WHAT WAS THE HOT TOPIC OF THIS YEAR’S #IWD2021? A RUN-DOWN

Photographer: Etienne Ansotte Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

By Lena Tomalik, Ingeborg Bennink and Yves Lacroix

Last Monday marked this year’s international women’s day – a good opportunity for groups in the European Parliament to show where they stand on gender equality and women’s rights. And because we can imagine you don’t want to spend a full evening researching all the different groups, going through their Twitter accounts, reading their press releases and clicking on every link they’ve posted, we did so for you. 

European People’s Party

Let’s start with the European People’s Party (EPP). The EPP mainly consists of centre-right Christian Democrats and is, with 175 seats, the largest group of MEPs in the European Parliament. Let’s have a look:

The EPP has been more actively tweeting about women’s rights since February. In a position paper, published in December 2020 but shared again on 8 February, the EPP reiterated that equality is a core value of the group. ‘The EPP Group in the European Parliament seeks to ensure that every woman has the opportunity to lead an ambitious and fulfilling life’ it says. The rest of the paper goes into several things like addressing violence against women, building an inclusive economy, across sectoral approach to women’s rights and health. 

Closer to international women’s day, on 4 March, the EPP shared a press release on the subject of the gender pay gap. In the press release, the group welcomes newly proposed EU rules to increase gender pay transparency. ‘Women currently earn 14.1 per cent less than men across the EU on average. While that represents a decrease in recent years, we still have a long way to go. The EPP Group stands for equal pay for equal work and improved gender equality, which would have clear, quantifiable benefits for our economies and societies’. Under the proposal, employers of over 250 people would be required to make information on any pay gap between male and female workers publically available for all. 

Women’s day itself was celebrated by the EPP with a series of posts linking to the personal stories of several female MEPs on which women inspired them in their younger years. MEP Lena Düpont from Germany writes about Ewa Klamt: “Her way of acting in politics and dealing with political matters inspires me. I not only admire her for her work and what she achieved, but also the way she acted in negotiations and dealt with the people around her. This was a true inspiration for me.” Polish MEP Elżbieta Łukacijewska is inspired by someone less political: ‘I am inspired by my mother-in-law. Despite her being 84 years of age, having overcome many diseases and caring for her disabled only daughter, she has energy, a smile and always a positive word for other people.’

Also, the EPP published a video of their #EPPFamilyTalks series on the topic of International Women’s Day with MEP Esther de Lange. 

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats

The Socialists and Democrats group (S&D), with 147 seats, took this year’s #IWD2021 as an opportunity to highlight the effect of the current pandemic on gender inequality. In a two-day conference starting on 4 March and titled ‘Covid-19: Overcoming new Challenges to Gender Equality’, the rights and future role of women were discussed. With respect to the pandemic, S&D Group president, Iratxe García Pérez, said: “The crisis has only worsened the situation of women with precarious, low-wage or part-time jobs. The experience of previous crises shows that it is much more difficult to rebuild female than male employment. Gender-based violence has also increased because women have been forced to stay with their abusers during the lockdown, and the pandemic has also restricted the access of victims to support services.” She declared it the group’s goal to make sure the member states’ recovery plans all included a gender perspective to improve equality in the field. 

On Twitter, the group also highlighted some key speakers from the conference. For instance, Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, stressed the key role women have played at the frontlines of the pandemic and presented the Women on Boards Directive, which will aim to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions. MEP Maria Manuel Leitão Marques pointed to the importance of education for ensuring greater representation of women in the ICT sector in light of the growing digital economy. 

The S&D spared no expense and efforts for this year’s campaign. For the occasion, they also published a youtube video with S&D Group president Iratxe García Pérez and other female S&D MEPs delivering three key messages: zero tolerance for violence against women, the need to increase women’s participation in the labour market, and ending the gender pay gap. 

The most innovative idea of the group to celebrate #IWD2021, however, can be found on Spotify. S&D made its debut on there by releasing a playlist dedicated “To all women of Europe”. It features classics like Alicia Keys’ ‘Superwoman’, John Lennon’s ‘Woman’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’, which talks about sexism in the workplace. Of course, it also features a wide variety of non-English songs to ensure equal representation on this important day for equality.

Renew Europe

Renew Europe’s mission is what it says on the cover – to actually renew Europe. With 98 seats, it is a pro-EU group that mainly consists of liberal democrats. Taking into account its ambitious name, it makes sense that former Romanian Prime Minister and current president of the political group, Dacian Ciolos, systematically calls for change on his Twitter account. Renew Europe follows the political trend to tweet about social rights and, indeed, also echoes the pledge for equal values between men and women. 

