Brussels, 7 March 2019
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Thank you very much.
I am very glad for this opportunity you give me and thank you for the chance you give me to close your work today.
I think it is important to look at figures, I imagine you might have gone through some of them during the course of the day. Let me begin with something I have experienced personally – like many of you, I believe.
I think we have all met young women and girls from different ages asking – not just for a selfie – but for advice on how to survive sometimes in certain environments, and how to engage in politics, in institutions, in the economy, in society.
I think there is a reason why they ask us, women, and maybe they ask it less to a man. This is for the basic reason that we look the same, that it is easy to identify in a "role model" that looks like you. They know that if we manage to make it to this point, be it in politics, be it in economy, be it in universities, in journalism they can also make it. I think that together with the advice they are asking for a confirmation that they can make it, and that this is possible.
I think we have all experienced this at some point in our lives. We have all had our role models. My personal one has probably been Madeleine Albright [former US Secretary of State of the United States] who I met when I just started as a Foreign Minister [of Italy] and she told me an anecdote I can share with you. She told me: "Being the first Madame Secretary in the United States, after a couple of monthssomeone told me I was gaining weight, and I answered no, that it is not weight, it is my skin that is getting thicker."
I loved it because I felt exactly the same. Sometimes we also need to share feelings andexperiences, and this also serves as an encouragement, seeing that it is not against you. It is simply difficult but you can make it and it is difficult for everybody. By the way, sometimes I believe it is difficult for men as well but for us it is always a little bit more difficult than for others.
I think that it is empowering for women,and young women in particular, to see women in power but I think that it is also about democracy because one of the reasons, I believe, people are getting a bit disillusioned about institutions and democracy is because you need to identify yourself in those that have responsibilities on this additional level.
If you only see sixty, seventy years old white men in ties and the society does not look that way, you might feel a certain distance that might translate into a lack of trust, or a lack of confidence or a lack of identification. I believe we are serving not only girls' dreams, not only equality, not only the potential of society expressed at full. I think we are also serving democracy and the democratic institutional life if we empower women in institutions. I think we do have a responsibility there.
Let me share with you one piece of positive news. I was last week in Lebanon and I met there an incredible woman, the first ever Minister of Interior [Raya al-Hassan] in the Arab world. These are good stories that need to be told, I believe, because she is not there because she is a woman. She is there because she would be an excellent Interior Minister, I believe, she had been Minister before, she has the competencies for that. But the news is that the first ever Interior Minister in the Arab world is there. I think this has an impact, this has a power and I think we have in the European Union the responsibility to support these stories so that they sustain the positive moment that brought them there and they managed to deliver.
We all know that for every woman that is sitting in a ministerial and parliamentary position, she has probably had to work three, four, ten, twenty times harder than a colleague about whom very little people ask if he really is qualified for that position. This is a question that every woman has always have to hear.
In spite of many inspiring stories like this one, the numbers still look quite sad to me. All around the world, only eleven women are serving as Head of State and ten as Head of Government, and women-led companies make up only 4% of Fortune 500 companies. If you look at universities for instance or in journalism, we all know very well that it is not only politics and institutions that have numbers that are sad. It is the society as a whole that is not bringing women up and forward.
Let me share with you that I am particularly concerned because I see that recently we are seeing a backlash on things that we consider at least in Europe as self-evident, be it on violence, be it on the cultural message that is passed. I see that in more and more countries, including in Europe but in general terms around the world, people are starting to consider normal to say things or to do things that were not anymore considered normal in the last ten, twenty years.
I think we should be aware of this without losing hope, without losing the positive spirit but I think we have to defend what has been achieved in the last decades. Let me say something that I believe men in particular have to defend these achievements, and I am glad to see men in this room and to sit next to one, because I am convinced that the fight for women's rights, for equal opportunities and for equal societies is not a fight that just women should take on. But it is a fight that is much more effective when men are fighting for them together with women because it is not a matter of protecting one category, it is a matter of improving the quality of our society. It is the responsibility of policymakers.
