Speech by Algimanta Pabedinskienė, Minister of Social Security and Labour, at the European Parliament, Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee

10 July 2013, Last updated at, 09:45 EEST
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Algimanta Pabedinskienė | author: 15min/Scanpix

Members of the European Parliament, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present the priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency in the fields of gender equality and non-discrimination. I am glad, not only for Lithuania, which is taking over the helm of the European Union, but also because I really want to be in the front row, in the most effective and productive way, in contributing to important subjects and providing a strategy for solving existing problems.

This is the first time that Lithuania is holding the Council Presidency. It is an enormous challenge for our country, but also a great opportunity to present Lithuania to Europe. During the next six months, we will focus particularly on constructive negotiations with EU institutions and Member States, aiming for the best possible results of the Presidency.

By recognising this very important role of the European Parliament in today’s decision-making process, representing the interests of 500 million European Union citizens, we will aim at constructive, productive and mutually beneficial cooperation during the Lithuanian Presidency.

I would like to note that during its Presidency, Lithuania will aim to ensure a smooth and continuous legislative process, as a fair and impartial intermediary. We will pursue the aims of the 18-month Trio (Ireland, Lithuania and Greece) Presidency programme. We will aim at progress in all areas of the EU, by prioritising the most important tasks of the moment: further strengthening the obligations undertaken by the EU towards its citizens to overcome economic, financial and social challenges.

I want to mention briefly that the priority of Lithuania’s Presidency is a credible, growing and open Europe. This requires not only stable financial management and the strengthening of global security, but also diverse forms of growth. In order to deepen and integrate the single market, supported by the Europe 2020 strategy, these areas are unthinkable without equal rights and opportunities, non-discrimination, and sustainable social protection for all the population.

Therefore, in my area of expertise, employment, social protection, gender equality and equal opportunities, during Lithuania’s Presidency of the Council, an emphasis will be put on the person in a growing Europe. This will be done by increasing employment opportunities, especially for young people, ensuring adequate protection and workers’ rights, strengthening the social dimension, and ensuring genuine equality and equal opportunities for men and women.

During the Lithuanian Presidency, as regards Lithuania’s priorities in the fields of gender equality and non-discrimination, it is important to note that the equal, comprehensive and effective participation of men and women in all areas, in particular in the field of employment, will contribute to economic growth and prosperity and the objectives of Europe 2020.

Together with our Trio partners, Ireland and Greece, we signed the Trio Declaration on Gender Equality in Dublin on 30 April. By declaring common gender equality priorities and actions, this Declaration is aimed at contributing to our common work as Trio partners, in order to attain economic growth, increase the economic independence of women, and achieve real gender equality. We expect that the very constructive and effective cooperation so far between our Trio partners will have a positive impact on the fulfilment of the tasks and activities defined.

During Lithuania’s Presidency, we will concentrate on equal rights and the preconditions for their more effective implementation. Effective governance and implementation are necessary in order to tackle issues pertaining to equality between men and women, as a horizontal priority in all policy areas, in particular in the area of employment. Also, in order to make sure that men and women progress, it is vital that we make sure that governments and equality bodies are well equipped with human and financial resources. Along with the latter, it is important that the highest possible level of operation is achieved. The mechanisms of institutions of equality for men and women in Lithuania reflects the targets set.

That is why we chose a critical area in the Beijing Platform for Action as an important gender equality strategy document – institutional mechanisms. The effective functioning of institutional mechanisms is a necessary precondition for gender equality to become a reality, not only in legislation but also in everyday life. The European Gender Equality Pact and the strategy for equality between women and men prepared by the European Commission indicate principles of good governance as a necessary precondition to implementing the gender equality priorities set out in these strategic documents. In order to evaluate the progress made, it is essential at a European level to collect reliable and comparative statistics according to pre-defined indicators.

The inclusion of de facto equality between men and women as a horizontal priority in various policy areas requires specific working methods, in particular measurable objectives, coordination, progress monitoring, assessment, and visibility of results. In order to eliminate inequality in all areas, and to attain essential gender equality, the promotion and inclusion of various private and governmental participants is necessary, as well as the inclusion of researchers working in the field of gender equality, and also constructive cooperation and support for women’s organisations. It is also necessary to develop properly easy-to-apply gender mainstreaming instruments, such as, for example, the impact on men and women in decision making and the evaluation of capacity building. We consider that the systemic monitoring measures prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality and presented on 13 June, namely the Gender Equality Index, will assist in assessing the results achieved and the effectiveness of the measures applied.

