Equality bodies enhance protection against discrimination and promote equality across Europe, but what role do equality bodies play in strengthening gender equality? Director Carlien Scheele discussed EIGE’s work on the effectiveness of the equality bodies for gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the EU at the “Equality Bodies and Gender Equality – A Growing Role” conference held by Equinet in Paris on 3 June 2022.

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today.

The EU and its citizens have played a crucial role in our journey towards equality between men and women. We have achieved incredible progress in gender equality.

But there is still a way to go.

I’ll start by stating the obvious; discrimination has no place in our society. Nobody should have to live their life feeling scared. Feeling belittled. Feeling targeted because of their race, their age, their sexual orientation, or perhaps a combination of these things. Nobody should be treated differently due to their gender.

Recent events have shown that, in times of crises, some groups suffer more than others. Our progress towards gender equality has slowed. And in some cases, it has gone backwards.

How do we here at EIGE make sure we keep pushing forward? I’ll tell you our three key approaches.

First is knowledge. EIGE is the EU’s knowledge centre on gender equality. We get to claim this title because data is at the centre everything we do. EIGE provides consistent, objective, comparable and reliable data on gender equality to decision makers across the EU. This helps policymakers design policies that respond more effectively to the needs of all citizens.

Outreach is second. Because what is the point of having such incredible data if nobody knows about it? EIGE works hard to promote gender equality across the EU, from governments to policymakers to everyday citizens.

Throughout 2022, EIGE #3StepsForward campaign will provide data and guidance to help policymakers, civil society and community leaders take #3StepsForward to shape an economy where gender equality, social fairness and prosperity can go hand in hand. This campaign will culminate with EIGE’s first-ever EIGE Gender Equality Forum in October 2022, bringing together about 2,000 people to speak about the most burning gender equality issues of our day, including masterclass on good practices in communication campaigns promoting gender equality and combatting gender stereotypes.

Third is technical support. EIGE provides governments and EU institutions with a range of innovative evidence-based tools and resources to help them include gender and intersectional perspectives in all areas and stages of their legislation, policy and budgets, from finance to environment to research. These tools are important to make sure that policy addresses the needs of all citizens.

This is how EIGE helps achieve gender equality in a nutshell.

You’ll notice I like grouping things in three. And I see you at Equinet do too! I see the following panels will discuss what I also think are the three key gender equality issues we face in 2022, namely work life balance, pay transparency, and violence against women. Let me say a brief word on each of these issues.

The first issues is gender-based violence.

No one deserves to feel unsafe in their home. But across the world, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.

In our work on gender-based violence, we focus especially on intimate partner violence, and its most severe form: femicide.

To help EU Member States properly measure intimate partner violence, we have developed 13 indicators to capture the different forms this violence takes. From rape, to psychological abuse, to femicide, our indicators can help EU countries see the real picture when they collect their data. 

Of course, violence against women is about more than solid data. Next year we will be releasing an analysis of how countries try to give justice to the victims of femicide, and highlighting where they need to be doing more.

The second issues is the gender pay gap.

As long as a gap exists between the average earnings of women and the average earnings of men, we will not achieve a truly equal society. The gender pay gap means that stereotypes about what women’s work looks like, and how we should value it, are still widespread in and out of the workplace. The gender pay gap shows that society continues to undervalue women’s work throughout all areas of the economy.

I’m sure some of you must be thinking, it’s 2022. How is this still an issue?

Despite positive changes in women’s employment rates and educational attainment, gender inequalities persist in pay, monthly earnings and income. While progress is being made to ensure gender balance in decision making roles, gender segregation in employment – the unequal distribution of men and women in the occupational structure – persists.

Third is work-life balance.

Work-life balance helps us choose how and where we can invest our time. Everyone should have the opportunity to choose whether to spend their time in work or at home, as both spaces can give women and men fulfilment, joy and growth.

And yet, flexitime arrangements are intended to help improve work-life balance, are used mainly by women, reinforcing traditional gender roles and cause gender pay gap.

During the pandemic, an increased unpaid care burden combined with women’s greater tendency towards telework risks having negative effects on their career progression. 

And the continued influence of gender norms result in situations where women take the lion’s share of parental leave. Not sharing the parental leave leads to increase of pay and pension gaps and limits the career choices of women.

Now, how can equality bodies support addressing these challenges?

The Gender Equal Treatment Directives mandate the foundation of equality bodies to protect against discrimination on the grounds of sex and promote gender equality in the EU.

But since these directives, there has been a tendency towards using different models towards incorporating gender equality into a wider equalities remit.

So EIGE has committed to research how gender is treated in equality bodies. We will be releasing updated data on the effectiveness of the Institutional Mechanisms for Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming in the EU in Autumn.

However I can give you a small teaser now.

Our preliminary results show slow progress towards implementation of intersectional approaches in a few Member State equality bodies. In many other Member States, we are seeing a reduction in general commitment to gender equality, as well as the institutional capacity needed to face gender equality issues.

But it’s not all bad news. In a few Member States, where gender equality remains at the core of the equality body’s mandate, the overall commitment and support of the country to gender equality is considerably higher.

It may well be that the better focused and resourced the equality bodies are, the more chances they have of bringing gender equality issues to the fore. And this is all the more reason why it is so crucial to have minimum binding equality standards. I will let my other panellists speak more on this topic, but I fully support this legislative initiative.

Now let me finish by saying, while I am proud of the work we do at EIGE, it would mean nothing in isolation. We are continuing to examine the backlash against gender equality at EIGE, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how successful tactics from those who oppose equality have been in some countries.

One of the most important results we have found so far is that we will achieve nothing if we continue to work in silos.

The work done by equality bodies to address gender discrimination on the ground is crucial part of our combined effort to achieve a more gender equal society.

I look forward to hearing more about how equality bodies can help us take the final steps towards achieving this goal throughout todays conference.

Thank you.