I am glad for instance that the European Parliament has backed the Commission proposal to introduce something that is very basic but I think can be revolutionary: a 10 day paternity leave across the European Union. I am personally convinced as a mother and as a politician that we should introduce equal compulsory parental leave for men and for women, exactly the same duration, and the same pay.
Because this would be the only way, first of all to tell companies that if you have a man or a woman working for you it is exactly the same if they are going to have children. This would bring down the element of discrimination in employment of women substantially, and as a mother I can say, that it is also the way to raise a child together equally, because you learn together in the very first days how to deal with something you do not necessarily know how to handle in the very beginning.
If you do that together, men and women equally, then children would not anymore be the mothers' thing. It would be the couple’s thing and the responsibility would be fully shared. I hope that this can be a first step towards achieving full equality for men as parents, as fathers, having full parental leave paid and compulsory as it is already happening in some European countries like in Sweden. It is not a utopia.
Let me move quickly to another point that is what I see the most in my daily work which is women in conflict zones and women in conflict prevention, conflict mediation, reconciliation and also women victims of violence in conflicts.
My particular obsession, I would say, is to try and empower more and more women in conflict resolution. It is true that women are obviously much more than men victims of the violence and the conflicts but data tell us and I see it in my daily work that when you put women around the negotiating table, first you get a result much more likely than if you do not, and the result you achieve is more lasting.
There are numbers saying this and I believe there is a reason that sometimes most likely, not always, women tend to find and identify the common ground. The approach is not I win/you lose, the approach is how do we solve it in a way that is sustainable for you and for me, which sometimes men consider as a defeat, because if you find something that is good for both there must be a trick and I am losing something.
Women tend to find the common solution that can be sustainable for all. I think this is why we have to empower women, as we are trying to do everywhere in the world, in the negotiating procedures, in the negotiating process processes.
Next week we are hosting the third Brussels Conference [on "Supporting Syria and the region"]here in Brussels together with the United Nations. One of the main events will be the session with the civil society and the session with women to empower Syrian women to play their role in finding a political solution for their own country. We are doing the same on Yemen, we are doing the same on all around the world, empowering women in taking part to the political processes that need to bring their countries out of crisis.
One last point I would make, and sorry for being long, is this: I think that we need to pass a cultural message as well. This is part of preserving what we have achieved but it is even more than that, it is the next step. I think of the fight to be fought to break the glass ceiling not only in terms of contracts and positions, but also in terms of mindset. Is there a job for men and a job for women? Is there a faculty in university that is more for men or women? Is there a sport that is more for men or for women?
I think we have a duty, men and women alike, to pass a message especially to young girls, that you can be whatever you want in life. You can be a dancer and you can be a basketball player. You can be a president and you can be a hairdresser. This regardless of whether you are a man or a girl.
This cultural shift still needs our collective work on ourselves because I still see the barriers in our minds. I know that some that spoke before me and in one of the sessions were saying that it is still too much for men to realise that I can be a woman and a young woman and dynamic and engage in politics. Yes, you can. It depends on how hard you try, how skilled you are, and how much support you get.
I think we need to build this new narrative that brings down the barriers on what is appropriate for men to do and what is not, and what is appropriate for women to do and what is not, in society and in life. And that yes you can definitely and you should participate to improving the society your living in.
In times like this when we see a very clear attack against women's rights, not only women's rights, also minority rights, migrants rights, sometimes things go together sadly, as if women were a minority but this is another story.
I think we have a duty to not lose the hope to bring the agenda forward, adding new challenges and new objectives to what we can achieve but most importantly to resist to the temptation to go backwards on rights, on protection of life - as basic as that - and on the mentality.
I see the danger of a new generation of girls that might think that, yes, violence is normal, yes, limits are normal, yes, if I have something wrong in my life this is my fault. I see this mentality going back again in our societies and I think we have a collective duty to resist this, and at the same time, to add a new layer of ambition that is I believe at reach if we work together men and women alike along these lines.
Thank you very much, and again, thank you for the opportunity.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I168775