Gender Equality Week highlighted the need for a whole-of-Parliament approach to a pressing issue, writes Frances Fitzgerald

European Parliament has taken a clear stance in promoting gender mainstreaming by opening up its committee structures to take account of equality, says Senior MEP
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By Frances Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald (IE, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee

11 Nov 2021

The last week of October marked the second edition of European Gender Equality Week in the European Parliament. To my mind, this was a complete success, bringing colleagues together around a horizontal issue for which each and every parliamentarian and committee shares a responsibility. Without a cross-committee and a whole-of-Parliament approach, we will not be able to achieve gender equality. But perhaps most importantly, women can’t and won’t wait.

As part of Gender Equality Week, on 28 October the European Institute for Gender Equality launched the findings of its annual Gender Equality Index for 2021. These could be summed up in the phrase “fragile gains, big losses” referring to the period throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the EU scored 68 points out of a possible 100. To me, this demonstrates that we still have a lot to do.

“We know from the Gender Equality Index that women’s issues are widespread and varied. We also know our Parliament cannot address them fully if we maintain a siloed approach to our work”

The index found that both women and men suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. More men are dying because of the virus, and the index found that - shockingly - male life expectancy has actually dropped. For women, the economic fallout is lasting longer. The index also points to a significant increase in violence against women and girls, as well as increased risk of social isolation and, for older women in particular, financial dependency risks.

Each of these points confirms what my report on ‘The gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period’ – which was adopted in January - outlined as the consequences of COVID-19 for men and women alike. The consequences of the pandemic and the resulting socio-economic fallout from it are starting to crystallise.

Diving deeper into the figures, it is increasingly evident that if we are to boost that 68-point score, we must do it through all our committees. This cannot be the responsibility of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee alone, as we will not achieve our goal unless we work together. Take the scores on ‘work’ and ‘time’. ‘Work’ relates to access to employment and working conditions, while ‘time’ relates to the period spent giving care, doing domestic work and engaging in social activities

 Both of these areas fall within the competence of both the Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) and FEMM committees, and both committees frequently work together on these issues. This close collaboration was demonstrated by the EMPL Committee organising a session in collaboration with the European Institute for Gender Equality entitled “Gender equality and the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”. In the 2021 edition of the index, the EU had scores of 71.6 on work and 64.9 on time. These figures suggests that we all have much to do in these areas.

Similarly, take the index scores on ‘money’. ‘Money’ relates to access to financial resources and women and men’s economic situations. As part of Gender Equality Week, the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) committee held a hearing entitled “The consequences of the pandemic on women and how the recovery can be designed to protect women and promote gender equality: Promotion of gender equality, equal opportunities for all and the mainstreaming of those objectives in the RRF/NRPs”.

As we recover from the pandemic, the need to explicitly include female dominated sectors in the pandemic recovery programmes was increasingly clear. The Gender Equality Index demonstrates the importance of ECON holding events such as this one.

Other committees covered a range of issues from various angles and in different fields. These included the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee’s discussion on opening more opportunities for female farmers, the Subcommittee on Security and Defence’s debate on women’s role in disarmament, the Culture committee’s focus on gender equality in Erasmus+, Creative Europe and the European Solidarity Corps and the Budgetary Control Committee’s discussion on gender equality in the annual EU budget discharge procedure, to name only a few.

As a result, the European Parliament has, this week, taken a clear stance in promoting gender mainstreaming by opening up the committee structures to take account of this horizontal issue.

We know from the Gender Equality Index that women’s issues are widespread and varied. We also know our Parliament cannot address them fully if we maintain a siloed approach to our work. The Gender Mainstreaming Network is currently responsible for ensuring that a gender perspective is taken into account in the work of all committees.

“Without a cross-committee and a whole-of-Parliament approach, we will not be able to achieve gender equality. But perhaps most importantly, women can’t and won’t wait”

This is a good start, but the approach to date has been rather ad hoc, with some committees showing more promise than others. I believe that the Gender Mainstreaming Network can do more, but ultimately it is now the responsibility of all parliamentarians to look at each issue and file through the prism of gender. 

Gender Equality Week has demonstrated that our Parliament works for women. We must now make sure that this is a yearlong commitment, happening each and every day. In the meantime, I look forward to Gender Equality Week 2022. 

Read the most recent articles written by Frances Fitzgerald - International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Zero tolerance

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