Delivering the first outcomes of EIGE’s Strategic Foresight workshops to the European Commission and Member States, Director Carlien Scheele participated at the Meeting of the High-Level Group on Gender Mainstreaming in Brussels on 29 January as part of the Belgian Presidency 

Distinguished representatives of the Belgian presidency, members of the high-level group and dear colleagues,

Thank you for inviting me here today, to share with you emerging priority issues in the area of gender equality.

We are at the beginning of an important year for Europe.

To ensure the resilience of our societies and economies in what could be a changing EU landscape, we have been improving our preparedness and responsiveness through Strategic Foresight activities and techniques to provide evidence for policy and decision makers – the tentative outcomes of which, I will outline in a just a moment.

The reason for building forward-focused knowledge is because the future of gender equality could be at risk. Even though our 2023 Gender Equality Index showed the highest score since the inception of the Index with 70.2 points out of 100 for the EU, it is, of course, never as clear cut as it seems. The position is a result of marked progress indeed, but it's not a bolstered position – meaning it can easily slip.

In this legislature, the European Commission has consistently put gender equality, with relevant topics like gender-based violence and the gender pay gap, high up on the agenda.

And through committed legislation, policy and practice, we have seen many profound and even historical gains for gender equality. Such as the Women on Corporate Boards Directive and the EU's accession to the Istanbul Convention.

But these accomplishments need to be protected – alongside our rights and values in the EU.

In 2023, it became clear that strategic foresight was to play a central role in EIGE's work, moving forward as a standard practice.

Our starting point was the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (EU JRC) which published a set of 14 megatrends relevant for the future of Europe.

So, we started to map out potential future developments and analyse their implications to deliver recommendations for gender equality in the EU to the Commission for a possible next Gender Equality Strategy.

We began by hosting workshops with our Management Board and Experts Forum members, where we reflected on current realities affecting gender equality – and how they could shape and impact our future.

In addition to this, we broadened our approach to include wider perspectives. We conducted a public survey.  We received over 100 responses which is a big success.

I now share with you two key workshop outcomes and responses from the public survey.

The first priority topic identified is the changing nature of work. This includes digitalisation and its impact on gender equality - with particular emphasis on AI – which, as you are aware, is rapidly accelerating in everyday use and which could strongly impact everyone – across all generations.

One user made a clear point that: "Women are underrepresented in STEM and AI. This would enhance women's underemployment and the gender pay gap."

On the other hand, someone else said "Digital transformation facilitates women's economic empowerment and can contribute to greater gender equality – but this trend needs to be optimised to its fullest."

Speaking of transformation, the digital and green transition is underway in Europe, which is an opportunity for upskilling and reskilling to support the European Green Deal goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

A pillar of the transition is to leave no one behind – so that everyone benefits from the opportunities and benefits that this transformation brings. But is everyone considered in the green-related policies? Are their unique and diverse needs accounted for? The only way to ensure inclusive policies is to include a gender perspective and dimension at all stages of policy development.

Staying on the changing nature of work – now more than ever, flexibility is a foundational value, shaped by evolving needs – the pandemic forced us to make rearrangements as best we could. It was a turning point which is now an embedded expectation for how we live – because work and life happen together. They are not mutually exclusive. Life doesn't wait for work to stop at 17:00 nor does work wait for life to wrap up before a 9:00 start.

Life and work function best when we have options available to us so we can balance both needs.

One aspect key for flexibility is external care infrastructure – as you know EIGE places priority on providing evidence and recommendations on closing the gender care gap. The EU Care Strategy holds a promise for high-quality, affordable and accessible care services – a concrete commitment to shoulder the physical and emotional burden put on parents – in particular mothers.

The second next highest priority trend affecting gender equality in the EU according to the strategic foresight workshop, is climate change and environmental degradation.

You may be familiar with EIGE's 2023 thematic priority on the socially just transition of the European Green Deal.

The synergies between gender equality and sustainability are becoming clearer. But many still have a nascent understanding of how gender equality and climate change are linked, let alone actively impacting each other.

I myself hadn't made the connection until 2006 – which seems very ahead of the curve now – when I was in New York, for negotiations on the Commission on the Status of Women. We were talking about the participation of women in society, and the barriers they face. Suddenly a person who was from one of the developing countries in the room spoke about how in their country, due to the lack of rain and the very dry seasons, people had to walk great distances to get water from the water wells. And then this person said: "It's mostly girls and women who leave daily to get water, and they're easily victims of sexual assault."

It was such an eye-opener for me back then – how climate change can disproportionately affect women and girls, especially the most vulnerable such as women refugees or single mothers, who are exposed to energy poverty, who have to ask their children to stay in libraries to do their homework until closing time because at home, it's too expensive to keep the lights on.

One response from the survey made an irrefutable claim that: "Climate change potentially locks society to maintain gender roles."

While another said: "Respecting the planet should always be the absolute priority and our only responsibility towards future generations."

As you just heard one of our respondents highlighted future generations. The Europe of tomorrow belongs to them. But what future are we creating?

We must bring in new voices with new visions, hopes and energy to deliver change. Today's youth are powerful. They come ready with knowledge and novel approaches.

It's something we are looking forward to exploring at EIGE's upcoming Gender Equality Forum which we will organise on the 10-11 December 2024 in Brussels. Findings from our strategic foresight activities as well as our Gender Equality Index will include a thematic focus on gender-based violence with key findings from the results of the EIGE-FRA VAW survey which will support conversations on the future of gender equality over the two days.

In closing, to keep the momentum up, let us be encouraged and prideful of what we've achieved. Let us be vigorous in turning commitments into actions. And let's keep taking #3StepsForward for gender equality.

Thank you. I wish you a successful meeting.