EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech at a press seminar organised by the European Parliament on 4 March 2020. Several slides, not included here, supported the message.

Dear Members of the European Parliament, dear guests,

Thank you for inviting EIGE- the European Institute for Gender Equality – to this timely discussion. This year we mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) – a milestone in the worldwide struggle for women’s empowerment. Signed by 189 countries in 1995, it [the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action] sets out a comprehensive roadmap for equal rights between women and men.

That same year, in 1995, the European Council acknowledged the EU’s commitment to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action [BPfA] and sent a strong message that gender equality is a cross-cutting issue in all policy areas and should be always considered in decisions affecting the everyday lives of EU citizens. EU Member States agreed on a number of indicators and later tasked the European Institute for Gender Equality to support them with monitoring the EU’s commitment to implement the BPfA. Since 2011 we [EIGE] have been doing so by delivering reports on the progress of gender equality in the critical areas of concern of the BPfA chosen by the Presidencies of the Council of the EU.

The 25th anniversary of the BPfA represents an opportunity to assess the EU progress in the area of gender equality in all 12 areas of concern. Last year, at the request of Finland’s Presidency of the EU, EIGE has conducted a review that looks at overall trends and developments observed in the EU since 2013, picking up where the last review (done 5 years ago) left off. 

Tomorrow [5 March], ahead of the International Women’s Day, EIGE will release the results of the review. It shows that many of the challenges identified already in 1995 remain relevant still today. These include the gender pay gap, the unequal distribution of unpaid work, and gender-based violence, to name just a few. Some new challenges have also emerged since 1995, including those brought by digitalisation, climate change, and a mounting backlash against gender equality.

Gender equality is inseparable from women’s economic empowerment. In fact, women’s economic empowerment is critical for gender equality. It is about women being confident about themselves and being able to manage their own financial resources. It is also about women making their own decisions and holding the power; about them being able to stand for their rights and say no to violence. But not only that. Women’s economic empowerment is also prerequisite for fairer and more inclusive economic growth. EIGE’s study on Economic benefits of gender equality showed, that improving gender equality could lead to substantial long-term gains for the EU economy: increasing EU GDP per capita as much as 9.6% by 2050. Improvements in gender equality would also lead to an additional 10.5 million jobs in 2050, which would benefit both women and men.

Still, as the latest EIGE’s review of BPfA shows, long-standing gender inequalities [such as lower employment rates of women, gender pay gap] in the economy persist and bring to our attention the challenges that need tackling. One of them is the unequal share of unpaid housework and caring responsibilities. This, with our societies ageing, could result in increasing numbers of women being kept out of the labour market due to care responsibilities.

Currently, 37.5 % of women in the EU care for children, the elderly, or people with disabilities every day, compared with 24.7 % of men. On average, that amounts to 13 hours of unpaid work more per week for women. Furthermore, caregiving responsibilities keep some 7.7 million women out of the labour market. This is more than the population of Denmark. 

Unequal distribution of care responsibilities and other forms of unpaid work largely contribute to the fact that employment rates of men (78 %) have surpassed the Europe 2020 target of 75 %, but employment rates of women have only reached 66.5 %. This employment loss related to women’s care work costs the EU some €370 billion each year.

To combine care responsibilities and work, women tend to choose jobs that are more likely to be temporary, part-time and/or precarious than men’s. Such jobs:

  •  pay less
  •  provide weaker legal protection
  • are less likely to qualify for social security benefits
  • accumulate fewer pension rights
  • and provide fewer opportunities for career progression.

Finally, as the world of work becomes increasingly flexible and insecure, women are particularly vulnerable.

Women are also paid less because they dominate sectors that are low-paid versions of their domestic caring responsibilities, for example nursing and social work. Migrant women particularly are over-represented in care and domestic services. 

Men on the other hand dominate highly paid fields such as ICT. Currently, less than 20 % of ICT graduates are women. This is despite the fact that girls and boys show similar levels of achievement in science and maths at school. This means women could miss out on newly created jobs, which emerge as a result of digitalisation.

Gender segregation in the labour market is also inefficient: The five occupations across the EU with the largest skills shortages (such as ICT and nursing) are the most gender segregated and are projected to grow in the near future due to ageing populations and digitalisation. 

While women should continue to be encouraged to pursue studies and work in the STEM sector, men should also be encouraged to enter professions related to education, health and welfare.  To do this, more work needs to be done to eradicate gender stereotypes and to make programmes to get men into care work as common as programmes aiming to get more women and girls into STEM.

Persisting gender stereotypes can hinder the effect of even the best actions designed to advance gender equality. For example, even though many Member States have expanded parental leave, take-up by men remains very low, as caregiving is still largely considered the preserve of women.

And while flexible working arrangements such as teleworking or flexitime can contribute to work-life balance, men frequently use them [such arrangements] for performance enhancing purposes, while women, in contrast, often work flexibly when there is an increase in family responsibilities that creates challenges for work-life balance.

Violence against women is another major challenge for the EU. As long as women continue to be harassed and experience violence in their homes, at work, and on the streets, we will never achieve a gender-equal society.

Gender stereotypes and sexism are major factors contributing to violence against women. This can be seen in the violence faced by women in visible positions of power: one study by the inter-parliamentary union found that almost half of women parliamentarians in Europe (46.9 %) had received death threats, or threats of beating or rape.

