Sun. Sep 19th, 2021

President Sassoli,

Prime Minister Ardern, dear Jacinda,

Vice-President Harris,

Honourable Members,

My fellow European women,

Let us have a look at what women have endured in 12 months of pandemic: the female doctors and nurses, working double shifts for entire weeks and months. The women entrepreneurs, who have fought back, reinvented their business and pulled out all the stops to save their employees.The mothers of lockdown children, who have had to learn the toughest and the most amazing job in the world with no support from the outside world.

Look at Vice-President Kamala Harris, look at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and what they have done for their countries. Look at their grace, professionalism, compassion, and resolve. Look at all these amazing women in our families and communities and think again: This day is for them. For the women on the frontline and the women in the back office, to the businesswomen and the volunteers, to the mothers, to the daughters, to the unsung heroes of this pandemic: This is your day and this is my ‘thank you’ to all of you.

On Women’s Day, I want all European women to know that Europe is at their side. I am on your side. I want Europe to finally become a continent of equal opportunities for men and women. And I know we are not there yet. I know that the playing field is not level yet. I know from experience that women have to work twice as hard to get the same salary, the same recognition or the same leadership position as their male colleagues. I know the obstacles and the prejudices.

Therefore, I am proud that last week, the Commission presented two proposals to address two of the great injustices that women still face: the gender pay gap and the gender employment gap. Women in Europe are paid, on average, 14% less than men. This is simply not right.

So we are proposing a European Directive for Pay Transparency. It is built on two simple principles: Equal work deserves equal pay and for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.

And there is more to do. Too many women in Europe lack a very fundamental opportunity. The opportunity to work, and to earn a living. Today, the employment rate for women is 67%, while that of men is 78%. This is simply not acceptable. So last week, we have set a new target for Europe: We must cut the gender employment gap in half. And by the end of this decade 78% of all must have a job. It will not be easy. But I can promise that we will do all in our power to work towards this goal.

We will strengthen childcare. Because no woman or man should have to choose between being a mother or father or having a career. We will strengthen elderly care. We will invest in quality education for girls and women. We will push for more women in leadership positions, in public and private bodies, across all economic sectors. And we have required that all Member States put women at the centre of their recovery plans. It will only be a true recovery if these plans are for all.

Honourable Members,

Let me quote Vice-President Harris and adapt her words to Europe: We must show every child in Europe that there are no limits to who can lead and hold positions of power in our Union – regardless of colour or gender. Vice-President Harris and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, we are in this together indeed. Equality is enshrined in the European Treaties since 1957. It has been a long road, and we will keep walking.

We have to remove the obstacles on the path towards equality. We have to strive for equal opportunities. It is no rocket science; the necessary tools are well-know and proven. We just have to implement them and do it!

Long live Europe, and happy Women’s Day.

Source: Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the International Women’s Day Celebration