Women's choices and opportunities still 'severely limited'

Europe 'still struggles' with inequality and a biased division of roles for men and women, writes Kartika Liotard.

By Kartika Liotard MEP

11 Mar 2014

Almost 20 years after a landmark world conference on women adopted the so called Beijing declaration and platform for action, Europe still has a long way to go in eliminating gender inequality and negative gender stereotypes which lead to women's opportunities and choices in social, economic and political life being severely limited.

Aimed at "removing all obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making", the UN-sponsored Beijing platform for action set an agenda for 12 specific areas, including education, media, advertising, the labour market and decision making.

"The traditional gender-based division of roles contradicts commitments implicit in articles of the Lisbon treaty and on a number of European directives, parliament resolutions and council recommendations"

Ever since, the European Union has fed into the annual assessment of the implementation of the platform. Quantitative and qualitative indicators and benchmarks associated to this exercise show that, despite some progress, Europe still struggles with a biased division of roles between women and men at home, in the work place and in society at large.

The traditional gender-based division of roles contradicts commitments implicit in articles of the Lisbon treaty and on a number of European directives, parliament resolutions and council recommendations. It is also opposed to the right to equality, one of the EU's core values validated by its charter of fundamental rights.

Unfortunately, the way the European commission is developing some policies is only widening the gender gap. For example, new pension policies disadvantage women disproportionately. The likelihood of elderly women ending up in poverty when they reach retirement is increasing.

The persistence of stereotypes acts as a barrier to the sharing of family and domestic responsibilities between women and men and hinders the achievement of equality in the labour market where women still face horizontal and vertical segregation.

Women have limited access to certain sectors and earn an average of 16.4 per cent less than men for the same jobs; they're over-represented in "flexible" and part-time jobs and only represent 14 per cent of the board members of the largest listed companies.

In the media, communication and advertising industries, women are often portrayed as sex objects for commercial reasons. In families and schools, children are confronted with gender stereotypes at a very young age. The way in which girls are sometimes portrayed both in the public space and at home reduces the esteem in which society holds them and promotes violence against them.

In my view and in the view of the European parliament, combating gender stereotypes is a prerequisite for human progress, development and peace. Thus the time has come to ask whether we will honour our commitments in the coming years.

Will Europeans be up to the job of implementing and respecting entirely their pact for gender equality (2011-2020), the European commission's strategy for equality between women and men (2010-2015)?

The 2014 European elections that will be followed by the appointment of the upcoming new nominations for EU 'top jobs' are a great opportunity to improve parity in democracy at the European level and for the EU to be a role model in the field of gender equality.

More national and EU action will be necessary. Here's a suggestion: the European social fund should be allocated to projects referring to positive action in favour of women notably in the areas of education, life-long learning, social security, employment and wages, retirement and pensions.