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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
100th Anniversary of International Women's Day
EP Plenary Session, Strasbourg 8 March
This is real gender equality in action: two men – the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission – and two women – the Chair of the FEMJM Committee and the Vice-President of the European Commission – mark together the 100th anniversary of International Women's day.
We heard how much has been achieved over the past 100 years: From workers’ rights to female astronauts – International Women’s Day has marked a century of economic, social, political and cultural achievements of women around the world.
But this is no reason to rest on our laurels. And we are not.
The first area where we still need progress concerns the Gender Pay Gap. The pay gap between women and men remains persistently wide: on average and across the whole economy, women in the EU earn 17.6% less per hour than men.
That is why this year we introduced a European Equal Pay Day, so that we may, each year, visualise the extra number of hours and days that women must work to match the amount of money earned by men.
This year the first European Equal Pay day was on the 5th of March – women had to work 64 days more in 2011 to earn what men earned in 2010. This day will be set each year on the date corresponding to those extra days that a woman needs to work more.
Together with Member States and social partners, we will seek to significantly reduce the gender pay gap in the EU, so that one day the Equal Pay Day will be on 1 January or even better, that we will no longer need an Equal Pay Day to mark the differences in earnings between men and women!
The second area where I want to achieve progress concerns Women in economic Decision Making Positions.
Today just one in 10 board members at Europe's biggest companies are women and in 97% of cases the board is chaired by a man.
At the same time, studies (from McKinsey, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Evershed..) show that businesses with more women at the top outperform “men only” companies.
Gender is a business issue, not purely a "women's" issue. Women mean business!
I met chief executives and chairs of boards of publicly listed companies in Brussels on the 1st March to discuss the under-representation of women on corporate boards. I challenged all publicly listed companies in Europe to sign up to the "Women on the Board Pledge for Europe" – which is public on my website – by March 2012.
I asked them for a voluntary commitment to increase women's participation on corporate boards to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020. In the pledge, I ask companies to actively recruit qualified women to replace outgoing male board members, and to implement concrete measures to achieve these targets.
I was very pleased to see the way the Parliament reacted today: there was widespread applause in support of this way forward.
In one year's time, on 8 March – International Women's Day 2012 – I will take stock and monitor the progress achieved. If self-regulation fails, I am prepared to take action at EU level to help achieve a breakthrough and get more women into top jobs.
I very much hope that we will not need to mark the 150th or 200th anniversary of International Women's Day, because we will have solved all problems and we will have achieved full equality in all areas by then.
Although it is a more than necessary reminder, it is clear that one symbolic day per year cannot bring about more rights and equality for women. I think that having 365 days of concrete action by committed women and men, in politics, civil society and business will in the end really make a difference and bring progress in the everyday lives of women in Europe and around the world.
I very much liked what the EP President said, "women are there for action". But they also need men to help them, which is why I'm very pleased that two men, Mr. Barroso and Mr. Buzek, are here with us today.