EU must stand up for women's economic empowerment

Written by Vilija Blinkevičiūtė on 11 October 2017 in Opinion

The women’s rights and gender equality committee provides Parliament with a strong voice on crucial issues, writes Vilija Blinkevičiūtė.

Vilija Blinkevičiūtė | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Parliament’s women’s rights and gender equality committee is in charge of defining, promoting and protecting women’s rights in the EU. We are a horizontal committee covering all EU policies. That’s what gender mainstreaming is.

Given our remit, it’s clear the tasks our committee must confront are diverse and complex. We are currently dealing with topics as varied as gender in EU trade agreements, youth employment and the situation of women’s rights in third countries.

These are all important topics that deserve our full attention, but I would like to highlight three in particular that I consider to be the biggest challenges for our committee, and, of course, women in Europe face: women’s economic empowerment and pay gap; the right to a work-life balance society; and combatting violence against women.


Women’s economic empowerment is key for reinforcing women’s rights and there is no economic empowerment if women are paid less than men for the same job. Data shows that women’s hourly earnings were on average 16.7 per cent lower than men’s in 2014 and women’s pensions are 40 per cent lower than men’s.

These figures show clear discrimination towards half of Europe’s population and they also indicate a clear problem for our economy: evidence by the European Gender Equality Institute indicates that improvements in gender equality would generate up to 10.5 million additional jobs in the EU and that EU GDP per capita could increase between 6.1 per cent and 9.6 per cent by 2050. 

And, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, if women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025.

This situation cannot be understood without considering the dramatic impact the lack of a proper work-life balance can create.

In 2016, women spent 19 per cent of their time on unpaid activities carried out at home each day, compared to eight per cent for men.

We can also see the consequences of this inequality in the labour market: according to Eurostat, 31.5 per cent of working women in the EU work part-time compared with 8.2 per cent of working men, and just over 50 per cent of women work full-time, compared with 71.2 per cent of men.

But of course the aim of women’s empowerment or the task of building a society based on the right to a work-life balance cannot be addressed if women are afraid, if women don’t con-sider themselves as free as men because they can suffer multiple sorts of violence just for being women. The right to a safe life free from fear is the foundation of all other rights.

According to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, one in three women in Europe has experienced violence and 55 per cent of women have been sexually harassed.

Globally, the situation is even worse: 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime and 50 per cent of sexual assaults in the world are suffered by girls under the age of 16.

Women’s economic empowerment, a work-life balance, and violence against women are three challenges that our committee is addressing on behalf of European women. Having a body such as our committee in the European Parliament ensures that these topics will be on the table. This is always the first step in order to change a reality: voicing it.

The second step is action and we are working on several files that address these problems. For example, we are now involved in the examination of the proposals adopted by the Commission on the work-life balance package. It contains measures like a common paternity leave, a common parental leave and common carers’ leave alongside flexible working arrangements.

Concerning the differences between men and women in terms of retribution, our committee promoted a proposal for an EU strategy to end the gender pension gap, which Parliament adopted. 

Of course, this field is largely a member state competence, but MEPs want to raise awareness on how pensions are calculated and the fact that in the member states, up to a third of retired women don’t have a pension.

Finally, we are addressing violence against women with initiatives such as the EU accession to the Istanbul convention. This convention is the first legally binding international instrument for preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. 

All EU member states and the EU itself have signed it, but only 14 of them have ratified it. We are convinced that EU accession to the convention will give us a powerful tool to prevent violence against women, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.


About the author

Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D, LT) is Chair of Parliament’s women’s rights and gender equality committee

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