The emergence of cyber violence (including online hate speech, cyberstalking, bullying or harassment, and non-consensual pornography) through the widespread use of social media and online platforms can facilitate such violence.

Cyber violence can silence women online and discourage them from taking a prominent role in public life. For example, around 4 in 10 journalists have reported self-censorship following online abuse.

Cyber violence has not yet been fully conceptualised, defined or legislated against at EU level.

Sadly, women (unlike men) most frequently face violence in the domestic sphere, with nearly one in four women (22 %) experiencing physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner since the age of 15.

The same is of true of the most extreme forms of violence. Although men make up the largest share of homicide victims, women make up the largest share of those killed by an intimate partner or family member.

Yet only a third of women who face violence at the hands of their partner contact authorities, partly due to the pervasive belief that violence is a private matter. Intimate partner violence against women, which is defined as any kind of violence inflicted by a current or former partner, regardless of whether the woman lives with the perpetrator or not, should not be a private matter.

Furthermore, it affects not only women victims, but also children who witness such violence and the EU society as a whole.

EIGE has conducted multiple studies and projects aimed at reinforcing the capacity of Member States to address intimate partner violence more effectively, strengthen the protection of its victims and lessen the enormous costs it places on the economy and the society.The economic costs of intimate partner violence have a negative ripple effect on many sectors of the economy and public life and drain resources from services for which costs are borne publicly or collectively. EIGE has estimated that the costs of intimate partner violence against women costs the EU 109 billion euros per year.

EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, would help to shift the understanding of violence against women for not being a private matter. It would also strengthen the legal framework to prevent violence against women and protect victims.

In view of the ongoing process of the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, it is important to continue to develop and significantly strengthen the current EU framework of protection of gender-based violence victims in a way which corresponds and reflects the obligations and standards enshrined in the Convention.

Despite 21 EU member States having ratified the Istanbul Convention, a number of them are not fulfilling the minimum levels of support, such as national hotlines and specialist support services. The overall number of bed spaces in women’s shelters is only about half that required under its provisions.

The Convention emphasises the need to have comparative and high-quality data on specific forms of violence against women and requests data collection from administrative sources in order to monitor its implementation.

In order to eradicate violence against women and develop successful prevention efforts, reliable data is necessary. EIGE has an EU-wide focus on its work with administrative data from Police and Justice, which gives the opportunity of comparing the prevalence and incidences of intimate partner violence across Member States and to identify trends which could give an indication of successful measures against violence.

Sadly, the process of signing and ratifying the Istanbul Convention by the Member States has opened a space for supporters of anti-‘gender/gender ideology’ movements to contest the role and significance of this document. This ongoing backlash presents a real threat to women’s rights and the mechanisms that support the victims of violence against women.

Climate change is another major challenge of our time that is becoming an increasing worry for EU citizens.  Gender concerns must be integrated into environmental policies because climate change and responses to climate change impact the daily lives of women and men differently. As EIGE’s BPfA report clearly states - tackling climate change requires a gender lens.

The ones most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change tend to be women. Energy poverty is disproportionately affecting single women (especially older women with low pensions), lone mothers and female headed households.

Can you imagine how it must feel, not to be able to afford the energy bills to run the heating in winter, to keep yourself and your children warm, or keep the lights switched on in the evening? Can you imagine the physical and mental stress that it causes? This is what energy poverty looks like. It is a real concern and has been estimated to affect almost 50 million people across the EU.

On the other hand, women show more concern for the climate and are more likely to adopt eco-friendly behaviour, which calls for their increased involvement in climate change policy.

Despite this, women continue to be under-represented in decision making bodies, that deal with these policies. Men dominate decision-making positions, with close to 80% of government ministries dealing with environment, climate change, energy and transport being headed by men.

And although the evidence of gendered impacts of climate change and gender differences in environmental behaviours is growing, the EU climate change policy has largely remained ‘gender-blind’. Its solutions focus on market, technological and security measures, thus excluding a people-focused approach that could enable gender-sensitive policy.

Environmental policies are often blind to the impact they have on the gender division of labour – including care work, the social organisation of human reproduction and health, as well as the accessibility of public goods and services.

Solutions are not difficult to find. New technologies, in particular ICT in the energy and transport sectors, could provide opportunities to lessen gender disparities, if different needs and perspectives of all genders were taken into account at the earliest stage.

To make sure this happens, systematic gender mainstreaming must be applied to the European Green Deal, in line with the commitment the EU made to gender mainstreaming in all its policies when it signed the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago.

Dear Members of the European Parliament, dear guests,

The Beijing Platform for action is 25 years old, but countries are still a long way off from achieving women’s empowerment. To speed up change, it is crucial that gender equality concerns are included in every policy, as well as in the policy making process itself – this is what’s known as gender mainstreaming. It is an official EU policy approach and something that all EU Member States are required to do. EIGE has developed a wide range of online resources and toolkits to help policymakers understand and carry out this process of ensuring that gender equality is integrated at every step of the policy cycle. By taking the gender mainstreaming approach, the EU and the Member States will be on track to fulfil their commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action.

We at the European Institute for Gender Equality are proud to be part of the process to monitor the EU’s progress towards their gender equality commitments. We are there to make sure that gender equality is kept at the front and centre of policymaking and that it is not forgotten in the news headlines. We are there to give decision-makers the relevant data and research that they need to develop policies that will lead to a more gender-equal society for all. 

Thank you.