By Achilleas Demetriades Presidential candidate for the 2023 elections
Cyprus lags far behind in gender equality. Progress is very slow and does not correspond to the levels achieved by other developed European countries. Laws are passed and many announcements are made, but in practice, policy implementation is piecemeal.
Although Cyprus could tap the EU’s wealth of experience, it does so to the minimum extent possible and only when required to implement European Directives and policies. Consequently, the gap remains. We have to guide society on to the right path with the appropriate policies, so as to be able to change things in a relatively short time.
Leaving aside the moral aspect of the issue, I personally cannot understand how Cypriot society benefits when it deprives itself of the knowledge, experience and potential that half its population has to offer. The demand for a change in gender equality issues is more pertinent now than it has ever been.
I firmly believe this, because the women of Cyprus have achieved and contributed considerably to the survival and growth of their country. After the 1974 Turkish invasion, they entered the labour market and education sector en masse. Seeking more opportunities in their lives, they achieved the highest levels of education. Today they excel in various fields, such as education, health, justice, business, research and innovation, public administration, the arts and the sciences.
Nonetheless, they continue to be under-represented in public life. They are not equally represented in influential positions where policies are drafted and decisions are taken. Within the EU, Cyprus ranks close to the bottom as far as women’s representation is concerned in the Council of Ministers, the Parliament and the boards of listed companies.
The pay gap in the private sector remains. EU figures show that on average, women are paid 13% less than men doing the same job. Women are also more exposed to discrimination and are the first victims in times of financial crisis.
The new government has to examine the social causes which create these inequalities. Our country lacks the infrastructure to support family life and facilitate women’s professional advancement. Living conditions have changed, but mothers and families are still not afforded the support they need in their daily lives.
The all-day school remains a pilot programme and has not been extended to cover state schools, while infrastructure for infants and pre-school children is not adequate.
It is imperative to introduce changes because society needs them.
We can build a homeland which provides equal opportunities to its entire population. Equal treatment between men and women should become a guiding principle over the coming years.
I propose a different course of action through 3 key initiatives:
- The Council of Ministers in my government will, from the start, comprise an equal number of men and women. This will continue throughout my 5-year tenure, sending the message to society that the President of the Republic and the government actively support full gender equality.
- By applying a temporary quota system in elections for the House of Representatives, we should have an equal number of men and women on the ballot papers of political parties. In this way, the Parliament will reflect the actual structure and character of our society and will not be one-dimensional. The new government will table a bill on this issue to the House.
- The boards of semi-government organisations to be appointed during my term in office will feature an equal number of men and women.
These three initiatives can give impetus to change, as they concern political posts and decision-making. The role of women will become decisive. The EU shows us the way. Political and institutional interventions, the bolstering of legislation and the adoption of measures will bring gradual change and break stereotypes. Adopting quotas is an important political act for change which is included in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which the Republic of Cyprus is a contracting party.
The EU’s three institutions (the Council, the Commission and the Parliament) have agreed to proceed with a Directive on Gender Balance on Corporate Boards of listed companies.
By 2026, at least 40% of posts for non-executive directors or 33% of posts for non-executive and executive directors on company boards must be held by women.
In the coming days, the three institutions will examine a proposal by the Commission to adopt a Directive on transparency in the remuneration of men and women.
Cyprus can set a target of 50-50 and implement this in sectors where decisions rest with the Executive. Equality between men and women can be achieved for Cyprus and for society as a whole. The state and the government should lead the way and shape the environment concerning equal opportunities and gender equality in all sectors, with evaluation in every sector: employment, promotion, equal pay for equal work, equal participation in executive positions and in public life. Wherever the gap remains and persists, additional initiatives should be undertaken.
Moreover, I believe that the role of women in the years-long efforts to solve the Cyprus problem has not been sufficiently exploited. I also believe that women’s participation in the negotiations and the women’s dimension have been underestimated, while their contribution could be useful in many ways in all the aspects of the negotiating process to reach consensus and build trust. Such an initiative is fully in line with the repeated calls by the UN Secretary General to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on “Women, Peace and Security”, stressing that “the full, equal and substantive participation of women and their leading contribution are essential parameters to build peace in Cyprus and render any future agreement viable.”
This is consistent with the Action Plan adopted by the Bicommunal Technical Committee on Gender Equality and the appeal by the Secretary General and the Security Council of the UN to include at least 30% of women in future delegations to the negotiations.
Finally, violence against women must end. Women and men, girls and boys should have the same right to safeguard and protect their physical integrity. My government will implement fully and in all sectors, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), to which Cyprus is a contracting party.
Our homeland can change.
Reducing inequalities with a view to abolishing them can render Cyprus a model for change.
We owe this to the women of Cyprus.
Cyprus deserves better!