Online violence must not be allowed to silence women and girls, Helena Dalli tells MEPs

In written replies to questions put to her by MEPs, Malta’s commissioner-designate says the fight against the gender pay and pension gap is ‘unfinished business’

Helena Dalli has been assigned the equality portfolio and will face MEPs on 2 October
Helena Dalli has been assigned the equality portfolio and will face MEPs on 2 October

Online violence, harmful online behaviour against women, including revenge pornography, cannot be allowed to “silence women and girls and limit their participation in society”, Helena Dalli has told MEPs.

Malta's commissioner-designate volunteered this reply in written answers to a questionnaire drawn up by MEPs ahead of her scrutiny next week. The questionnaires with the answers given by commissioner-designates have just been published by the European Parliament.

Dalli said the broader EU policy against hate speech and illegal online content had to encompass the need to create a digital public space that is “safe, violence-free and empowering”, including for women and girls.

With EU accession as a bloc to the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence, stalled by individual member states, Dalli told MEPs she was committed to “find ways out of the deadlock”.

“In line with the President-elect’s political guidelines, the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention should remain a key priority for the Commission. I have been mandated to finalise the ongoing accession process and I will do my utmost to achieve that goal,” she said.

And if accession to the Istanbul Convention remains blocked in the council, Dalli promised to explore proposals on minimum standards regarding the definition of certain types of violence, and strengthening the Victims’ Rights Directive.

Firm commitment on binding pay transparency measures

Dalli also gave MEPs her firm commitment to table the actions to introduce binding pay transparency measures during the first 100 days of the new commission.

“This will be a key down payment on our work, feeding into a comprehensive policy to address the gender pay gap. This means confronting persisting stereotypes, strengthening women’s empowerment in decision-making, ensuring implementation and take-up of the rights in the Work-Life Balance Directive, especially by fathers, and combating the gender pension gap due to unpaid work,” Dalli said.

Binding pay transparency risks running into strong opposition among employer groups but is supported by unions.

“Fighting the gender pay and pension gap is unfinished business and I am determined to step up this work. I believe increased pay transparency and improved legal clarity are the first necessary steps to detect gender bias and discrimination in pay structures. I want to enable companies to address pay inequality and to enable victims of discrimination to effectively seek redress,” she said, using strong language.

Dalli said that progress on the 2012 European Commission proposal to have more women on company boardrooms was long overdue.

She also gave credit to the new Work-Life Balance Directive approved by parliament in the last legislature, and which was piloted by Maltese MEP David Casa.

Dalli to push for full and swift implementation of directive

Dalli told MEPs that it was her belief the directive “will have a positive impact on better gender balance in economic leadership” and promised to engage with member states to push for “full and swift implementation”. 

“I am very happy that the Work-Life Balance Directive was adopted. It is a great achievement on the way to gender equality and an important step towards a Europe where both women and men are able to balance their professional and private life. This will enable women to realise their potential in the labour market, and men to have the opportunity to realise their fair share of caring responsibilities,” Dalli said.

The 11-page questionnaire also includes a commitment to fully respect the fundamental values on which Europe was built: human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.

“I will neither seek nor take instructions from any entity. My aim is to consider all interests at stake, irrespective of any national, regional, professional or personal origin. I will work towards the full implementation of the political priorities set out by our President-elect,” Dalli said.

Her answers will form the basis for next week’s grilling session at the hands of MEPs.

But while the questionnaire is pretty much a scripted affair drawn up with the help of aides, during the oral exchange with MEPs, commissioner-designates could face an array of questions, ranging from the political to the personal.

Dalli’s confirmation hearing will take place on 2 October. She is Malta’s first female nominee to the post of European Commissioner.

Earlier, this week she was cleared for any conflict of interest by parliament’s legal affairs committee.

Two commissioner-designates – the nominees from Romania and Hungary – failed to get past the conflict of interest test and their confirmation hearings are on hold until a way forward is determined.

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