Éliane Vogel-Polsky, feminist activist
Éliane Vogel-Polsky was born on 5 July in Ghent, into a Jewish family of Russian origin. In 1938, the family moved to Brussels and the young girl began her classical secondary education at the Lycée Émile Jacqmain. She obtained her doctorate in law at the ULB in July 1950 and was admitted to the Brussels Bar. In 1952, she married lawyer André Albert Vogel and soon had three sons.
It was Léon-Éli Troclet, whose courses she took at the Institut du Travail, who ignited her passion for social law. She obtained three special degrees in under seven years: international social law, comparative social law and community social law, which would then represent her concerns. But in 1966, Éliane Vogel-Polsky's feminist militancy was born: it arose from the shock she felt on discovering the daily reality of female workers at the Fabrique Nationale d'Armes (FN - firearms factory) in Herstal, and their determination during the strike they led for several weeks. The women blocking the FN had very clear demands: they wanted the application of the principle of "equal pay for equal work" as stipulated in Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome. Later, while pursuing a career as a university lecturer, her duties at the CNSDS (National Centre for the Sociology of Social Law) also led her to direct numerous works, at the request of the Belgian government and international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation, the Commission of the European Communities and the Council of Europe.
Éliane Vogel-Polsky also became famous defending Ms Defrenne, an employee dismissed by the airline Sabena due to her age. Éliane's fight ended in a resounding success. After eight years of hearings, the Court of Justice of the European Union handed down a historic ruling in which, on the one hand, it declared that Article 119 was now enforceable by national courts and, on the other hand, recognised gender equality as a founding principle of European law.
In 1992, she joined a network called "Women and Decision-Making", which created the new concept of parity democracy. This network's first event took place in Athens, at a summit that would have a considerable impact. Many female politicians signed the Athens Declaration, which was in fact more of an ideological declaration, and subsequently decided to work in their respective governments to advance the cause of parity democracy.
Éliane also drafted a charter for gender equality in local life, which is in force in more than 2,000 European cities. She died in Brussels on 13 November 2015, after a life dedicated to justice and equality.
Picture © Institut pour l'égalité des femmes et des hommes (IEFH)