EU needs wake-up call on gender equality

Written by Joanna Maycock on 10 March 2015 in Opinion

Women and girls can't wait 20 more years to enjoy their full human rights, writes Joanna Maycock.

2015 is a highly symbolic year for women's rights as it marks 20 years since the Beijing platform for action, a fundamental human rights instrument for women and girls adopted in 1995.

At the same time, the European Union will adopt its new strategy on equality between women and men, which should be the framework of EU action on gender equality and women's empowerment for the coming five years.

The European Women's Lobby (EWL) has produced its assessment of the continuing discrimination of women and girls in Europe, as witnessed by EWL's 2000 member organisations. Our report 'From words to action' gives the opportunity to learn from 20 years of campaigning. Much has been achieved, but much remains to be done.

Despite the fact that equality between women and men is a core value of the EU, our report shows that women and girls still face inequality, discrimination, violence and insecurity. Women's rights are facing a stronger backlash than ever.

"Austerity has been a disaster for everyone, and especially for women, it is part of a systemic problem that discriminates against women and creates a 'pink ghetto' which is hard for women to escape"

Ultra-conservative and religious groups are systematically calling gender equality into question, by attacking women's sexual and reproductive rights, sexuality education, women's access to employment and decision-making.

Women are much more likely to be unemployed or to live in poverty due to low paid precarious jobs. The average pay gap in Europe is still 16 per cent, with women having 40 per cent less pension than men.

Austerity has been a disaster for everyone, and especially for women, it is part of a systemic problem that discriminates against women and creates a 'pink ghetto' which is hard for women to escape.

30 per cent of women in Europe have experienced male violence. Just 19 per cent of board members of listed companies are women, from our recent report on women on boards, an evolution can be seen, there are little cracks in the glass ceiling, with definitely faster progress occurring in countries which have introduced binding quotas with strong sanctions, intermediary targets, and regular monitoring.

Only 27 per cent of members of parliament in the EU are women, which means that 73 per cent are men. Women continue to experience sexism, sexual harassment and astonishing levels of stereotyping which hinder their personal, professional and political lives in multiple ways.

"Investing in women's rights and empowerment is the core commitment for a more democratic and inclusive world to evolve"

Very recently, the maternity leave directive, which has been on the EU legislation table since 2010 is threatened to be withdrawn by the European commission, in the name of red tape.

This development negates Europe's rhetoric on its commitment to gender equality and effective work-life balance for women and men. Adopting a stronger maternity leave directive would have a positive and direct benefit to millions of families and would send a positive message to people across the EU that it is committed to their rights.

For the European Union, this year could be a wake-up call; a turning policy point. It must choose to lead the way towards a gender equal and sustainable future. Investing in women's rights and empowerment is the core commitment for a more democratic and inclusive world to evolve.

A new generation of young feminists is already mobilising widely, dynamically tackling new and old forms of violations of their rights. They are angry and completely fed up with this systemic inequality. At the same time, feminist economists are challenging the unsustainable and unjust economic system we live in, by proposing new ways of measuring wellbeing and protecting our planet and the next generations.

It is clear that a change of system is needed: competitiveness, selfishness and the dichotomy of winners and losers have created a system of pervasive inequalities. The lack of diversity has proven itself to be dangerous for our democracies, our societies and our economies.

The EWL invites EU decision makers and member states to make a choice: to stick with a failed system or to commit to good governance with a sustainable future based around gender equality, collaboration and creativity.


About the author

Joanna Maycock is secretary general of the European Women's Lobby (EWL)

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