Renew Europe seized the opportunity of international women’s day to refer to gender equality and the abolishment of gender biases and stereotypes. The political group and its president welcomed the speech of Kamala Harris and Jacinda Ardern during the EP’s plenary session on the same day and, particularly, expressed their happiness with the referral to Simone Veil. The reason behind this enthusiasm is the Simone Veil Pact, Renew Europe’s flagship political agreement to adopt the most progressive national measures in force in the field of women’s rights and gender equality in the EU. This plan was announced in January 2020.

Samira Rafaela, MEP and Renew Europe’s coordinator of the FEMM Committee, might be considered as the face of women’s rights for Renew Europe. In the first months of 2021, she actively promoted the Commission’s proposal on “Strengthening the principle of equal pay for equal work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency”. Members of the group furthermore applauded the Women & Girls in Science Day (11 February) and the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as the first woman to become the Director-General for the World Trade Organization (WTO). In February, the group also dedicated three tweets to the Polish abortion ban, which according to MEP Abir Al-Sahlani should be removed immediately as “we can’t tolerate Poland being allowed to circumvent women’s fundamental rights”.

Identity and Democracy

The eurosceptic, far-right Identity and Democracy group in the EPP, with 76 seats, seems to spend a minimal amount of attention on international women’s day. 

On both their party page and European Parliament group page no press releases on the topic could be found on the day itself nor in the days running up to 8 March. Followers have had to do with a quick shoutout on their Twitter and Facebook accounts: ‘Today we celebrate all women and their political, social, cultural and other achievements!’ 

Greens-European Free Alliance

It is safe to say that the Greens/EFA, with 67 seats, are actively working on the topic of gender equality, and even with a fresh and inclusive strategy. In the first week of March alone, we counted over 20 tweets and retweets from an impressive range of individuals such as EU politicians (The European Parliament and the European Commission) and national activists. But why, you may ask? The answer lies in the Tilt Campaign, founded by the Greens. Tilt is a citizens movement that focuses on pressing issues such as gender equality and climate change. With the #NoMoreEmptyWords campaign, Tilt calls upon the European Commission to work on a directive on gender-based violence. The campaign underlines that COVID-19 is a catalysator for gender-based violence and psychological and sexual violence and that major changes should take place soon.

Greens/EFA’s communication team asked its female audience what they would do if there was no continuous threat. Alexandra Geese, MEP for the Greens, has one clear answer to that: “In a world free from violence, I would go for a run in the park after sunset”. According to Irena Moozova, Director for Equality and Union Citizenship at the European Commission, progress has been made already. On 4 March, she posted the following hopeful words: “No empty words but preparations for a proposal are underway in @EU_Justice!

European Conservatives and Reformists

The European Conservatives and Reformists don’t seem to pay much attention to international women’s day. 

No press release has been published on either their party or group website, and followers were only given a short message on each social media channel. ‘Happy International Women’s Day from the ECR Group!’ There’s room for improvement, to say the least.

European United Left-Nordic Green Left

The European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) is the smallest group of the European Parliament with 40 seats. The group has a mild eurosceptic tendency and consists of mainly left-wing to far-left politicians. 

GUE/NGL started its women’s day campaign early. On 4 March, the group organised their annual Feminist Forum to celebrate and shed light on women on the frontlines fighting the pandemic. ‘The theme of the Forum this year is to highlight the critical role played by women workers across the world, many of whom have selflessly kept our society going by putting their lives at risk in often precarious employment.” In addition, the forum touched upon the topic of far-right governments in the EU using the pandemic to erode women’s fundamental rights. 

On women’s day itself, the group renewed their commitment to the fight for gender equality and women’s rights in a press release. “Women make up the majority in the sectors that have carried us through the past year yet many of these remain the worst paid, most precarious, and undervalued professions’ the group states. ‘It is, therefore, more important than ever to redouble efforts against sexual harassment – both online and offline – and the shocking increase in violence against women, at home and on the streets.”

In addition to posts on its social media channels, the group also published a youtube video on sisterhood and feminism. 

In short

Most parties made an effort to show their stance on women’s rights on 8 March, producing videos, press releases and even organising their own events and campaigns to shed light on the many persisting inequalities and propose ways forward. Some, however, were less enthusiastic. ID’s and the ECR’s efforts seemed a little weak, with quickly produced social media posts that might be born more out of a feeling of peer pressure than genuine concerns for the issues. 

A focus of this year’s #IWD2021 was the role of women during the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative effects on gender equality. While women have proven crucial, working key jobs on the frontlines, they are at the same time pushed back into old gender roles, doing unpaid domestic work and child care, and are also subject to increased domestic abuse because of lockdowns and less time to spend outside the home. 

With International Women’s Day racing by in the blink of an eye and social media campaigns slowly dying down, we are left to wonder whether the groups will put their words into actual practice. We will keep you up to date as soon as the topic catches our eyes.