This year's Women's Day on 8 March finds not just Europe, but the whole international community, at a critical economic and political juncture with violations of women's rights on the rise. In various parts of the world where there are conflicts, migration and displacement, and wherever the effects of poverty and climate change are at their most severe, women and children are among the groups most vulnerable to discrimination and violence.
Europe remains a pioneer in issues of gender equality, something we should be proud of. Sixty years ago, gender equality was enshrined in the Treaty of Rome as one of the EU's fundamental values. However, the significant progress made is not consistent. For instance, despite the women's employment being at a historic high, unemployment among women remains significant, especially in southern Europe. In all the EU countries women earn on average 40% less than men, while the disparity in pensions is unchanged at 38%. At this rate, it will unfortunately take another century for income disparities between men and women to be eliminated. Women also continue to face a "glass ceiling" blocking their access to managerial and leadership positions, and they are still under-represented in politics.
Thus much still needs to be done within and outside of Europe. The EESC will persist with its efforts to protect women's rights, also in the workplace, to eradicate all forms of inequality, to combat misogyny and all forms of violence against women, and to widen equal opportunities and improve family benefits, demonstrating that women are equal to men in every sphere.
At a time when intolerance and extreme ideologies, including anti-feminist views, are spreading within and outside the EU, I lend my full support to the women's cause and urge men to join forces with them in their fight for equal treatment. The message from Europe is clear and simple, and I repeat it now: gender equality is not an empty phrase, it is a fundamental right.