EIGE Director Carlien Scheele participated virtually in the EU Japan Gender Equality Thematic Workshop as a keynote speaker, weighing in on the state of play of Gender Equality and women’s empowerment across Europe: progress, barriers and ways forward on 9th November.

Dear honorable members and colleagues,

I am  pleased to be participating in the EU-Japan Gender Equality Thematic Workshop. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share with you key insights of the work from the European Institute for Gender Equality for your discussions today.

EIGE is the EU’s knowledge center on gender equality.

Now, let me begin by providing an overall picture of where we stand with gender equality in Europe!

While we have made much progress in gender equality in the EU over several decades, the pace leaves much to be desired.

We know this based on EIGE’s annual Gender Equality Index – which is a measurement of the EU’s progress on gender equality. This year’s results, which were revealed in October at EIGE’s first-ever Gender Equality Forum in Brussels, showed that we are in choppy waters – despite some significant yet fragile gains.

Gender equality in the EU is at 68.6 points out of 100 – where 100 represents full gender equality. Since the inception of the Index in 2010, gender equality has only gone up by 5.5 points. And from our data and research, we have picked up on the fact that specific groups have been hit the hardest since the pandemic. Like the youth, women and men of a migrant background or women and men with disabilities. If we want to achieve gender equality, we must maintain an intersectional perspective to understand all unique experiences, so that needs are better met for everyone.

That is where data collection is essential for designing and monitoring targeted policies for gender equality. Data don’t lie – especially because it captures all angles of humanity and gives us an authentic picture.

Now, that is not to say it is all downhill. On the contrary, the EU has come a long way as has the world. EIGE’s recently published paper tracks the evolution of the EU’s policy and legal approaches to gender equality. From the Treaty of Rome in 1957 stating equal pay between women and men to the 2020-2025 Gender Equality Strategy, it provides the background context needed to help make future policies work – for everyone.

One of the key areas assessed in the Gender Equality Index is power – which takes into account decision-making opportunities between women and men. This year, we saw a promising increase.

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 is linked to the introduction of binding measures legislated quotas in a handful of EU Member States – while in other Member States where these have not been introduced, progress has been stalling.  

Therefore, 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.

But still, there is always room for improvement.

Gender stereotypes remain a barrier for women. According to EIGE’s research, women perform better in tertiary education than men, achieving solid degrees but, they are more unlikely to apply for positions that are male-dominated such as STEM, based on the stereotype that women are not naturally seen in such positions. Therefore, male-dominated fields, remain, male-dominated.

An unequal share of unpaid care also prevents women from accessing career opportunities. EIGE’s research shows that women with children under the age of seven spend on average 20 more hours each week on unpaid care than men. This is a wakeup call.

Which, thankfully, has been answered by the European Commission’s care strategy to strengthen long-term care and early childhood education. This allows more flexibility to empower women and men to advance their careers, which has a strong and positive impact on Gross Domestic Product per capita.

By 2050, improving gender equality would lead to an increase in the EU’s GDP per capita by 6.1 to 9.6%, which amounts to €1.95 to €3.15 trillion.

It’s not a number you can ignore – it’s a number to help motivate and galvanise us forward. If this is true for the EU, it can be for Japan as well.  

So, what does forward look like?

I have been asked time and time again by colleagues at events – what is the state of gender equality and how can we improve it? That’s where I had the idea for taking #3StepsForward for a gender equal Europe. An approach that involves identifying steps, taking them and getting closer to the bigger goal.

My recommendation for Japan, is to follow this framework because it’s about committing to action. And action leads to results. Let me finish by giving you an example of what #3StepsForward could look like.

In the case of cyber violence against women and girls, which EIGE launches a campaign about in a few weeks’ time, EU Member States can end it by:

  • Harmonising definitions of cyber violence against women and girls. 
  • Enacting tough policies to create safe spaces online. 
  • And providing adequate funding for those supporting victims. 

And there you have it. I hope this short introduction has given you some food for thought in successfully advancing gender equality. I wish you all a productive workshop!