We are glad to be able during our Presidency to refer to the comparative study which has been prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality on the institutional mechanisms of Member States. Using the indicators highlighted in it of institutional mechanisms, the changes in the institutional mechanisms of the Member States, and the impact of these changes on the effectiveness of institutional gender equality mechanisms, will be established and compared.

Based on this study, Lithuania will prepare Council conclusions reviewing the indicators of institutional mechanisms in order to attain effective gender equality management. These conclusions will also propose common actions for Member States for a more effective actual objective of gender equality. The Council’s conclusions will be presented and approved at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in December this year.

On 13 September this year, we will organise a conference in Vilnius on the subject of the critical area of institutional mechanisms of the Beijing Platform for Action, where we will discuss the changes in Member States, examples of good practice, and the lessons learned, and the effectiveness of methods and instruments, in particular an assessment of the impact on gender. The study prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality will also be presented. The suggestions and recommendations of the conference will be included in the above-mentioned Council’s conclusions. We are grateful that the Chair of the Committee has agreed to participate in and to make a presentation at this conference.

In addition, in order to ensure permanent cooperation between Member States and the European Commission, Lithuania will organise a meeting of the High Level Working Group on Gender Mainstreaming on 11-12 September 2013 in Vilnius.

During its Presidency, Lithuania will place a particular emphasis on the priority dossier: the Directive on gender balance on company boards. Economic decision making is an area that faces an obvious lack of gender balance. Gender balance on the boards of major companies does not exceed 20% in the EU on average, and progress is very slow. Women’s level of education across the EU exceeds that of men’s education, so it is strange that the potential of highly educated women is used so little.

We therefore fully support the ambitious goal to take action at the EU level in order to improve the gender balance in the area of economic decision making. The Directive proposed last November by the European Commission Vice-President Ms Reding on gender balance on the boards of listed companies has been included as an important part of our Presidency agenda. While the ensuing discussions within the Council revealed a group of Member States objecting to this initiative, or, for one reason or another, objecting to different parts of it, all countries agree on the importance of improving gender balance in decision-making processes, including in the economic sphere. So we are pleased that the European Parliament is not alone in promoting gender balance in top economic decision-making positions. Together with especially respecting the differences between Member States, and paying attention to the features of company law, we have already reached a gender representation percentage on company boards, a measure which Member States have already taken or are planning to take, in order to improve the gender balance. At the EPSCO Council meeting in 2013, Ireland presented the progress of its Presidency on this question, and Lithuania has the important and responsible task of finding a common agreement within the Council. We believe that it is possible.

From the very start of the Lithuanian Presidency, we will strive to ensure better legal clarity in the provisions of the Directive within the working group. This initiative, taking into account the features of the national systems, aims to provide adequate space for Member States to choose the appropriate means to achieve the Directive.

Going on to an extremely important subject which affects the lives of many, namely violence against women, I would like to note that we all agree with the need to reduce violence against women. This area has already been dealt with quite extensively in the European Union: the implementation of the Daphne Programme, and the relevant directives adopted in the fight against domestic violence. The particular Directive on Trafficking in Human Beings, the Directive on the European Protection Order, the Directive Establishing Minimum Standards on the Rights, Support and Protection of Victims of Crime. Also last year, calling for the implementation of coordinated policy action at national and all other appropriate levels, and in accordance with a comprehensive approach to address the most important issues in the prevention, protection and support for victims and criminal prosecution of perpetrators, and other issues, the Council adopted conclusions on domestic violence. They also suggested considering a strategy for the struggle against and the prevention of all forms of violence against women, and to consider 2015 the Year of Zero Tolerance for Violence Against Women. Thus, we can see that the Member States are responsible for a lot of areas where we operate, and the European Commission has the right to take the initiative at the European level. Domestic violence has been a latent phenomenon for a long time. It is important to note that domestic violence, recently presented in the Gender Equality Index prepared by the European Institute for Gender Equality, was listed as one of the key areas.

