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Supporting Democracy: Women in Leadership, Equality and Empowerment in Europe

by Stephen Kennedy

Dublin, 21 March 2022: In the first iteration of this three-part event series for 2022 organised by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and European Movement Ireland, the importance of gender equality in supporting democracy in Europe was examined.

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The event was introduced by Katie O’Connor, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung UK and Ireland and moderated by Noelle O Connell, CEO, European Movement Ireland. Following International Women’s Day, the event analysed the role of women in multilateralism and geopolitics, and through Irish, German and EU perspectives, discussed how gender equality can advance the functioning of democratic norms in Europe.

Frances Fitzgerald MEP, Vice-President of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Former Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) of Ireland began her opening remarks by highlighting that gender equality and democracy are inextricably linked, that there are areas which have improved, but also other areas for were more focus is needed. Referring to the tragedy in Ukraine where women and children are fleeing their country, Ms Fitzgerald stated that there is a very real discussion relating to military intervention. Similarly, in places such as Ethiopia, Yemen, and Belarus, we see circumstances where it is worst to be a woman, while there is also a lot of unfinished business to do even in places where it is the best place to be a woman. The task of finding peaceful solutions is also at the top of the agenda, but for this to take place we need to see women working at the top of international institutions. Ms Fitzgerald also stressed that the core of gender equality needs to hit home. Backing up this statement, she noted the economic benefits of gender equality, in addition to the economic costs of not bringing this discussion forward. On disinformation and fake news, she believes that we have completely underestimated this, have provided a lack of resources, and that it has been hard to imagine the impact of this problem on all our democracies. Democracy is under severe threat all over the world, and Ms Fitzgerald ended by stating that both Ireland and EU have an absolute responsibility to continue advocating for fundamental rights.

Our second speaker, Annette Widmann-Mauz MdB, Federal Chairwoman of the CDU’s Women’s Union, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, and Former Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor noted that it is important to remember the long and rocky journey towards women’s rights. Right now, Ukrainian women only have one choice, to stay within their country full of pride and resistance, or to leave their homes along with their parents and children in the hope of safety. Ms Widmann-Mauz also noted that Russia’s recent actions are a threat to the free world. However, she stated that women are a driving force for peaceful solutions, while including female perspectives in participation, shifts dynamics, broadens the issues discussed and strengthens such processes. However, Ms Widmann-Mauz stated that we have not yet reached an adequate or equal representation – either within political parties, parliaments, and ministries. To bring a real change, it is up to us to create favourable institutional frameworks using best practice models under gender parity. She also referred to the way the pandemic and cyberviolence have affected women’s experiences of hate speech and intimidation, stating that we must strengthen networks on a European level to protect women with the proper rights.

The final speaker, Eva Maydell MEP, President of European Movement International began by stating that no woman is equal until every woman is equal – noting women’s subjection to sexual violence and the future of women in the aftermath of war. Despite many setbacks, over the last number of decades, international organisations have fostered empowerment and opportunities for women. However, she noted that the value of women in multilateralism brings a particular perspective, different ways of thinking, and alternative methods of communication. Ms Maydell also focused on five to six key areas where she believed more could be done, including investment in programs which support electoral reform and good governance, providing targets for women in politics and business, empowering women through training and access to financing, an international priority which ends violence against women, addressing pay inequality through accountability, and the fostering of digital tools which helps transform the workplace with investment in skills and training.

Following the discussion, questions were posed which asked about the long-term consequences on women’s participation stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. Frances Fitzgerald spoke of the recognition of the impact that Covid-19 has had, adding that the recovery will not be worth fighting for if the building back process is unequal. General sentiment has been that Covid-19 has detrimentally impacted equality. Annette Widmann-Mauz noted that most of the familial obligations during the Covid pandemic fell on women, while they were also the first to leave their working places due to the types of their employment. She also focused on other areas where women worked, particularly in the area of exploitation, adding that we must produce regulation which stops this.

Another question referred to gender-based violence and asked whether our speakers thought that more can be done in this area. Frances Fitzgerald noted that given the scale of the problem, more can always and must be done. This includes working more with men and sees a change in Ireland where this has become a whole of society issue. Annette Widmann-Mauz added that we must count these instances and make it transparent to how this affects our society. She also stated that this requires a partnership which works together with men.

Another question referred to training and asked whether there was a pan-European training body which can offer age-appropriate content. Frances Fitzgerald noted that there is a mass of data, but that no one model may not transfer easily to other countries. Therefore, national education systems have a significant role to play here. Annette Widmann-Mauz added that training must be in the context of certain countries, noting that our self-consciousness must be strengthened and that we must integrate our programs.


You can watch a recording of the event here 

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Katie O'Connor


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