#EPGenderEqualityWeek: Women still ‘incredibly underrepresented’ in senior posts, says new study

Report’s author, German MEP Hannah Neumann, says process of achieving gender balance needs speeded up.
Gender imbalance three in ten

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

29 Oct 2020

A new study authored by an MEP says that women and girls remain “incredibly underrepresented” in senior posts, especially in the peace and security sector.

The report by German deputy Hannah Neumann warns that gender imbalance “clearly weakens our ability to build more resilient societies.”

Publication of the study on Tuesday is timely as it coincides with #EPGenderEqualityWeek in the European parliament.

The week-long event aims to put the spotlight on gender issues, including the lack of women in key decision-making posts.

Neumann’s so-called “security index” studied women’s representation in EU and G20 countries in five fields: politics, the police, the military, diplomacy and business.

The MEP, rapporteur on parliament’s opinion on gender equality in the EU’s foreign and security policy, told a press briefing on Tuesday, “These findings clearly show that we need to speed up the process of achieving gender balance in all areas.”

One of the areas highlighted in the exhaustive study are gender inequalities in the armed forces in member states. Here, she cited her own country, Germany, as an example of some progress, with Ursula von der Leyen holding the post of defence minister before she was appointed president of the European commission.

“We have not reached gender parity in a single Member State and we calculate that it will still need another 39 years to reach full parity in national parliament all EU countries” Hannah Neumann MEP

She said, “The fact that we had a woman heading the defence ministry was good, with men being told what to do by a female.

“This changed a lot and von der Leyen kick-started it but let us also not forget that she was also subject to some ridicule at the time.”

Germany, as was the case with most EU members, still had a lot to do, said Neumann who estimates it will be 80 years before there is a 50-50 male/female balance in the German armed forces.

The gender equality index seeks to highlight the latest trends and progress in gender equality in the EU and Member States since 2010.

Neumann told the press conference that, as part of her study, she used data to calculate how long it would take for gender parity to be achieved in each of the five areas.

For politics she said, “We have not reached parity in a single Member State and we calculate that it will still need another 39 years to reach full parity in national parliament all EU countries.”

The situation is, she said, was even worse in the area of defence and security, adding that without major improvement it would take 48 years to reach gender parity on national parliaments’ foreign affairs committees and some 100 years on parliamentary defence committees.

“Yes, we have worked a lot on resolutions about reaching gender equality and we know why all this is important. Societies tend to be more peaceful if there is gender equality but we need to speed up the process of achieving gender balance, both now and for the next 20 years" Hannah Neumann MEP

She also studied the number of women employed in international diplomatic corps, saying that some countries had almost reached gender parity.

But female representation on such bodies in other countries, including Belgium and the Czech Republic, was as low as 10 percent.

Sweden, Estonia and Finland are each only a few percentage points away from reaching parity between male and female ambassadors, while at the bottom of the list, only 10 percent of Belgian and Czech ambassadors are female.

She said, “It is clear from this that women are still not making it to the highest ranks in diplomacy.”

The military has the worst record of gender parity, she said, with prospects for women in the police barely any better. Based on her calculations, it would still take 58 years to have parity in police forces in the EU.

Neumann, peace and human rights coordinator for the Greens/ EFA group in the European Parliament, held up the UN as an example of good practice saying that gender parity was “on track” in its various peace-keeping missions.

Even here, though, the percentage of women in the military staff of those missions is still under five percent. No woman has ever been commander and/or deputy commander of an EU military mission and women make up about 11 percent of overall military staff in EU armed forces, with numbers increasing very slowly.

“We tend to think of the EU as a role model but only one in 12 of its overseas civilian missions are led by a woman” Hannah Neumann MEP

The MEP added, “The UN puts more emphasis on putting women into senior roles but it is clear that across the board we are still having a hard time reaching gender equality and this is especially true in foreign and security policy roles."

“Yes, we have worked a lot on resolutions about reaching gender equality and we know why all this is important. Societies tend to be more peaceful if there is gender equality but we need to speed up the process of achieving gender balance, both now and for the next 20 years."

“We tend to think of the EU as a role model but only one in 12 of its overseas civilian missions are led by a woman.”

She believes there is a direct link between gender balance and peace and security, saying, “the more women that sit in on peace negotiations the longer a peace deal is likely to last. We looked at major peace negotiations over the last 25 years and how many women were part of these negotiations. We found that they never make up more than 30 per cent and that is not good enough.”

She also complained about insufficient data on gender equality, saying, “We need more data to understand the dynamics that are going on here.”

The MEP called for a “stronger commitment” to put women in leadership roles and for national gender balance action plans to be implemented more quickly saying that seeing women in senior positions “helps to give young girls a vital role model.”

The findings will be discussed at a conference on gender equality on Thursday. This features Carlien Scheele, Director of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE); Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality and Juliane Seifert, Permanent State Secretary, Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany.

The aim of parliament’s #EPGenderEqualityWeek is to boost the battle for women's empowerment and gender equality and provide more visibility and recognition to gender mainstreaming across all policy areas. Most European Parliament committees are taking part in the initiative by organising events.

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