Speeding up snail’s pace on gender equality

On 10 October the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) published its 2017 report on the Gender Equality Index – a collection of unique data comparing gender equality between women and men in different areas of life, in all EU Member States. While we have made great progress over 100 years, not much has happened in the last decade. ‘We are moving at a snail’s pace’, said Virginija Langbakk, the Director of EIGE, and European Commissioner Vera Jourova expressed her frustration that there is too much talking and too little action by national decision-makers.

Overall, Member States score the lowest in the field of power and decision-making; the EU is represented by only men in the International Monetary Fund, which shows we have a long way to go, said Jolanta Reingarde from EIGE. My own country of birth Sweden performs the best, and Åsa Regnér, the Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly, and Gender Equality reminded participants about national reforms in the 70s that were vital for gender equality: individual taxation and social security systems, parental leave, abortion rights, and investing in elderly care and health care. Ms Regnér added that gender budgeting and migration are key solutions to global competitiveness and our ageing societies.

What was particularly interesting this year around was the focus on intersectionality. Marre Karu from EIGE illustrated the meaning of intersectionality with the case of Emma DeGraffenreid, who sued General Motors, a company that claimed it did not discriminate as it employed both women and African-Americans. Looking closer, it turned out that the women were white and the African-Americans were men – no African-American women actually worked at the company. Another case that was brought up was that of Miriam O’Reilly, a BBC employee who was fired because of her gender and age. BBC claimed they fired older staff in order to recruit new young fresh minds, although they tended to only fire older women, not older men. The index now covers age, country of birth, disability, parenthood and family type. As highlighted by our member organisations, it unfortunately does not include intersectional grounds such as race, ethnicity and gender identity, but this is because comparable data unfortunately does not exist; EIGE encouraged those in countries where all or some of this information exists to do their own case studies on intersectionality. (To learn more about intersectionality, watch this great TED talk by Kimberle Crenshaw.)

Among the European Commission initiatives to improve gender equality is the Work-Life Balance Directive presented as a part of the European Pillar of Social Rights, an action plan to tackle the gender pay gap, pushing Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention, and making “women’s rights in turbulent times” the topic of the next Fundamental Rights Colloquium. The European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is also doing its part to mainstream gender equality in other policy fields; Member of the European Parliament Ernest Urtasun highlighted that the Parliament recently adopted a report looking at the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU, a perspective often forgotten.

While the launch event of the Gender Equality Index was refreshingly gender balanced in terms of participants and speakers, this is not the case for most Brussels-based conferences, events and meetings. A recent report by EU Panel Watch shows that in two-thirds of debates in Brussels men still represent all or the majority of speakers. The proportion of female speakers even marginally decreased since last year. My advice to men, to counteract this trend, would be to refuse to accept a speaker’s invitation if the panel is all male. Another way is to follow in the footsteps of European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who gave some of his speaking time at the launch of the Equality Index event to a young Ugandan female activist.