Speech by Mr Riccardo RONCORONI

Speech by Mr Riccardo RONCORONI

3rd FIMITIC Women Conference on "Improving quality of life of women with disabilities"

7/9 November  2003


Mr Chairman, Official Authorities, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your conference is indeed a major event for women with disabilities not only in Croatia, as hosting Country, but also in Europe at large. I would therefore like to start, on behalf of the European Commission, by congratulating all the organisers for having organised such an international conference.

Let me allow now to inform you about the Commission overall strategy to further develop integration of people with disabilities.

Challenge:  There is a real 'wind of change' blowing through the disability field with rowing emphasis on the individualism and greater concern for self-determination by people with disabilities, as well as the limits of the Welfare State.

As a result, the challenge in the disability field nowadays is very much about the establishment of the right balance between basic values such as solidarity and individual responsibility. 

Almost twelve months ago, we successfully launched the European Year of People with Disabilities in Athens.

The aim of the Year is essentially about changing attitudes with respect to disability.

About ways to overcome the obstacles and barriers that people with disabilities face every day. About promoting equal rights and full participation in society for people with disabilities. And about the benefits not just to people with disabilities but to our European society as a whole, of a Europe which respects diversity.  

People with disabilities must equally be involved and at all levels, including through the mainstream political process itself. Political participation of people with disabilities and of women with disabilities, in particular, is the key to successful policies and action.

The Year is all about making a move forward in disability policies about equal rights, empowerment and the full citizenship of women and men with disabilities. So today's conference will allow us to look at what we need to do to turn into reality the further integration of women with disabilities into society.

As you are aware, the EU has a long-standing commitment to promoting gender equality, enshrined in the Treaty since 1957. The Community legal framework ensures that women and men are equal before the law. Considerable progress has been made regarding the situation of women in the Member States. However when looking at how the principle of gender equality is transposed into practice, a number of challenges emerge. These manifest themselves in the family, in the labour market and in society at large. In addition, persistent under-representation of and violence against women, inter alia, show that there are still structural gender inequalities. This is particularly relevant for women with disabilities.

This situation can be tackled efficiently by integrating the gender equality objective into the policies that have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of women and men. Women's concerns, needs and aspirations should be taken into account and assume the same importance as men's concerns in the design and implementation of policies. This is the gender mainstreaming approach, adopted in 1996 by the European Commission and consolidated in 2000 by the adoption of the Community framework strategy on gender equality for 2001-2005.

This strategy establishes a framework for action within which all Community activities can contribute to attain the goal of eliminating inequalities and promoting equality between women and men, as set out in Article 3(2) of the EU Treaty. In order to develop the horizontal and co-ordinating actions (such as networking, awareness-raising, analysis and assessment tools, monitoring, reporting and evaluation) required to implement successfully the framework strategy, the Council has adopted a specific Community action Programme on Gender Equality (2001-2005) , based on Anti-discrimination considerations i.e. Article 13 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.

The Community framework strategy on gender equality endorsed by the Commission has clearly contributed to major improvements on gender equality. Mainstreaming has gone further in some policy areas than in others. The European employment strategy, the Structural Funds and Science and Research provide three examples of good practice. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. The EU institutions and the Member States are only in the beginning of the development of gender mainstreaming. It is a long-term commitment and it is important that all stakeholders co-operate in the development of tools and exchange of experience on the implementation of gender mainstreaming.

In parallel to gender mainstreaming, persistent inequalities continue to require the implementation of specific actions in favour of women, such as legislation[1], specific Community action programmes in favour of gender equality[2], other positive actions[3], etc. The Community framework strategy on gender equality is based on this dual-track approach.

But women are often exposed to double or multiple discrimination, as women and due to their ethnic origin, their religion or belief, their sexual orientation and/or their disability.  Women with disabilities can suffer from a double discrimination linked to their special living conditions.  

The cumulative effect of attitudes based on the interaction of gender and disability is that women with disabilities often have less independence, less access to education and less access to employment than both men with disabilities and able-bodied women.

The principle of involving people with disabilities in shaping the policies that concern them is now generally accepted, it is just as essential to involve women with disabilities and, in particular, the organisations and associations that represent them.

The potential influence of women's organisations in European countries today is commensurate with the political importance accorded to equality issues. It is essential that women with disabilities become incorporated into and attain positions of authority in women's organisations; equally it is now time for organisations representing women with disabilities to add their weight to the mainstreaming process.  The aim should be for women with disabilities to be able to participate in all structures at a level commensurate with their presence in society.

I very much hope that this conference will contribute to increase the participation of disabled women in their communities and within disability organisations and to include women with disabilities  development in the mainstream women's movement to ensure full participation in development of women with disabilities.



Very much at the heart of the European Year of People with Disabilities we have to reinforce human, social and equality rights as set out in the European Social Charter in accordance with the maintenance and strengthening of our European Social Model as set out in the European Social Agenda.

Gender equality is a fundamental aspect of the European social model. More importantly, gender equality also brings with it both economic and social benefits.

There is no doubt therefore that the Year's challenge for all of us is to deliver inclusion, equal opportunities for women and men and quality of life. To develop a new Europe for people with disabilities taking into account the concerns of women with disabilities. With accountability, effectiveness, coherence and governance all very much to the forefront.

Therefore, the European Year of People with Disabilities will be a step forward to make women with disabilities more visible, to promote their full participation into the society, their human rights.

Thank you very much for your attention.

[1] Diverse EU Directives exist on gender. Examples: Directive on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for women and men as regards  access to employment and occupation (Directive 76/207/EC amended in September  2002); Directive from 1975 on equal pay, etc.

[2] Five Community action programmes until now (from 1985 to 2005). Specific actions funded by the ESF, Community initiatives (initiative NOW: integration of women into the labour market, until 1999; EQUAL). Other specific actions in favour of women funded under various policies and programmes (Daphne: violence; Education,, etc.).

[3] For example quotas in some countries (Sweden, France, etc.) for women in decision-making in political positions.