The Gender Equality Index 2022 reveals slow progress. How can we turn threats into opportunities right now?
As part of EIGE’s ongoing support to the FEMM Committee, Director Carlien Scheele presented the 2022 results from the Gender Equality Index during Gender Equality Week at European Parliament in Brussels on 25 October 2022.
Good afternoon honourable members and colleagues,
I am very pleased to be here with you all today. As I am sure you are aware, moments earlier today, EIGE concluded its first ever Gender Equality Forum here in Brussels.
As the pandemic’s parameters have eased, the occasion was calling for us to bring EU institutions, Member States as well as EU candidate countries, Civil Society, equality bodies, trade unions, journalists, businesses and researchers under one roof. It was in these two days where we had fresh and new conversations on issues related to gender equality and what we need to do individually and collectively to pave a clearer path for a gender equal EU.
Now, continuing on the Forum’s momentum, I am here to present the results from EIGE’s Gender Equality Index for 2022.
Back in 2020, our lives changed dramatically.
All of a sudden, our worlds were turned upside down. Our homes became a one-stop-shop to eat, sleep, work and socialise, and also for many, homes became improvised schools and day-care centres.
The situation was surreal. And I am sure it is familiar to you all.
But since then, the world has been facing further turbulences.
Our focus has now shifted to new and emerging crises – like the war in Ukraine, the rising energy prices and then of course the rising cost of living as a result.
For the first time, this year’s Index mostly reflects 2020 data – meaning that it covers the period of the pandemic.
And due to the fact that there was a lack of high-quality EU-wide data where the domain of time is concerned, we complement the Index with a survey focused on critical aspects on time spent on unpaid care during the pandemic – and this includes childcare, long-term care and housework.
Starting with a broad overview - the Gender Equality Index has shown very slow improvements in gender equality over the past decade.
Back in 2020, we emphasised it will take around 60 years to reach gender equality if we continue to move at a snail’s pace.
And this year’s scores only confirm this slow progress.
The EU’s score for the Gender Equality Index 2022 is 68.6 out of 100 points.
That’s a tiny increase of 0.6 points from last year’s edition.
and only an increase of five and a half points from 2010.
The picture is quite nuanced across the domains – or areas of life and individual Member States. For country-specific analysis and data, you can visit EIGE’s website for a zoomed in look. But here I will explore the significant results from the domains.
The Index has recorded decreases in scores within the domains of work, knowledge, and health.
In the area of power, however, there was progress. Without this increase, it would have affected the Index’s overall score.
Now let’s go a little deeper into this mixed picture.
In the domain of work, for the first time since 2010, the score of participation in the labour market decreased compared to last year’s edition of the Index.
This is mainly due to a decrease in employment and in the amount of years one is expected to be in the labour force throughout a lifetime.
And this is also happening in the context of a labour market that remains heavily gender-segregated. - being more women than men in sectors characterised by lower pay, status, and value – where there are fewer options for career growth.
And then such inequalities have particularly hard consequences for disadvantaged groups of women, including younger and older women, single parents with dependent children, and women from migrant communities or other minority groups.
Young women between the ages of 15-24 years old, were particularly impacted in the sectors most affected by the pandemic.
When it comes to pay, we have found the largest disparities in earnings are among women and men aged 65+ years. This reflects the impact of life-long gender inequalities in the working life caused by career breaks, part-time work and persisting gender segregation.
Within our survey, we also took a closer look at the pandemic’s impact on working arrangements, and work–life balance.
While home-based telework offered increased flexibility in location and time, this also came with risks.
For instance, 20% women and 15 % of men cannot work for 1 hour without being interrupted by children.
In term of work-life balance, men overall reported a higher capacity to combine caring duties and paid work, buy using more flexitime, for instance.
We also saw that more women have been pushed out of the workforce.
And a third of them mentioned care as the main reason.
It is worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an overall increase in time dedicated to childcare by approximately one fifth for both women and men.
But, while housework distribution between partners slightly improved, childcare remains unequally distributed between women and men.
Moving onto the domain of knowledge - here again - for the first time since 2010, participation in education shows a decrease.
Less women than men had the possibility to participate in formal and informal education activities over the pandemic year in 2020.
