#EPGenderEqualityWeek: Still a long way to go until we achieve gender equality

Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration, new threats to women’s rights risk putting hard-won gains into reverse. Instead of going back to the 1950s, we need to make this the century of women, writes Evelyn Regner.

By Evelyn Regner

Evelyn Regner is Chair of Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality

30 Oct 2020

The European Parliament's Gender Equality Week, which was held for the first time this year, could not have taken place at a more appropriate time.

Centered around the presentation of the Gender Equality Index for the year 2020, the original idea of Gender Equality Week was to honour the Beijing Declaration adopted 25 years ago at the UN Conference on Women’s Rights.

Never before have women's rights been summarised so comprehensively on the international stage. At least on paper, women's rights have been human rights ever since. But what this paper is worth 25 years after its creation, we can see today in the middle of Europe, and the verdict is sobering.

One in three women experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. On average in the EU, women earn 16 percent less than men, and they are seldomly seen in the boardrooms of listed companies.

In several Eastern European countries, outdated images of women and families are on the rise again as they position themselves against the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention which seeks to end violence against women.

In Poland the right to legal abortion has de facto been abolished and hate crimes against homosexual and transgender people are decreed by the state in the form of so-called LGBT-free zones.

“The burden of unpaid care work, the segregation of work sectors, the alarming numbers of violent acts against women, and the lack of women in leadership roles will not solve themselves; we need action by all EU countries, and we need binding measures”

In Slovakia women are supposed to be forced to listen to the heartbeat of their child before an abortion and in Hungary family policy is made with stove and child bonuses.

A new Christian fundamentalism is on the rise in Europe and it is trying to take control of women’s lives and bodies.

Meanwhile, the health, economic and social crisis in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic has hit women disproportionately.

Home office, homeschooling and homecare was and is female. In many cases, women have had to deal with their workload, while looking after children and the elderly, as well as the household.

And when the pressure on families and relationships increases, the situation becomes extremely dangerous for women.

During the Corona crisis, the number of domestic violence reports across the EU have risen by a third, while new - medically necessary - lockdowns and restrictions will come into effect across Europe in the next few weeks.

“In many cases, women have had to deal with their workload, while looking after children and the elderly, as well as the household. And when the pressure on families and relationships increases, the situation becomes extremely dangerous for women”

Meanwhile, women are also disproportionately affected by Corona-related unemployment and precarious employment.

Coming back to the abovementioned Gender Equality Index, for 2020, the EU scores 67.9 points out of 100.

Looking at the progress made in comparison to previous years, at this snail’s pace, it would take at least 60 more years to get to 100 points in all fields.

And while 2080 is most certainly too late to achieve our goals, with COVID-19 we even have to be cautious about these mini-improvements; it is quite clear that COVID-19 will exacerbate inequalities and put the achievements of the past decades at risk.

Therefore, all of our recovery efforts have to be gender mainstreamed so as not to push the heroes of the pandemic - women - into a long-lasting crisis afterwards.

The burden of unpaid care work, the segregation of work sectors, the alarming numbers of violent acts against women, and the lack of women in leadership roles will not solve themselves; we need action by all EU countries, and we need binding measures.

“We must ensure that we bring documents like the Beijing Declaration back to life and no longer accept when women are given less value than men”

Quotas for company boards have had the biggest impact on advancing gender equality. Building bridges over the care, pay and pension gaps is the way forward.

The lack of action to achieve equality in the last decades is now proving detrimental to women, but we must use this pandemic and create chances; instead of going back to the 1950s, we need to move forward and make this the century of women.

This will take radical and transforming measures to work on the stereotypes influencing our lives and rethink our economy. We need to put care at the heart of it, to give it the value it deserves instead of pushing women into the roles of housewives and submissive mothers.

Our policies need to make women more independent, more self-confident, freer and stronger. The European Union has always been an important engine for equality and women's rights.

Many of the basic measures in the Member States can be traced back to EU initiatives; the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex - especially when it comes to pay - is enshrined in the EU treaties.And the EU is working in a variety of ways to tackle inequalities between women and men.

The European Parliament must stand in the way of a threatening backlash, be it ideological or due to Corona, as a protective shield for women's rights.

We must ensure that we bring documents like the Beijing Declaration back to life and no longer accept when women are given less value than men. Let’s make the 21st century a century for women.

Read the most recent articles written by Evelyn Regner - Gender balance is 'good for business'

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