So we hope that together we can achieve a breakthrough in this area. I would like to express my enormous thanks for the important work done by the former Irish Presidency in the field of tackling violence against women. During her presentation at the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, on behalf of the European Union, Ms Kathleen Lynch reflected on the essential challenges faced in this area, and on the contribution made by the European Union to solving this problem. Ireland contributed substantially to the success of the session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We have to build on this contribution. At the same time, we have to support further global efforts to become more resolute in the fight against various forms of violence against women.

Another no less important Directive aimed at implementing the principle of equal treatment of people, regardless of their religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, outside the labour market, has been deliberated in the Council since 2008. The non-discrimination Directive is an important part of our agenda. I would like to emphasise that the issues to be covered by this Directive are very important. The discussions in the Council are difficult, not just because of the complexity of the area, but also due to the fact that Article 19 of the Treaty, which is the basis of the proposal, requires unanimity on the Council. As you know, it is very difficult to search for a compromise. We believe that, despite the fact that the discussions in the Council stalled after each phase of the Presidency, they will undoubtedly go forward, so we are sure that we must continue the discussion and achieve some progress. That is our goal.

Ireland has made considerable progress in the working group in terms of some important aspects of the Directive. Lithuania will continue the work that was initiated by Ireland. We will seek a broader consensus on the definition of discrimination, and on the scope of the Directive. For this purpose, a questionnaire has already been distributed among representatives of Member States, in order to prepare better for the discussions within the working group, and to identify in more detail the doubts and fears raised by Member States with regard to these provisions in the Directive.

I would like to emphasise the importance of the protection of the rights of disabled women. Disabled women often become victims of multi-faceted discrimination, they face a higher risk of social exclusion and poverty. Therefore, it is extremely important to take measures to support disabled women, and to encourage their inclusion in economic and social life, which is particularly relevant in these times of economic crisis. It is also extremely important to ensure the quality of life of disabled mothers, and mothers of disabled children, and to provide opportunities to make use of community services.

At the same time, it is very important to ensure that EU Member States use EU Structural Funds constructively, in order to support people with disabilities, to improve their quality of life, and to guarantee their rights. Of course, first of all, we need to ensure the protection of women, especially disabled women, against violence, and guarantee their right to a decent and safe life.

One more question is the question of the integration of Roma. It is now particularly relevant, as Roma form a considerable part of the EU’s population (about six million). I believe that the effective integration of Roma is important as never before.

Just before the start of the Lithuanian Presidency, together with the report on the assessment of the National Roma Integration Strategies, the European Commission submitted a proposal on the Council’s recommendations for Roma integration. This document includes general recommendations for Member States with regard to the improvement of integration measures in the fields of education, health, employment and housing, in order to improve national Roma integration strategies. The Commission’s approach is very important in improving national Roma integration strategies. It is very important that the document emphasises the issue of the rights of Roma women and children: this issue is extremely sensitive and relevant in improving the situation of Roma in Europe. We have no doubt that we will receive support on this especially important question.

We will pay much attention to this European Commission initiative in our agenda. At the same time as the meeting of EPSCO in December, we will seek acceptance of the offer. I believe that this agreement will contribute significantly to the effective implementation of Roma integration measures in Member States.

Now I would like to briefly mention the truly important Directive on health and safety for pregnant women or women who have just given birth and breastfeeding mothers. First, we are grateful to the Irish for all their efforts to move this important issue forward. It is no secret to anyone that the issue is not simple. So we would like to invite the European Parliament to consider greater flexibility. Of course, we are ready to reach a consensus on an initiative from the parties concerned; but at the moment, all we can do at present is to undertake that if there are any improvements in the position of the Parliament or the Council, we, as the country holding the Presidency, will analyse these suggestions very closely.

I would like to thank you for your attention, and I hope to receive your support during the next six months. This is a very special six months for Lithuania. We believe it will be meaningful for the whole of the European Union.

Mr Chairman, I will now gladly answer questions from members of the Committee, and will wait impatiently for our joint discussions, working together, and the possibilities to achieve the plans that we have outlined.

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