12 Mar, 2021

Op-ed: What does gender equality mean to you?

With the launch of The Alliance Of Her, ALDE Party Head of Engagement Laura Owen-Onsea shares her thoughts on gender equality and the importance of women's participation in politics in this op-ed.

What does gender equality mean to you?

I get this question a lot – partly because I am motivated to make sure we do better and partly because I simply love to talk about gender equality and challenge views and stereotypes on what is a divided topic. I realise, it means different things to different people. 

What also differs between people are opinions on how we get there. 

Ask Alexander de Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium for example, and he says, in his book “De Eeuw van de vrouw” that governments must increase paternity leave and child-care subsidies for working parents. This would mean men and women are on equal footing and encourage women to go back to work if they choose to, while raising children. 

This is a good start as gender equality in my eyes at least is a straightforward concept – the state of being equal. 

But therein lies a challenge as one thing at least is certain – we are far from there right now. Women are still the minority in most EU national parliaments. And if we don’t have gender equality in our parliaments, in those we trust to run the country, what chance do we have of passing its need down the line to businesses and industries? 

But I am also asked another fundamental question - Why do we need gender equality? Does it really matter if the country is run by men, if industry is run by men? Some would argue not, but again here I like to challenge the status quo. Women are far better at leading in times of crises – this has been shown over and over, but most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve heard anecdotally about women leaders doing a better job and new research backs that up. One study found that outcomes related to COVID-19, including the number of cases and deaths, were systematically better in countries led by women. Another looked at governors in the U.S. and similarly found that states with female leaders had lower fatality rates.

So, gender equality isn’t just the right thing to do – it is smart governance and smart economics. 

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of half its citizens.” -Michelle Obama

The challenge to achieve gender equality one parliament at time is what motivates me every single day. We can do better and there is no greater satisfaction in my eyes than inspiring and empowering women to engage in politics and decision making. I am sure those who helped Jacinda Ardern and other female leaders showcasing the way through the COVID-19 pandemic agree. 

That is why I am delighted to be involved in one of the biggest gender equality projects in Europe. 

Because I want HER to be heard.


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