Gender equality issues took center stage in Brussels after Ursula von der Leyen, the first female president of the European Commission, was left without a chair at a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara, Turkey.
On the 6th of April, Ursula von der Leyen alongside the EU Council President Charles Michel visited Ankara to discuss how to resume coordination with Turkey on vital issues. However, the meeting was largely overshadowed by the incident dubbed “Sofagate.” Following the meeting, both, Erdogan and Charles Michel were heavily criticized for taking stately chairs and relegating Ursula to a nearby sofa.
Soon afterward, Ursula von der Leyen explained how she felt in the moment and pointedly blamed sexism for her banishment to a sofa. “It happened because I am a woman. Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie?” she asked and also pointed out that she “didn’t see any shortage of chairs” in the pictures of previous meetings.
The incident sheds light on ongoing hurdles women face around the world. In Europe, despite progress on some gender inequality issues, women and girls still experience persistent gender-based discrimination and practices that negatively affect women’s rights. As the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said “there are stories of women, most of them far more serious, that go unobserved”.
The Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) denounces any gender-based prejudice or discrimination and believes it is time to work harder towards women empowerment. Gender equality is a crucial feature of a democratic, inclusive, and prosperous society and unless women and girls fully enjoy their human rights the progress toward development will fall apart. Existing inequalities and power imbalance between women and men are the main reasons for gender-based and domestic violence.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the “Istanbul Convention” takes issues of gender equality and violence against women seriously and aims to create a legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence.
The CHC expresses its deep concerns that several members of the European Union (EU), including the Czech Republic, still refuse to ratify the convention. We strongly encourage the Czech government to revise its decision and do not prevent progress at EU level. In a gender-equal world, violence against women would not exist. Therefore, it is important that the members of the EU not only ratify but also push for the accession to the convention of third states.
The Czech Helsinki Committee