The sun is out, and masks are off. As Europe emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic and welcomes the summer season, EU officials are needing to redirect their focus on addressing the compounding social inequalities affecting the continent such as inflation, pay gaps, housing crisis, energy crisis and unequal healthcare access. “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next,” Secretary Vardaramatou – quoting Indian Author Arundhati Roy – said. “Let us use this opportunity.”
On Tuesday 31 May, a panel including journalist and event moderator Anna Gumbau, Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, Renew Europe MEP Atidzhe Alieva-Veli, Secretary General of European Women’s Lobby Konstantina Vardaramatou, Cabinet Expert in the Commission for Equality Silvan Agius, and Public Affairs Director at Novartis Aoiffe O’Brien, did just that by using their platforms to address the discrimination and bigotry within the European Union member states and discussed the importance of building a more inclusive society in the bloc and on a larger scale. The event, entitled ‘A Europe of Equals: How can we build a more inclusive society?’ was hosted in the European Parliament by Atidzhe Alieva-Veli and organised by Dods Impact with the support of the Renew Europe group and healthcare company Novartis to coincide with EU Diversity Month – which takes place every May.
Word of the day: Intersectionality. The panel spent a lot of time emphasising the importance of acknowledging intersectionality and bringing it to the forefront of EU policymaking. But what exactly is intersectionality? Intersectionality can be defined as the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, weight, religion, (dis)abilities, etc. as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
“Racism still stands in the way of millions of people having access to decent work opportunities and to progress their professional lives. This is in violation of basic human rights, and it also has social and economic consequences”
Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality
That’s a lot of big words, so let’s break it down. Basically, it is recognising the discrimination an individual faces depending on which minority group(s) they fall into. For example, women are more disadvantaged than men, but Black women will face even more hardship as they fall into two minority groups, and gay Black women fall into three marginalised groups which makes them even more susceptible to bigotry and discrimination.
While inequality amongst marginalised communities is present in various sectors of life, the workforce is arguably the most important as equality cannot truly be obtained without economic independence and prosperity. “There are many barriers for minorities even getting into the labour market,” Commissioner Dalli said. “Racism still stands in the way of millions of people having access to decent work opportunities and to progress their professional lives. This is in violation of basic human rights, and it also has social and economic consequences.”
During the panel, several statistics were given by MEP Alieva-Veli to highlight disparities in the workplace. Women in the European Union earn 14 percent less than their male counterparts and have 33 percent less pension. 20.7 percent of women with disabilities have full-time employment compared to 28.6 percent of men with disabilities and 48 percent of women without disabilities. 25.5 percent of women located in urban areas are more likely to live in poverty compared to men in the same area. “These might be numbers, but they demonstrate people and their struggle to live everyday life,” Secretary Vardaramatou said.
Commissioner Dalli and Agius both also acknowledged that inequalities intersect and amplify exclusion for certain groups not only in the workplace but so many aspects of daily life to a point where experiences that happen outside the workplace can infringe on workplace performance or leave individuals totally excluded from society.
“Commissioner Dalli mentioned the importance of where you live and how that can impact your inclusion in society,” O’Brien said as she took time to address the recurring theme of income inequality in healthcare policy. “Good health is also related to economic prosperity.”
Everything about location from an individual’s country and region to city and distance from a hospital will have an impact on one’s ability to receive potentially life-saving medical treatment in a timely manner amongst other things such as medical trials and testing. So how do we take this awareness and use it to push for more equality in Europe? According to O’Brien, the EU is a progressive force in harmonising the collection of health data for analysing and comparing different experiences which will allow researchers to identify inequalities and make improvements.
“Health and prosperity are connected. Addressing health inequalities is one building block for a more inclusive society in Europe”
Aoiffe O’Brien, Public Affairs Director at Novartis
It was unanimous amongst the panel that creating a more inclusive environment is a community effort that requires participation from everyone – not just governments and corporations. “Asking the right questions and getting the right answers – it’s what we all have to do,” Agius said. “[Human rights are] something we have to protect every day. We have to take action every day.”
Commissioner Dalli also mentioned that for businesses, there is a strong case for diversity that goes beyond the moral argument. The benefits to a more inclusive community are obvious, such as a happier, healthier, and more prosperous society, but data suggests diverse workplaces can also increase innovation revenue by 20 percent. More and more companies are moving toward an inclusive workspace as more than 2000 organisations have joined since the European Union’s first diversity month in 2020. All EU member states have legislation to protect workers’ work/life balance and are also required to implement at least two months paid parental leave by August.
While these are steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go in the way of fighting against global inequalities and there is no easy fix. “The solutions are not about fixing women to fit inside a patriarchal system that is broken, but fixing the system to work for everyone,” Secretary Vardaramatou said.
This content was produced by Dods Impact in partnership with Novartis and Renew Europe