Opening speech of the Gender Equality Index 2021 conference
EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech in Brussels on 28 October 2021.
Good morning from Brussels, and welcome to the Gender Equality Index 2021. Thank you for joining us from wherever you are today. We at the European Institute for Gender Equality, EIGE, are looking forward to hosting you for the next few hours.
Today we release the sixth edition of our Gender Equality Index. Since we started measuring gender equality in the EU, we have collected almost a decade’s worth of data. This allows us to see how much each country has progressed -- or indeed regressed -- when it comes to equality between women and men in recent history.
With all this data, we can also track the impact of policy choices over the years. Because we look at every aspect of gender equality, from how much women and men earn at work to who sits on the boards of Europe’s biggest companies, we can see quite clearly where the actions of policymakers have made a difference.
Each year, we also take an in-depth look at one burning policy issue in particular. This lets us analyse women’s and men’s different experiences in forensic detail, and to try to paint a picture of what the future holds.
This year, after more than a year and a half of the Covid pandemic, our special focus is of course on health.
The moment the pandemic hit, EIGE started gathering data on how gender affects people’s health, as well as their access to health services. We are particularly grateful to the European Commission’s directorate for justice and consumers and the directorate for health, as well as the World Health Organisatizion, all of whom helped us a great deal in our research.
We looked at infection, mortality and long-term consequences of the virus of course, but in particular we focussed on women’s and men’s different experiences of mental and sexual and reproductive health.
Today, we are ready to share our findings with you.
I don’t want to give too much away, and you will hear more in our panels later, but there are some things that really jumped out at me.
For example when it comes to mental health, we can see the harmful impact of gender stereotypes. Men often do not seek help when they need to, with tragic consequences. Young women develop eating disorders because they are surrounded by unachievable images of what a woman’s body should look like.
When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, schools are still leaving out important topics like consent in their sexuality classes. Men are less involved in family planning and contraceptive use than women are.
Of course Europe is diverse, and my experience will not be the same as all other women, just as not all men’s experiences are the same.
People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex can feel unable to disclose their identity to their healthcare professionals, and are sometimes even denied treatment.
Women who have undergone female genital mutilation can face humiliating experiences with healthcare staff who have not been trained to deal with cases such as theirs.
And with Covid we are facing new challenges.
In some countries, women have struggled to access contraceptives and other reproductive health services, such as abortions.
Social isolation and financial worries have also created a mental health crisis that is sure to outlast the pandemic.
There is a worry that a pause on counselling programmes to combat female genital mutilation will cause a jump in cases over the coming years.
While our Gender Equality Index scores do not yet reflect these realities, our analysis shows that we are already registering some big losses for gender equality.
Again, you will hear more over the course of the day, but it is important to remember that progress is not unstoppable. Already before the crisis we saw women’s rights and equality starting to be rolled back in some countries.
That’s why I’d like to thank you again for coming today to speak about how we can prevent this backsliding, and how we can keep moving forward to finally achieve gender equality.