On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Brussels is focussing on gender equality. Many events were organised in the advance in order to show and to discuss the still serious, mainly structural discriminations.
International Women’s Day on March 8th is the day when women and equality policy is discussed on a large stage. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has used this day as an opportunity to make an appeal for the coming elections to the European Parliament: ETUC urges voters to support in particular female candidates at the coming parliamentary elections, as women are still significantly underrepresented with a share of 36 % in the EU Parliament. The coming election would now be an opportunity to rectify this imbalance. The European Commission also demanded in a press release that more women should be at the highest level of all EU levels and published its Report on the Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
A number of events took place in Brussels around International Women’s Day to discuss still existing discriminations and to create a more feminist world without exploitation, patriarchy and sexual or gender-based violence. In addition to a Committee meeting of the European Parliament’s FEMM Committee on the subject of “women's rights and gender equality“, the Left fraction (GUE/NGL) organised for the third time the lasting several days “Feminist Forum: Building a feminist world”. In particular, topics related to feminism and the market were discussed, but the issue of migration was also at the centre of the debates. Apart from that, a Stakeholder-Workshop was held, which dealt with the issue of “Better work-life balance: closing the gender employment gap?”
Work-Life Balance: Closing the gender pay gap by alternative parental leave models
When it comes to parenting, many couples still rely to classical role concepts in which women tend to take care of the upbringing of children and men of the financial security of the family. This is confirmed by studies of European statistical institutes: In Austria in 2018, the share of fathers taking parental leave even declined compared to mothers - from 4.2 % to 3,8 %. The leading role in the EU regarding the sharing parental leave falls to Sweden, where the share of fathers taking parental leave is about 27 %. This gender-specific distribution of responsibilities causes a number of financial disadvantages and dependencies for women with children. Apart from bad career opportunities, they will also have lower pension entitlements, which is also reflected in the Gender Pension Gap, which is 36.6 % across Europe (as at October 2018).
The recently adopted Agreement on a Directive on Work-Life Balance by the EU institutions should be a first step towards addressing this structural problem. The aim is to integrate men more into childcare and thus to achieve a fairer division of labour between the genders in the field of unpaid family work. Based on the agreement, all EU countries will be obliged to implement parental leave of at least ten days. Although this can be seen as a step towards more equality in childcare, there is still a long way to go to achieve structural changes. During the discussion on “Better work-life balance”, Katharina Ivanković Knežević, Director for Social Affairs, European Commission, pointed out that these regulations are intended to create minimum standards in states, where no provisions exist yet, to promote developments. However, she put special emphasis on the importance of increasing the number of flexible childcare centres, which are especially aimed towards the requirements of families; however, she also pointed towards the importance of developing new solutions to better in order to better combine work and parenting. Here, for example, the better integration and use of technology and teleworking can bring positive change.
European Parliament: What actually happened to the #MeToo debate?
In 2018, the #MeToo campaign attracted a lot of attention and exposed the scale of sexual assaults and violence against women. Women working in the European Parliament also mentioned male MEPs and colleagues who groped, stalked or otherwise harassed them. This resulted in the #metooEP campaign. A year after the discussion had flared up, signals were given and a MeToo resolution was discussed in Parliament, which should demand appropriate behaviour of MEPs towards women. There are still some MEPs, who continue to resist these measures. Above all, resistance came from German MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party. In January 2019, MEP Werner Langen commented on the debate: “This is the biggest load of nonsense I've ever experienced in Parliament.” This demonstrates the low level of sensitisation by some MEPs on the subject of protection against discrimination. In response, MEP Evelyn Regner countered that MEPs must also adhere to a code of conduct: “If one has not spent the last years under a stone, one knows that we in the EU Parliament need better rules against harassment and sexual violence".