To say that recent months have been awash with developments on gender and equality issues would be an understatement. The break of the Weinstein scandal in October triggered something of a domino effect of sexual harassment claims and allegations, not just in Hollywood but in Westminster as well as here in Brussels.
The revelations sparked an international campaign of solidarity of women sharing their stories of sexual harassment with hashtag #MeToo. It became rare for a day to pass without a new allegation of sexual harassment being made against a celebrity figure or high-level politician, including Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, UK Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins and UK First Secretary of the State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Damian Green, to name a few.
Whilst the door is now somewhat open for discussions and debates on sexual harassment to take place there are still many member states where this is not the case and which frankly, remain in denial about the issue. We have been watching closely to see how governments across the EU react and respond to the revelations. The UK, France and Brussels have come out as particularly supportive for the cause and have been notably open about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in their societies.
To move onto more positive developments in this area, the UK saw two prominent examples of inspirational women in the form of Baroness Hale of Richmond and Sarah Clarke. Baroness Hale became sworn in as the first female president of the Supreme Court on 2 October. The Baroness has been providing women with inspiration for many years, especially since she was appointed as the first ever female judge to sit in the Supreme Court back in 2004. Only a matter of weeks later Sarah Clarke became the first female in 650 years to be appointed to the parliamentary post of Black Rod.
Staying on the theme of inspirational women, here in Brussels the ’20 women who shape Brussels power list’ was published which included Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova. We are constantly monitoring the outcomes from Jourova’s cabinet and you can read more about the challenges she has faced during her career in the article written by Julen Fernández Conte on behalf of the Consejo General de la Abogacía Española who recently had lunch with the Commissioner.
The EU ‘celebrated’ its Equal Pay Day on 3 November. The date marks the day from which women work for free until the end of the year in consideration of the average gender pay gap of 16.3%. In the UK, the Equal Pay Day fell slightly later on 10 November to reflect a lower gender pay gap. Our colleagues at The Law Society of England and Wales organised a quiz and a bake sale which charged men a % more for cake. You can read in more detail about this topic in the article published by our office.
The subject of gender and equality simply covers far too many issues for us to write in detail about each one, so in this edition of the Brussels Agenda we have highlighted several specific challenges still facing women from discrimination in wages, to gender based violence and the general underrepresentation of women in certain professions and senior roles. We are also pleased to highlight the initiatives being taken by the Junior Lawyers Division of England and Wales, member states, such as Spain, EU institutions and corporate organisations to combat these challenges and promote fair and equal treatment in society.
The Brits in the office were also extremely pleased to hear the news of the royal engagement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Miss Markle is actually a great example of a modern feminist fighting for what she believes in and who we can learn a lot from. I recently watched a video of a speech she gave in March this year where she recalled an experience she had at school when she was 11 years old. In class they watched an advert for dishwasher liquid which said ‘women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans’ and some boys in her class said that women belonged in the kitchen. Miss Markle went home and asked her father what she could do about this as it made her feel angry. Acting on his advice, she wrote letters to the most powerful people she could think of, including the manufacturer of the washing tablets, Proctor & Gamble and the first lady at the time Hilary Clinton. One month later, Proctor & Gamble changed their advert to ‘people all over the world are fighting greasy pots and pans’. It is remarkable to see an 11 year old stand up so strongly for this issue and inspirational that she affected such a positive change at such a young age.
What we hope to achieve from this issue is to raise awareness of issues and show our support for all initiatives aimed at redressing the gender and equality imbalance.
We hope you can enjoy reading these thought provoking articles over a mince pie or two at this cold time of year.
Maria Masi, academic and teacher at the University Parthenope of Naples discusses the landscape of women’s access to justice in Italy