EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech for the press at EIGE's Gender Equality Index 2020 conference on 29 October 2020. 

Thank you all for joining today.

I’d like to start by saying a few words about EIGE’s Gender Equality Index, which we publish annually. The Index measures the progress of gender equality in the European Union and shows trends in the domains of work, money, knowledge, time, power, health and violence. Each year, we score the EU and Member States from 1 to 100, with a score of 100 signifying full equality between women and men. The Index also looks at intersecting inequalities, which examines the situation of different groups of women and men, based on family type, level of education, country of birth, age and disability. Each year, the Index has a thematic focus – this time it looks at digitalisation. Next year it will take a closer look at the long-term impact of the pandemic with a special focus on health.

This year’s Gender Equality Index score for the EU as a whole is 67.9 points out of 100. That’s a mere half a point improvement from last year, when the score was 67.4, and it is only 4 points higher than ten years ago. This means that we are improving with 1 point every 2 years. At this rate, the EU is still 60 years away from full equality between women and men.

There are some big differences between EU Member States. Sweden and Denmark keep their top spots since 2013 when the first Gender Equality Index was released, with a score of 83.8 for Sweden and 77.4 for Denmark. France comes third with a score of 75.1.  Greece, Hungary and Romania have the most catching up to do, with Greece’s score of 52.2 only being a little over the halfway mark to equality between women and men.

But the Index is not about crude ranking – we are here to assess what leads to progress on gender equality and what each country could do better. In that spirit, I’d like to congratulate those countries that have made the most progress since 2010. Italy has improved by a staggering 10.2 points, while Luxembourg (+9.1) and Malta (+9) have also made big jumps.

So what drives progress on gender equality in the EU? Actually the biggest improvements are in the domain of power, which reflects on gender equality in political, economic and social decision-making. Even though this area has the lowest score out of the six that we measure in the Index, it has seen an increase of 12 points since 2010, and an increase of 1.6 points since last year’s Index. Without these changes, gender equality in the EU would barely be progressing.

I would like to mention a few countries which have made remarkable progress in improving gender equality in decision-making. France has improved the most with a massive increase of 27.4 points since 2010, followed by Italy (+23.6), Luxembourg (+22.8), and Germany (+21.2). These jumps are largely due to an increased presence of women on the largest quoted company boards. France is the only country that has 40 % of women in these positions. These developments did not come without effort: several countries introduced quotas to bring in more women, and this clearly had an impact.

However, since the progress is driven by a few countries, it will start to slow down and flatten once they have reached gender balance, unless other countries start to take action.

We must also remember that we still have a long way to go: despite progress at board level, women continue to be excluded from top positions, with men still accounting for nine out of ten CEOs in the largest quoted companies. The same is true for government:  it has  been striking that throughout the Covid-19 crisis, women have been largely missing from the decision-making bodies established to tackle the pandemic. Even though women represent the majority of healthcare workers, decisions have been taken mostly by men.

The Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted other inequalities between women and men. As schools and workplaces were closed to contain the spread of the virus, families faced extra pressure to fulfil childcare responsibilities and home-schooling while teleworking. One positive of this situation was that was fathers were often spending more time at home looking after their children. However, women and especially lone mothers still faced the most challenges when trying to juggle work and family life.

This brings me to the focus of this year’s Gender Equality Index: digitalisation. We have seen during the pandemic how digital technologies can help both women and men combine private life with paid work. However, I would like to stress that telework arrangements are not a long-term solution to solve the shortage of adequate and affordable care services. Before the crisis hit, 7.7 million women were kept out of the labour market due to caring responsibilities – that’s more than the entire population of Bulgaria. To compare, only 450,000 men were kept out of the labour market for the same reason.

It’s not just women’s employment that’s affected by caring responsibilities. A lack of free time makes it harder for women to find time for regular training to update their skills. As digital innovation is moving so fast, people need to keep on improving their skills if they want to take advantage of these new, well-paid jobs requiring a high level of digital skills. In the EU, on average 40% of women compared to 24 % of men cannot participate in lifelong learning due to family responsibilities.

Gender segregation is one of the unresolved challenges in our society. Women are hugely under-represented in ICT programmes at university and in ICT jobs, with women making up only 18 % of ICT students and holding just 20 % of ICT jobs in the EU. Our Gender Equality Index has found that, despite special initiatives to encourage girls to study science, engineering and ICT, gender segregation in education has actually increased since 2010. As our lives become increasingly digitalised, this is a serious cause for concern.   

These are just some of the key takeaways from this year’s Gender Equality Index. You will learn more at our conference and from the report. The results will be published on our website in about an hour.

I would like to finish by stressing that it is clear that we cannot be idle if we want to speed up progress on gender equality. We need to recognise that women and men face different realities and we need to design policies accordingly. At the European Institute for Gender Equality we have the data to enable policymakers to do this. This should help ensure it doesn’t take another 60 years for the European Union to reach gender equality.

Thank you, I will now hand over to Mira [Banerjee, Head of EIGE's Knowledge Management and Communications Unit] and will be available to take questions at the end.