EU officials pledge to fight violence and discrimination against women

The European Union marked International Women's Day on Thursday with a pledge to fight discrimination and domestic violence against women.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, prepared to chair an EU summit - the first woman to do so in more than two decades. In 1986, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher chaired an EU summit.

While gender gaps in employment and education are narrowing, the pay gap remains around 15 percent across the 27-nation EU. Women account for just 32 percent of managers, 10 percent of board members and 3 percent of CEOs of large companies.

A report by EU statistical agency Eurostat compiled from national data gathered between 1998 and 2006 said that women were more likely to be unemployed than men.

"Patriarchal structures still exist and women tend to be in lower position. The reduction of salary inequalities has not gone far enough," German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul told a seminar at the European Parliament.

The European Commission has announced plans to use educational programs to increase awareness of gender inequality in schools and eradicate gender stereotypes, and encourage promotion of women into senior positions.

It is also promoting flexible working arrangements, so that both men and women are able to remain in the labor market when bringing up children, the AP reports.

The EU also pledged to promote women's participation in political life, fight trafficking of women and children, and combat domestic violence.

"Around the world women continue to suffer horrific domestic violence, discrimination and persecution. Protecting women's rights and empowering them as decision-makers are fundamental principles of the European Union's work across the globe," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

City authorities in Strasbourg, France have launched a poster campaign against domestic violence and will also hold meetings on welfare services and women's associations.

Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament and Council of Europe, is the first city in France where the police have a specially trained domestic violence unit able to intervene when domestic violence actually occurs.

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