didn’t know what I was doing here and, afterwards, time has proved I did right.

Bonus track: what would you like to be when you grow up?

(Laughing) When I grow up? I would love to be an elderly woman enjoying friends and family but at the same time keep doing things. Being active. Anyone who has interests needs to keep them alive.



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