An equitable Europe for women

Losing what has been gained in the fight for gender equality is inadmissible; we must take to task those who want to backpedal on progress and mount an onslaught on women’s rights, argues Helena Dalli.
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By Helena Dalli

Helena Dalli is European Commissioner for Equality

23 Nov 2020

This first ever gender-balanced Commission headed by a woman President is deeply committed to fighting for gender equality. It is why we presented the Gender Equality Strategy in the first 100 days of the mandate with policy objectives and actions intended to make significant progress by 2025.

Following the launch of the Gender Equality Index in October, where progress continues at a snail’s pace, it is evident that the EU and the Member States must step up the level of commitment in this area of policy. Of course, worse than progressing slowly is losing what has been gained.

We must continue taking to task those who want to backpedal on progress and mount an onslaught on women’s rights. This is happening at a time when still, for many women, entering the labour market and in the occupation they are trained for, striking the right balance between work and family responsibilities, progressing in their careers, being fairly paid and living lives free from violence remains a struggle.

We have seen this and continue to see it even more during the current pandemic that has exacerbated structural gender inequalities. In the labour market, women are overrepresented in frontline low-paying jobs providing the most basic and essential community services, and disproportionately present in informal jobs that are not covered by social protection systems.

“As the gender pay gap widens, it is clearly time for legislation. Pay transparency will be the first step towards addressing this discrimination”

Being a woman also means that one has particular health requirements. The Coronavirus crisis has put these needs at risk too, especially those related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is one reason why we need many more women executive leaders in global health than the current 28 percent. A woman in Europe is more likely to graduate from university but will probably be paid less than a man - a staggering 14.1 percent less.

To fully understand the economic gender gap, rectify unfair and unequal pay, and protect victims of pay discrimination, we must delve into these issues thoroughly and fairly. In this regard, my priority is to table mandatory pay transparency measures by the end of the year. As the gender pay gap widens, it is clearly time for legislation.

Pay transparency will be the first step towards addressing this discrimination. Europe also needs to stop dragging its feet towards ensuring a fair gender balance at decision-making level. I thus call again on Council to decide in favour of moving forward on the proposal addressing gender imbalances on the boards of publicly listed companies. Legally binding standards are essential in the fight for gender equality.

This is precisely why when it comes to tackling violence against women and domestic violence, the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention is essential as the first international legal instrument in Europe to prevent violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators. However six Member States are yet to accede to it.

This continues to be a stumbling block for the EU to ratify this gold standard of a Convention. We know that violence against women is one of the most underreported crimes and that one in five women in the EU has been a victim of physical and sexual violence by a partner or a former partner. We are also aware that domestic violence situations continue to be compounded during the pandemic.

“The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention is essential as the first international legal instrument in Europe to prevent violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators. However six Member States are yet to accede to it”

The EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention should be a no-brainer and remains a key priority for the von der Leyen Commission. The discussions held by Members of the European Parliament during the first ever Gender Equality Week were a welcome initiative.

This is the momentum we need, from progress in different sectors, such as health, to the environment, the economy, international trade, transport, and the role of women in the digital age. Equality needs to be present in every policy area eliminating gender stereotypes in the process.

Europe may be a good address for women but, thus far, not a single EU country is close to reaching gender equality as this year’s European Institute for Gender Equality’s Gender Equality Index illustrates. If we continue to keep the pace of this last decade, the European Union is at least 60 years away from reaching gender equality. We cannot wait this long.

Our aim is that every woman will be able to reach her full potential, if that is what she wants, and therefore policymakers and legislators must work to make this happen in a fair and equitable manner.

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