Gender Equality Week saw European Parliament committees host many events, highlighting real threats but also strong commitments.
After the success of the first European Gender Equality Week organised by the European Pariament in 2020, even more committees and delegations participated in the second edition this year. Over the past week, 16 committees took part and 21 events took place, all addressing interesting topics linked to gender equality. From Monday to Thursday, the parliament showed its commitment to and the importance of gender equality and gender mainstreaming, across the range of policy domains.
This extremely positive development shows that achieving gender equality is a task we can only fulfil together. It is a horizontal topic touching upon all aspects of life—from disarmament, to women’s rights in Afghanistan to care work.
The highlight came on Thursday: the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) presented its 11th annual Gender Equality Index at a high-level conference. The message was clear: we have been advancing only at a snail’s pace in the last year, yet the effects of the pandemic not only risk halting the snail but even reversing the small gains made.
This is already evident in the domain of time, if we measure gender inequalities in time spent doing unpaid care and domestic work and social activities. This includes gender gaps in the involvement of women and men in caring for and educating their children or grandchildren and older and disabled people, as well as their involvement in cooking and housework. That we are experiencing a step back here does not come as a surprise, yet it is crucial to spotlight as we shape our policies for the future.
A key focus also in this second Gender Equality Week was indeed the effects of Covid-19 on women and men. FEMM, the committee on women’s rights and gender equality, held a hearing on common European action on care, which addressed some of the concerns highlighted by the EIGE index. The experts agreed that the European Union had to step up: care is essential to all of us from the first to our very last seconds.
Many negative impacts of the pandemic—’long Covid’, worsening mental health and deterioration of overall wellbeing—could be significated alleviated if our care system were placed at the heart of recovery efforts. Many jobs, giving significant boosts to our economies, could be created, with high wages and good working conditions, so that in the end all have access to affordable and high-quality care: children, the elderly and the rest of us. Re-evaluating the worth of unpaid and informal care work, which especially affects women, would help in closing gender gaps.
EMPL, the committee on employment, discussed with a representative of the EIGE the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on gender equality. Earlier, the ECON committee highlighted the importance of gender mainstreaming for recovery efforts and the implementation of solutions based on lessons learned in the pandemic.
The BUDG committee held a hearing on gender budgeting. While this is key to achieving gender equality, a recent report by the European Court of Auditors showed that we are however far from achieving it in the EU’s budget.
Yet another topic many committees and delegations addressed was gender-based violence. Here too we know the situation, especially for women, has worsened due to the pandemic—and it wasn’t so good before. A key file is the Council of Europe’s treaty on combating violence against women, the Istanbul convention. The delegation on relations with Turkey thus discussed the impact of Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention—signed in that country.
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But also among EU member states we see a lack of action on violence against women, even of data. So far this year, in our home country, Austria, 22 women have been brutally murdered by (ex-)partners and just in one week several attempts took place. It is important to address the issue of femicides—and DROI, the committee on human rights, will do so at a workshop next month. Similarly, PETI, the committee on petitions, took up aspects of gendered violence, such as the measures by member states to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages.
Looking to the future, CULT explored how to close the gender gap in education, culture, media and sport, together with the European Commission. Meanwhile, AGRI asked ‘Where are the women?’, discussing with a farmer and an academic women in the countryside.
FEMM also organised a side-event to the Conference on the Future of Europe, ‘An inclusive economy for women in the green and digital transformation’. This adopted an intersectional approach on how to close the gender pay gap while tackling the big challenges of our time. A key issue was also addressed by JURI, the committee on legal affairs: women need to be in decision-making! They have to sit on company boards, at climate negotiation tables and in parliaments to be heard. It is high time the so-called ‘women on boards’ directive was finally unblocked in the Council of the EU.
These are just some of the many events and discussions that took place, but they do highlight that gender equality affects everyone and is an issue everywhere—in all countries and in all policy fields. At the same time, the week showed us something very positive: gender equality is taken seriously by many—within the European Parliament and beyond.
We have been able to highlight with this second European Gender Equality Week that equality is a goal which, once achieved, makes life better for everyone. Let’s take the next step and work together, finally to reach that goal!