In this episode of Insiders, reporter Valérie Gauriat traveled to Iceland to see why the Scandinavian island tops the World Economic Forum’s ranking on gender equality.
But how is the rest of Europe doing?
Insiders host Sophie Claudet spoke to Virginija Langbakk, Director of the European Institute for Gender Equality, to find out.
Sophie Claudet: Ms Langbakk, thanks for being with us. We’ve seen in our first report that both tougher laws and education help advance gender equality. Do you think one is more important than the other?
Virginija Langbakk: Laws establish the basic standards, where gender equality is connecting with women’s rights or human rights.
If you have the standards, then you can also monitor. You can enforce these things among some governments, which maybe are not so interesting for them without the laws.
Education, however, is more connected to the mind – the change of mind – and it’s a longer process. And, of course, there it is about life and preparing for your working life. And they are both extremely important for gender equality.
Sophie Claudet: Now, what is your take on female quotas?
Virginija Langbakk: We don’t know yet the impact on the countries where the quotas were introduced.
We cannot evaluate as yet. But what we see, of course, when we were doing analysis, for example, for Italy or Slovenia, when they introduced quotas for political decision making, the leap was big. And the debates were big. Quotas forced people to think.
I know that in some companies—especially in the corporate world—some companies say they tried to pay the fines instead of finding suitable women, they tried to find excuses.
But quotas forced people to rethink the situation and it’s really pushing progress forward.
Sophie Claudet: Some observers have said that gender equality is easier to advance in Scandinavian countries due to their specific culture and history.
Virginija Langbakk: I don’t really think that history is the factor which created this specific situation for the Nordic countries because they had the same challenges, when women were not allowed to work, then voting, and then the world war.
Also, how women took over in the sense that they started working. And, of course, the women’s movement is one of the things but you have women’s movement in other countries.
The way the Nordic countries have achieved gender equality now is followed by European Union member states so it is really a part replication, but in reality it sets the standard.
Sophie Claudet: What are the most pressing issues and battles that are still to be won to advance gender equality in the European Union?
Virginija Langbakk: The biggest area where gender inequalities are not decreasing but are increasing, it is this unequal division of private time. The time for caring responsibilities, for family and elderly.
There, we see huge and very gendered differences.
So, one third of men in total in the European Union do an hour or something at home unpaid, but then the rest don’t do anything.
The other thing is, of course, employment because we still have the pension gap, which is in part of the result of employment and many other reasons; and also employment then creates a gender pay gap.
Another area which needs to be worked on is violence against women or gender based violence against women.
Sophie Claudet: Now in closing, is there a divide in the European Union – North, South, East, West – or is it too simplistic to say that?
Virginija Langbakk: Yes, I believe it is a bit easy or simplistic to say there’s a divide on that front. Bulgaria is the best among the number of women in ICT professions.
If you think for the southern (countries), of course, Spain is working very much on violence against women: they have many different interventions, they have (put in place) many measures.
Italy has leaped forward in relation to women in politics.
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