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International Women's Day: EU progress on gender equality is moving at a 'snail's pace'

International Women's Day: EU progress on gender equality is moving at a 'snail's pace'
By Rachael Kennedy
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While progress has been made toward gender equality in the EU, such progress is happening fast enough, according to a new report from the European Commission released in time for International Women's Day


Progress is slow on Europe's endeavour to achieve gender equality, and there is still a lot of ground to be made, the European Commission said on Thursday.

In its annual report released in time for International Women's Day, the Commission highlighted several areas where inequality in Europe prevails, whether its the long-discussed issue of pay gaps, or the unwavering glass ceiling that looms over women reaching for high-profile employment.

And it's not just an endeavour based on principle, it's an economy booster too.

The EU estimates that improving statistics for gender equality could create more than 10 million jobs in the next few decades, bumping the bloc's economy by up to €3.15 trillion.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has called for a stronger push to strive for gender equality across the continent.

"We are in 2019 and progress in the area of gender equality is still at a snail’s pace," he said.

"In some countries, the situation is even regressing. All we ask for is equality for all. Nothing more, but nothing less either. It’s time women and men push for equality together."

But what are the key areas of concern?

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap across the EU as a whole has stayed "practically unchanged" in the last few years, according to the Commission's report.

Women on average earned 16% less than their male counterparts in 2017, which was just a 0.6% improvement on statistics from three years earlier.

This continuing gap meant women were left more vulnerable to slipping into poverty, and, in some countries, were less able to afford relevant healthcare.

According to the EU's analysis, a major cause of the ongoing gender pay gap could be due to an underrepresentation of women in high-salaried roles predominantly held by men.

"Around 30% of the total gender pay gap is explained by the overrepresentation of women in relatively low-paying sectors, such as care and education," the report said.

'The glass ceiling'

Statistics for career-ambitious women in the EU were not particularly positive, despite employment rates reaching "historically high levels."

Women continued to be underrepresented in senior roles in politics and business, with mentions of the "glass ceiling" remaining a reality.

In business, just 6.3% of CEOs in large EU-based publicly-listed companies are women, while in 2018 females in politics held just over 18% of leadership positions in major political parties.

The report notes that while the percentage of females in these political leadership roles has fluctuated since 2011, there is still "little sign of substantial progress."

The European Parliament elections in May are now seen as an opportunity to potentially encourage and empower women in these roles.


"I want to see more women running for election," Vĕra Jourová, the EU's Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said.

"We should lead by example: I call on Member States to present more female candidates as future European Commissioners."

But progress in some areas is being noticed. In the European Parliament, Finland's statistics stood out, having women account for almost 77% of its MEPs.

Seven member states had 40% of each gender: Ireland, Spain, France, Croatia, Latvia, Malta and Sweden.

Violence against women

Gender-based violence and harassment remains a problem across the EU, which has been spotlighted with the rise of the #metoo movement.


A third of European women aged 15 and over have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, the Commission reported.

Around 50% of all women in the EU have experienced sexual harassment, while 10% have received harassment online.

Such issues are particularly prevalent in politics.

According to the Commission, around 85% of MPs across the EU have suffered psychological violence in parliament, with younger MPs and parliamentary staff more at risk.

In a press release published alongside the report, the Commission said: "Particularly worrisome is the trivialisation of sexist hate speech, especially online, but also in the public discourse."


"Words matter and can lead to actions. They can be a first step towards unequal treatment or even physical violence. We call on all EU Member States to show zero-tolerance towards hate speech and all forms of violence and discrimination against women."

Work-life balance

The EU recently agreed on new rules to help families balance their careers with their home lives, which includes support for parents to equally share caring responsibilities of young children and other relatives.

For example, a minimum paid paternity leave of 10 days was agreed, among other new arrangements.

This "will contribute to getting more women at work by giving families a real choice on how to organise their professional and private life," the Commission said.

Shared responsibility "will increase opportunities for women to find jobs that reflect their level of education and ambition. Unlocking this potential would be the best economic stimulus we could offer to boost our economies."


In the meantime, some individual member states have undertaken their own policies to encourage a work-life balance and shared responsibility.

Germany, for example, already allows for 12 months of paid parental leave, which can be extended by another two months if caring responsibilities are shared by both parents.

According to the report, the percentage of fathers using parently allowance in Germany increased hugely from 3.5% to 36% between 2006 and 2015, while the employment rate for mothers to toddlers rose from 42% to 58%.

In the UK, it was found pregnant women were significantly more likely to exercise their rights after the implementation of peer support services for women experiencing maternity discrimination in the workplace.

2019 report

This year marks the Commission's final monitoring report on its Strategic Engagement programme for gender equality, which was a project held over 3 years from 2016.


While the evaluation is coming to a close in 2019 before laying out its future framework, the report maintained that gender equality remained a priority for the EU.

"Equality is a core value of the European Union, and a principle we will keep fighting for," the Commission said.

"Equality between women and men is no exception."

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