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Women’s position in the European Union

Danuta Hübner
professor of economy, first Polish commissioner at the European Union, member of European Parliament, and head of the Commission for Regional Policy. Earlier, Minister for European Affairs instrumental in the process of Polish accession to the EU. As the main negotiator she ensured Polish membership in OECD in 1996. In the years 1997-1998 head of the Chancellery of the Polish President. As government’s plenipotentiary, she created and headed the Committee for European Integration and was the first Polish Minister for European Affairs. As Deputy Secretary General of the UN, she headed the Economic Commission for Europe.

The fact that the discussion about the situation of women seems normal and a similar discussion about men would be rather absurd results from the fact that the role of women in the society which is barely overcoming a hierarchical structure is still under negotiation. Since no social situation is black and white, there may be both positive and negative consequences. The conditions necessary for women to climb higher on a social ladder depend not only on the strength of determination and personal qualities of women themselves, but are largely defined by the degree of durability of the patriarchal structure of dependence in a given context. On the other hand, the process of change in the social structure is dynamic enough for the determination of women as a group to be likely to substantially weaken the power of patriarchal pressure.

Women in the European Union, and more broadly in the Euro-Atlantic world, still inhabit a space which is not fully defined, in which they never know when they will hit the infamous glass ceiling, neither when it comes to professional advancement nor in setting boundaries pertaining to personal life choices. No one, at least in the EU, has the courage to speak negatively about the ambitions of women, at least not in the area of professional life. Things are different when it comes to women’s decisions in the realm of their private lives, for example in relation to their reproductive rights, which in the more traditional societies are perceived as the business of the whole community. The important game is played, therefore, not in the realm of rhetoric, which is politically correct and supportive of women, but in the realm of accomplished facts.

Characteristically, in countries where women have equal access to political and economic power and where their private choices are not being questioned, for example in Scandinavia, the discussion on the position of women is much weaker than in countries such as Poland, where a government consisting of women only and even a 50/50 parity is still unthinkable.

The conclusion is the following: the amount of discussion about the position of women is inversely proportionate to their political and economic power and tends to be a sign of powerlessness and therefore, to a degree, a substitute activity.

We also need to remember that women are not a homogenous group. The situation of middle class women (with high social capital) is different from that of, for example, immigrant women. Both struggle with similar problems, such as the continual need to confront the stereotypes of women’s role and social immobility, but their reference structure and their starting point are very different as are their social capital resources, such as the tightness of familial and professional relations and financial means. These differences are measurable with the so-called well-being index.
Therefore, when we are discussing the situation of women in the European Union, our analyses should not ignore the problem of those differences.

From the broad perspective adopted for the purposes of this essay it appears, however, that we are facing important changes in the near future. The current crisis may, paradoxically, speed them up. Europe dramatically needs growth, creativity, as well as new models of social relations at a time when our societies have to adapt to new ways of living which are less sumptuous and more ecological, less individualistic and focused more on the common good. Women seem to be the natural leaders in the process of change which involves an increase in social participation, broader and more open social communication, and a creation of an inclusive society. They play an irreplaceable role in cultivating the social space as creators and conveyors of knowledge, working toward the democratization of social life in all its dimensions. As women, we always have known that, even if we could not always articulate that knowledge. Today our time has come. Europe and the world need our skills to regain stability after the crisis. Let us use this moment well.

 

Added: 3 listopada 2011 Category: General
 
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