EU’s gender equality progress under threat of conservatism
The principle of equality between women and men, as part of the fundamental values and rights of the EU, is recognised at the highest possible level in the European Union.
It is embedded in visionary Article 2 of the EU treaty, given equal billing with the principles of pluralism, justice and solidarity.
Past generations of Europeans have strengthened maternity leave, improved rights for part-time workers, initiated the anti-discrimination directives and created legal protections against sexual discrimination.
The commitments to protect women’s rights, to promote gender equality and the need to increase women’s employment rates have been incorporated in many regulatory acts, funding instruments and strategic documents (Europe 2020 Strategy, European solidarity fund, European regional development fund, the Daphne programme).
We have also seen the creation of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) as a positive outcome among other steps forward. For these reasons and others, Europe has rightly been seen as a beacon of progress in this area by many around the world.
The global Agenda 2030 and its sustainable development goals give the EU and its member states a particular responsibility at national, European and international level to excel and achieve gender equality.
Socialists and social democrats have always been at the forefront of fighting for gender equality and women’s rights. We should be proud of the progress made but must recognize that many important challenges lie ahead, not least in areas such as representation, rights and resources.
The proportion of women in the parliaments and governments of member states still represent 28% and 27 % respectively (2015, DG Justice and consumers on women and men in decision making). Women are paid on average 16% less than men per hour.
Strengthening women’s participation in the labour market and thus ensuring their economic independence are key to fighting poverty - a growing phenomenon among the most vulnerable, such as women and children - and ensuring Europe’s sustainable growth and achieving its EU2020 targets.
Over the three years 2010-2012, a total number of 30,146 victims were registered victims in the European Union, 80% of which were female (67% women and 13% girls) and the majority were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
In any case, the persistent and deep problems of gender discrimination and economic disadvantage can only be solved by concrete actions at both the national and the European level.
Progressing too slowly
We were delighted in 2014 when the incoming Commission promised to prioritize gender equality in EU policy-making — but it has only delivered a staff working document on ‘strategic engagement for gender equality’.
Actions and engagements are progressing too slowly with regard to the issues at stake, such as the deadline of 2020 to achieve the targets set by the EU for its sustainable economic growth.
That’s why the PES Ministers and State Secretaries for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights are calling on the EU to act now.
We need to take action to fight all forms of violence against women and girls through a comprehensive and coordinated Europe-wide approach.
We need to enable women and girls to determine their own lives by safeguarding sexual and reproductive health and rights within the EU.
We need to fight the gender pay gap and to improve work-life balance across Europe, so that women and men have equal access to the labour market and are able to share care-giving responsibilities equally.
We need to embed gender mainstreaming and gender action, including gender sensitive data-analysis and monitoring processes, fundamentally across all our policy-making - including on the global stage, where a humane response to the refugee crisis is simply impossible without prioritising women’s rights.
We need to strengthen and empower EIGE in order to ensure effective EU-wide gender-sensitive analysis and monitoring of the Gender-Equality Strategy.
At a time when many commentators believe that Europe is fighting for its political life, issues such as these are too often seen as a distraction. It might seem that we have bigger fish to fry.
In fact, with anti-European rhetoric and anti-women/choice movements growing, nothing could be further from the truth.
Especially when the EU is reflecting and shaping its future following the Bratislava Declaration, core-values – including women’s rights and gender equality - cannot be compromised or set aside.
Especially since gender equality and women's rights are key to increasing employment rates, to developing the European social model, and to achieving sustainable and inclusive growth.
We now have an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of women and girls, and to reap the benefits across our whole society. But, to do that, we must put words into action - and quickly.
This is why PES Gender Equality Ministers are meeting in Paris on 27 October.
Zita Gurmai, PES Women president
Laurence Rossignol, Minister for Family, Elderly and Women’s Rights (France)
Asa Regner, Minister for Children, Elderly and Gender Equality (Sweden)
Elke Ferner, Parliamentary State Secretary for Family, Senior Citizen, Women and Youth (Germany)