On Thursday, March 5th, 2020, just a few days before the International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Commission published its Gender Equality Strategy. It was presented in Brussels by Helena Dalli, the EU’s first Commissioner for Equality and by Věra Jourová, the Vice President of the European Commission responsible.
Commission President von der Leyen has declared the subject of gender equality to be one of her Commission’s priorities – the A&W Blog reported. Hence, this Commission’s percentage of women is at an all-time high and with Helena Dalli, a feminist and fighter for LGBTIQ rights has joined the Commission von der Leyen, who already made a name for herself as a Maltese politician. In contrast to the previous Commission, the new one decided to once again publish a Gender Equality Strategy.
There is still plenty to do: for example, the average salary of women in the EU is still 16 % lower than that of men; hence, their pension is also 30.1 % lower. During their lifetime, 33 % of women in the EU have been affected by physical or sexual violence; 55 % have already been sexually harassed. No less than 75 % of unpaid domestic work is still done by women. At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, universal women's rights were declared human rights for the first time. At the same time, an action plan was developed to achieve more gender equality. The EU committed itself to evaluating the progress made on an annual basis. Looking back over the last 25 years, the European Parliamentary Research Service comes, among other, to the following conclusion: many challenges, such as the pay gap and the unequal distribution of unpaid work between genders are still highly topical. New challenges, for example due to digitisation and the backlash in gender equality, also need to be tackled.
The new EU Gender Equality Strategy shall not only be regarded as European contribution to achieve the Beijing targets; they shall also be implemented in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). Parliament had already asked the Commission in January to present an ambitious gender equality package, with the result that the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 was published on March 5th. Its task will be to guide Commission, Member States EU Parliament regarding their actions. For the first time, an annual evaluation is also established.
At the centre of the strategy is the fight against gender-based violence, for gender equality in the labour market, for equal pay and pensions as well as combatting stereotype. The intention is also to link the strategy with future strategies – in the sense of an intersectional claim. For example, the LGBTIQ strategy and a strategy on Roma and Sinti is to follow before the end of the year.
The fight against violence against women lies at the heart of the equality strategy. A ratification of the Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) is still being pursued; however, it has been blocked by the Council since 2014. Should the aim to persuade the countries that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention to support it, not be achieved, the Commission will present its own measures in 2021. The labour market and a fairer gender distribution of care work is also the target of some measures. Hence, the employment rate of women shall be increased; it is currently at 67 % for women compared to 78 % for men. In this context, it is also, among other, necessary to ensure the implementation of the Work-life Balance Directive. An EU-wide campaign to reduce stereotypes will also be initiated. Another objective is to increase the share of women in the digital sector.
As already aimed for in 2012, a quota for women on supervisory boards shall also be continued to be pursued. Commissioner Dalli called quota a “necessary evil” to achieve more gender equality in key positions. The Commission is also taking its own responsibility and increased the quota on all its management levels to 50 %. The strategy shall also help to counteract the big differences in respect of pay and pensions. For example, binding measures on pay transparency will follow before the end of the year; the relevant consultation process starts today. The Commission will also enter into dialogue with the social partners.
However, the strategy does not only focus on individual areas, but also strives for gender mainstreaming and thereby the inclusion of the gender perspective in all EU policies. This is to be tackled by a "Task for Equality" set up specifically for this purpose. The aim is to finance the strategy by drawing on various funds and by gender budgeting in the MFF 2021-2027. Evelyn Regner, Chair of the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Parliament welcomed the strategy: “The von der Leyen Commission is keeping its word and presents a genuine EU Gender Equality Strategy within the first 100 days in office. When gender equality becomes a matter for the (female) boss, things are beginning to move”.