There’s everything, perhaps even too much, in the text of the report “on equality between men and women in the European Union” approved by the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg on 13 March. This long and complex document, drafted by the parliamentary committee for women’s rights and gender equality, contains (as already reported by Sir Europe no. 19 of 9 March), alongside recommendations that can unreservedly be commended on respect for the substantial equality between men and women as fundamental right of the EU – and indeed of any modern democratic society, – a whole series of observations, requests and assertions that have little or nothing to do with gender equality. Moreover, the report inserts various paragraphs that tend to enunciate, or to anticipate, pseudo-rights and pseudo-truths that go far beyond the competences of the EP, or indeed of the EU as a whole, and that conflict with a large part of European public opinion and common European sentiment.
On the positive side, the report indicates, for example, the need to proceed with a quota system to increase the number of women in public life and in company boardrooms; underlines the need for policies aimed at ensuring equality of pay for men and women who perform the same jobs; and urges the European Council to support the proposed directive on maternity leave to guarantee paid leave throughout the Union. Other important recommendations concern more generally the safeguard and promotion of women’s dignity, respect for individual and social rights, and opposition to any form of violence or abuse of power to the detriment of women, in Europe and in the world.
We cannot but ask ourselves, however, what the request for the recognition of non-existing “rights to abortion”– as affirmed by the report endorsed by the EP, with 361 votes in favour, 268 against and 70 abstentions – have to do with women’s dignity and gender equality. At the same time, we cannot but ask ourselves what the request for the recognition of “de facto unions” and homosexual unions, and their claimed equivalence with the traditional family, has to do with equality between men and women. How too, we may wonder, does the demand for the free availability of condoms to curb the spread of Hiv-Aids relate to equality between men and women?
An authoritative comment on the result of the vote in the Assembly has come from the Italian MEP Carlo Casini, a lawyer and chairman of the EP’s Constitutional Affairs Committee. “Equality between men and women is an indisputable conquest of the modern period. Its foundation is the equal human dignity of all men and women and the universal recognition of human rights – explained Casini -. Unfortunately in the report” on the equal dignity of men and women that was voted by the hemicycle (which in actual fact has little or no influence on the legislative activity of the EU, however much it remains a worrying political signal) “there is an unacceptable contradiction that radically alters its meaning. Human dignity and human rights regard all human beings and therefore also the most vulnerable, weak and poor. Demanding abortion as a woman’s right, equivocally concealing it under the demand of reproductive sexual rights (however commendable that might be, did it not also comprise a so-called right to destroy the life of an unwanted child) is unacceptable”.
The text voted by the EU Assembly therefore poses various problems that may prompt some more general reflections. In the first place we may ask ourselves why it is that the EU – and the Parliament in Strasbourg in particular – sometimes oversteps the powers that fall within its competence and, in violation of the criterion of subsidiarity, invades fields reserved for member states, e.g. the fields linked to the protection of life, the family and education. The Union already has rather wide-ranging powers as established by the Treaties, and in the exercise of which it can conduce greatly to the benefit of the entire social and economic reality of Europe… In the second place, we may ask ourselves if and how far the European Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is the mirror of European citizens, of what they think, desire, demand, cherish, and consider important. In other words, do the debates and resolutions voted in the hemicycle reflect the hopes and aspirations of the 500 million EU citizens and the civil society of the 27 member states? Do we find in them the “common European good”. i.e. a “noble” and “high-minded” but “possible” synthesis of the interests and values of the peoples of the old continent?
The third question regards the social and cultural reality of Europe itself: how much does it preserve, foster and promote those values by which it was endowed by its own history and tradition? How much is it characterized by the transformations of the present age and by the process of secularization? How much do Europeans open themselves to the great mysteries of life, of what is good, beautiful and true? What role do families, schools, churches and religious communities play in this ethical and educational perspective?
Perhaps the report on the equality between men and women, despite its shortcomings, can provide us with a fresh opportunity to reflect once again on some of the vital issues it raises.