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Have we advanced the cause of women?

A carte blanche from Caroline Pauwels and Annemie Schaus, respectively rector of the VUB and rector of the ULB.

When the Minister of Health Simone Veil passed the law decriminalizing the voluntary termination of pregnancy in France in 1974, there were twelve women in the National Assembly, out of a total of 577 deputies. Twelve. The overwhelming majority of men have had in their hands the decision about which women choose to dispose of their bodies. It was the day before yesterday, less than fifty years ago… When the Belgian Parliament adopted the same decriminalization, in 1990, there were 19 women, out of 212 deputies, to vote. Less than 10 %. It was yesterday, thirty years ago… That is to say if the road was still long, very long, to achieve equality. It was the least of things, however, in an advanced democratic society. Do not you find?

Since then, of course, we have made progress. A little. Noticeably, even. But, thirty years later, the true decriminalization of abortion has not yet been achieved, and the parliamentary decision has been for many months the hostage tired of incessant recourse to the Council of State not, still not, advance in the cause of women. In this matter as in others, so much progress remains to be made: each year, on March 8, a reminder invites us to draw up the observation, the bitter observation.

Frankly, however, we do not like there to be an International Women’s Day. Because when should we no longer devote a day in the year to remembering that men and women are not treated as equals, far from it, in this world? We do not like, in fact, that it is necessary to recall to what extent violations of women’s rights, their dignity, their integrity… remain legion. We do not like having to once again point out the men who intend to legislate or speak on behalf of women, to dominate their bodies or their public expression …, while street harassment, sexual insults and intimidation, domestic violence, other forms of violence against women and girls are still a fundamental wound in our societies.

We do not like to repeat the scandalous pay gaps that persist, the relegation of girls to certain educational and professional fields, the difficulties for women to access certain positions of responsibility, the glaring inequalities in terms of distribution. family and domestic tasks – or the fragility of the status of women, which often remains the norm. We do not of course like having to remind ourselves either that the universities, despite the considerable efforts made in recent years to achieve full equality, still have predominantly female education streams and others predominantly. male, as well as scientific disciplines where female researchers are very much in the minority, and still see significant differences between the two sexes being perpetuated at the top of teachers’ careers …

There are so many hills to climb

Of course, the cause of women is also progressing, and the voice of women is free, little by little. They are at the forefront of essential fights, such as the part taken by young women in the marches to defend the climate cause, or the words of Amanda Gorman who, through poetry, offers us another political, non-violent way, to talk about the world and its faults. But there are still so many hills to climb. The crisis we are going through highlights them, more than ever, by exacerbating inequalities, by reinforcing imbalances, including those of gender: how many women have not been returned to their domestic role in recent months, thus demonstrating a very sensitive, too sensitive regression of their condition?

These questions are of great concern to us, two women of the same generation, who hold the post of rector in our respective universities – and this in a context where, even in 2021, the governance of the academic world is often predominantly male. In terms of equality for women, it is a cultural revolution that must finally, and definitively, be accomplished, everywhere in our society, everywhere in our lives: equal rights; balance in all decision-making bodies, careers, orientations; equal distribution of duties between the sexes …

Everyone’s fight

But equality, as we also know, is a fragile thing, which must be put back on the job every day. Above all, equality cannot just be a rhetorical alibi: it must be a constant effort and discipline, so that no human being, regardless of gender or origin, resents or feels wronged. by the pact which constitutes the foundation of our society, this egalitarian contract which still suffers from so many inequalities, more than two centuries after our democratic revolutions. Here is the bet, the engagement bet: that none of us feel wronged, abandoned, victim – starting with the women. It’s not just the women’s fight, even less on March 8: it’s everyone’s fight, together, with each other, with each other. Because fighting for the equality of men and women is to increase our quality of life for all, it is to build a more solid democracy. March 8 and all other days of the year.

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