In theory, the EU has pledged gender equality in all its policymaking. The European Commission even named gender equality as one of the Union’s founding principles. This strategy 2016-2019 specifies previsions for promoting gender equality worldwide.
The European institutions have made some progress. For example, the ‘Women in transport - EU platform for change’ was launched successfully on 27 November 2017, building on an idea by European transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, EESC member Madi Sharma and myself.
The platform aims to strengthen women’s employment in the transport industry across the member states. The transport sector is the backbone of Europe’s economy; it accounts for five per cent of the EU GDP and employs 10 million people of which only 20 per cent are female. We must raise awareness of this situation at EU level and create better employment opportunities for women in transport.
Last month, two of Parliament’s committees - international trade and women’s rights and gender equality - passed an own-initiative procedure pointing out that no EU policy is gender-neutral, while emphasising the importance of gender equality in EU trade agreements. This initiative is currently in its first parliamentary reading.
It is time for the EU to show more strategic engagement and incorporate gender equality provisions in all its policymaking. Currently, the EU’s dedication to gender equality in policymaking remains ambiguous, particularly when drafting and applying trade policies.
Today, only 20 per cent of EU trade agreements mention women’s rights and the inclusion of such ‘gender chapters’ is meaningless if pledges are not kept.
Historically, the EU has shown little respect for its own policymaking, when those policies prove inconvenient. For example, the trade benefit programme GSP+ was stated as a tool for supporting developing countries while they improve their human rights records. GSP+ beneficiary countries must ratify and implement 27 core conventions - says the Commission - to retain their benefit.
One of these is eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), stating that signatories must “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women”.
However, many GSP+ countries have not complied with CEDAW and faced little or no consequences. In Pakistan, gender discrimination in hiring or remuneration is not prohibited.
In the Philippines, one in five women will experience physical violence before the age of 15. In Bolivia, femicide is still rampant. All are unacceptable.
Although EU-centric, the ‘Women in transport - EU platform for change’ provides an example of good practice of the EU’s potential for emboldening gender equality. When stakeholders unite to address gender discrimination, progress is made.
The 21st century should be about women enjoying equal opportunities in career development and their interests being taken into account at all levels. The EU must prioritise gender equality in all policymaking, and ensure adequate application of current programmes promoting human rights, setting an example for other regions.