Tuesday 16 September 2008, by Špilda Vladimír
Black European Women’s Council Economic and Social Committee, 9 September 2008
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by congratulating you on your initiative and on the launch of the Black European Women’s Council. I am very pleased that this Council gives a strong signal to Europe, as European policies will only be truly effective if they respond to the needs of all European citizens in all their diversity. More than half of Europeans are women, and many of these are black. The Black European Women’s Council is a new voice which reflects this important component of European society.
I am also pleased that this voice was first heard in the international arena in 2007, during the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. You attended the many events held during that European Year, which focused on recognition, representation, respect and the rights of the minorities suffering discrimination in Europe.
Ethnic minorities are an integral part of our society. Europe is, furthermore, the continent of ethnic and cultural diversity. In this European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, working to develop an inclusive society which guarantees equal opportunities for all, and in particular gender equality, means not only achieving the fundamental values of the European Union but also putting in place one of the necessary conditions for sustainable growth.
The figures show that, of all forms of discrimination, Europeans believe discrimination on ethnic grounds to be most widespread in their respective countries.
Inclusion problems are generally more marked for the most visible minorities. A survey in 2007 showed that, of all ethnic minorities, it is those of black African origin who face the most difficult obstacles.
Discrimination is considered to be the main obstacle to the integration of minorities in the labour market and in society.
Women, in particular those from ethnic minorities, are generally at the greatest disadvantage, as they are often victims of multiple discrimination.
The European Union has made the social inclusion of ethnic minorities a political priority. The Commission is therefore firmly committed to creating an inclusive society in which everyone, irrespective of race, ethnic origin or gender, can achieve their full potential.
The first step in this direction is to tackle discrimination effectively. For the Commission, this means:
proposing appropriate legislation and, once this is adopted,
ensuring that it is transposed and implemented in all Member States.
The Commission began to work on this legislative framework almost ten (10) years ago. Today we are about to complete this structure.
With the renewed Social Agenda presented on 2 July 2008, the European Commission adopted a draft Directive which supplements the current European legislation.
This legislative framework is comprehensive and requires Member States to set up «equality bodies» whose task is to promote equality and give support to the victims of discrimination, particularly racial and sex discrimination.
We have also given a firm undertaking to implement policies to promote equal opportunities and gender equality.
The roadmap for equality between women and men, which was adopted in 2006, represents the Commission’s commitment to drive the gender equality programme forward and refers expressly to the need to tackle multiple discrimination against women from ethnic minorities.
The intention is to protect their rights, promote their civic participation, make full use of their employment potential and improve their access to lifelong learning.
It is the responsibility of the public authorities to ensure these rights are protected and to facilitate participation in economic and social life for all members of society. The proposed integration policies which they implement focus mainly on access to education, employment/self-employment and social services.
The strategies adopted must therefore take a long-term approach and be supported by adequate resources. They must also fully incorporate gender equality. Here we can draw on the positive experiences of many towns, regions and Member States.
We also highlight the fact that the specific situation of ethnic minorities must be taken into account in the coordination of Member States’ policies.
We ensure that the problems encountered by minority women are passed on in our information campaigns.
It is crucial to promote diversity management and gender equality in companies. The equality bodies, together with civil society and the social partners, are key players in this area.
The workplace (i.e. companies) is in reality the environment where the integration of most minorities takes place. Many companies of all sizes and in all sectors have recruited and employ workers of diverse origin. The company charters in France and Germany are good examples of how companies have understood the advantages of having a diversified workforce in order to cover increasingly diverse markets.
Social inclusion of ethnic minorities is a process which concerns us all, not only those from ethnic minorities.
Using the tools we have at our disposal — legislation, policies, awareness-raising activities — and in partnership with the Member States, the social partners and civil society, we can make a difference.
Source : Europa