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Europe and Equal Opportunities Go Hand in Hand

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Interview with Marina Calloni, rapporteur of Enwise Expert Group, a group of experts on equal opportunities working for the European Commission.

Matters of gender have now become a priority for national politics just as for European politics. Consequently, ‘Gendering Europeanization’, or the need to introduce a gender prospective in the present course of European integration, is being discussed. To find out more we interviewed Marina Calloni, Professor at the State University of Milano-Bicocca, Director of the International Network for Research on Gender and rapporteur for Enwise Expert Group, backed by the European Commission (cfr link).

In the light of various phenomena of feminism and post-feminism, what is ‘equal opportunities’ mean today?

The concept of equal opportunities is based on the principle of denied equality. The crucial question then becomes how to determine the meaning of equality: it can certainly not mean an identical form of equality, but rather the means for differences to coexist without becoming sources of discrimination or violence. The political use of equal opportunities reveals itself through different forms of public intervention. For example, when individuals or social groups are in disadvantageous situations, positive actions can be put into practice to create ‘equality’.

You recently contributed to an interesting book with the intriguing title ‘Gendering Europeanization’ (1). What is it about?

The book was edited by Ulrike Liebert from the University of Bremer. It is a collection of essays concerning different European countries which analyse if and how European politics have influenced the politics of Member States regarding equal opportunities. Gendering Europeanization means that the process of constructing European identity and citizenship cannot be dissociated from equal opportunities.

How has European politics approached this? How has this influenced national legislation?

The decisions made by the European Union have certainly induced some homogenisation legislation in the Member States. So, the problem is putting these laws into practice. European directives have mainly concentrated on the equity of treatment within the workplace, beginning with ‘equal pay for equal work’, up until Nice Treaty in 2000, which states that among the constitutive directives of the European Union, all citizens in the European Union must be guaranteed equality (2). Already in 1975 the European Community had approved a series of directives (3), ratified by the parliaments of the single states. Laws then became emanated concerning the need to promote the position of women in the workplace, to guarantee fair pay, social security, feminine entrepreneurs, working conditions for pregnant women and puerperal. There are also laws to assess cases of sexual discrimination, to regulate parental leave and to make it easier to train women and reinsert them into the workplace after having given up work for their families.

How have European directives influenced the actual lives of women?

In the case of Italy for example, the change from national legislation to European legislation has changed the vision of a woman-mother-worker needing protection, to a less paternalistic attitude. This recognises the dignity of women as an autonomous and active subject, pointing to the interactive considerations of dynamics of gender, on parental leave, on sharing obligations and rights, and putting the child at the centre as the one with family rights, whatever the situation of the parents. The question of gender now seems to have become an inevitable part of the Europeanization process, on the level of cultural research and identity as well, such as in the Sixth Framework Programme, which is the budget the European commission puts aside every three years for research. All projects are subjected to an ‘ethical’ and ‘gender based’ revision, which means that if the proponents do not address such problems, the projects will not be approved.

Having a quick look at the panorama of Europe which country is best for women?

It’s difficult to say because the recession has hit all countries. However, it cannot be denied that the model of reference is the Nordic countries. They are less family-orientated and based more on the principles of individual liberty, where the right of citizenship has been known to women since the beginning of the twentieth century. In these countries women consider themselves as an integrated part of the structuring of the social state. Institutional politics are not refused to women, as in most Mediterranean countries (4). In the North of Europe there are organisations that allow women to work in politics and have careers. This is evident when you consider that even without the quota, women make up 43% of the Swedish Parliament. Yet, most feminists in Northern countries are Eurosceptics, because they fear that with the acceptance of the ‘equalising’ norms of the European Union they may loose the advantages and social tutelage they have enjoyed up until now.

On the other hand, what is the situation of women in the new Member States?

Everything is still in ‘transition’ in the Eastern States. There is great anticipation, however, on what is going to happen, either concerning the discrimination that was brought about after the fall of the Communist regime or female unemployment. Such problems also concern the situation of scientists. These problems will be covered in the Enwise report in March by the European Commission, of which I am the rapporteur. I invite you to consult it.

(1) Liebert, Gendering Europeanization, Peter Lang, Brussels, 2003

(2) Concerning articles: 2, 3, 13c, 141

(3) For those interested, it concerns directives: 75/117/CEE; 76/207/CEE; 79/7/CEE; 86/378/CEE; 86/613/CEE; 92/85/CEE; 96/34/CE; 97/81/CE; 97/80/CE.

(4) The participation of women in European parliament: Sweden: 42.7%, Denmark: 37.4%, Finland: 36.5%, The Netherlands: 36%, Germany: 30.9%, Spain: 28.3%, Austria: 26.8%, Belgium: 23.3%, Portugal: 18.7%, The United Kingdom: 18.4%, Luxemburg: 16.7%, Ireland: 12%, Italy: 11.1%, France: 10.9%, Greece: 9.2%

Translated from “Europa e pari opportunità vanno di pari passo”