And at the same time, the number of women with tertiary education increased more than it did for men, which accentuated the gender gap to the detriment of men.
COVID-19 pandemic has also aggravated social inequalities in the field of education through school closures and the shift to online teaching.
We saw that young boys are more likely than girls to be affected by early school leaving, and that young people neither in education nor in employment has increased, with adolescent boys being the most affected.
Now, looking at the domain of health, we see that it remains the domain with the highest score. But for the first time since 2010, it shows a decrease in some components, namely health status and access to health care services.
And because of that, it is critical to highlight the impact the pandemic had on specific groups of people.
For instance, women and men with disabilities and older women and men reported higher unmet need for medical check over the pandemic year.
Or another fact, women are over-represented among frontline workers who faced extreme risks and pressure. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer the after-effects of infections and from post-traumatic stress, depression and burnout.
Also, young people were severely impacted by the pandemic – not just in terms of education and work as we mentioned earlier – but also in terms of mental health.
Evidence from EU Member States has shown an increase in suicide among young people, particularly boys, during the pandemic
I mentioned earlier that this year’s Index results presents a mixed picture. So now, you may ask, where are the positive developments?
In the domain of power.
Progress on gender equality is largely driven by the domain of power.
Power is progressing at a faster pace compared to the other domains.
But at the same time, it is the domain with the lowest score.
And much of this progress is due to an increase in women’s participation in economic, and political decision-making.
With regards to economic decision-making, the proportion of women board members of the largest listed companies in the EU reached an all-time high of 32 % in 2022, but 7 in 10 of these members are still men.
This result is linked to the introduction of binding legislated quotas in a small number of EU Member States – while in other Member States where these have not been introduced, progress has been stalling (37% for countries with quotas, 18% for countries without quotas).
This clearly underlines the importance of the political agreement reached by the European Parliament and the EU Council on the directive to improve gender balance on corporate boards in June 2022.
Even though there was progress in one domain, there is the potential for a spill-over effect into other domains.
But while we celebrate this win, we need to reiterate the reality.
Women are still under-represented in all areas of decision-making, and this had an impact also over the pandemic.
The emergency and recovery decisions during the pandemic were mostly taken by men.
As an example – from the beginning of the pandemic through to March 2022, only 1 in 4 EU health ministers were women.
So, with all that, what are the key things we want you to take away from this year’s Index?
Considering that the scores in the 2022 edition of the Gender Equality Index rely mostly on 2020 data, we are expecting the next edition to show more significant decreases.
As we are facing uncertainty and crises, and will likely continue to, we need to understand that we are at a crossroads, and that it is up to us to decide which path to take.
Are we going to lose focus and risk further setbacks?
Because then that means it will likely take us more than 60 years to reach gender equality.
Or are we going to increase our efforts and speed up progress?
I’m sure there is a resounding will to move in the right direction – but it’s knowing how, against challenging circumstances.
Throughout my career, I have been asked time and time again – how can we improve gender equality?
When the pandemic hit, this question was asked with amplified anticipation – because before the pandemic, progress was already quite slow. And then when the first data on gender equality in the context of the pandemic was revealed in our Index, it showed we are in dangerous waters and could be going 3 steps back.
That’s when the idea to take #3StepsForward was conceived and then launched into a full-fledged campaign. EIGE has been building a knowledge base and developing good practices in the area of gender equality since the very beginning, where we have seen evidence of its positive impact – so that is our pillar of strength for this campaign.
And indeed EIGE’s evidence-based knowledge forms the basis for our cooperation with FEMM, providing a solid framework of data and research to enhance the committee’s work.
In closing, I will leave you with my personal #3StepsForward for gender equality, which I hope gives members here today ideas to start thinking about their own steps.
The first step is on Care.
Accessible and affordable care services need to be put in place so women do not continue to take on the lion share of intense unpaid care.
The second step is on the Pay Gap.
Across the EU, women on average earn 14 % less than men do – we need pay transparency to overcome this.
The third step is to approach policymaking by considering the needs of all women and men.
We are striving towards a greener, more sustainable economy, so Gender Equality needs to be a natural part in our thinking and policies.
And with that, as a token of the campaign, I would like to present Mr. Biedron as the FEMM chair this #3StepsForward artwork, which I hope will serve as colourful inspiration on your step-taking journey.