What we've learnt from the European Union's 2019 Gender Equality Index

"The EU continues its snail’s pace when it comes to gender equality progress", report says
"The EU continues its snail’s pace when it comes to gender equality progress", report says Copyright Pixabay
By Viola Stefanello
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"The EU continues its snail’s pace when it comes to gender equality progress", report says


The results are in - and they're not comforting.

According to the 2019 Gender Equality Index presented on October 15th by the European Institute for Gender Equality, the European Union and its members have a long way to go before their societies reach equality between men and women.

The EIGE defines gender equality as "equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys". Far from being a women-only issue, gender equality engages men just as much and it's generally seen as a precondition for sustainable development.

Or, in the words of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, advancing equality "is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to promoting the health, education, protection and the well-being of girls and boys".

With this in mind, EIGE has been monitoring the advancement of gender equality throughout the EU since 2013, measuring progress through six core domains: work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health, and taking into account national contexts on relevant policy areas.

The "Work" parameter measures equality of access between men and women to job opportunities, counting the type of employment, the opportunities for raises and promotions and the quality of training.

"Money" measures overall earnings, pensions, purchasing power and risk of poverty, while "Knowledge" considers access and participation in education as well as "gender segregation" in educational and career choices for men and women.

"Time" looks at the gender disparity in the time spent juggling care duties and household chores, and "Power" considers participation in the decision-making process both from a political and an entrepreneurial perspective.

Finally, "Health" measures the attention given to gender-specific conditions and access to healthcare.

The Index also tracks violence against women and intersecting inequalities. Every country is given a score from 0 to 100 on each domain.

The ?? EU scores 67.4 for gender equality, one point up since 2017. Although we are moving in the right direction, we...

Publiée par European Commission sur Mardi 15 octobre 2019

Since the Index considers gaps that damage women or men as equally problematic, higher overall scores mean that the countries boast both small or absent gender gaps and a general good situation for all the parts involved in the different domains.

At the same time, it shows the different realities that different groups of women and men face, applying an intersectional approach that also looks at disabilities, age, education level, country of origin, religion and sexual orientation.

Here's what it found.

Progress "at a snail's pace"

In 2005, the EU's General Equality Index score was 62. Fourteen years later, it's only improved by 5.4 points, reaching a regional average of 67.4 points and leaving much to be desired. “We are moving in the right direction but we are still far from the finish line", says Virginija Langbakk, at the head of EIGE. "Our Index, which sets a benchmark for gender equality in the EU, shows that almost half of all Member States fall below the 60 point mark.

As the new EU Parliament and Commission shape and renew EU priorities for the next strategic framework, it is crucial that gender equality gathers speed".

As the gender gap closes "at a snail's pace", some countries fall further behind than others. Sweden stays firmly on top - boasting 83.6 points - followed shortly by Denmark's 77.5 points. At the bottom of the ranking are Hungary, with 51.9 points, and Greece, at 51.2. Some countries, like Lithuania, saw little to no improvement since 2005. Others, like Portugal, Estonia, italy and Cyprus, showed considerable improvement.

The 2019 average score is 67.4 out of 100, meaning that the EU has made only 5.4 points increase in 12 years.EIGE

What's worse is that half of European member states fall under 60 points. "Gender inequality is holding Europe back from reaching its full potential. I am proud of what we have achieved, however now our actions need to make a difference on the ground", European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová said.

What does this mean?

On basically every aspect of everyday life - from work-life balance to childcare, from political decision-making to how much money you've got in your pocket - much remains to be done before gender equality is reached, as sexist stereotypes and preconceptions still shape attitudes and behaviours.


A glaring example is provided by the gap in work/life balance. As the share of population above 65 around the continent keeps increasing, the amount of time dedicated to the informal, unpaid care not only of children but of the elderly disproportionately weighs on the shoulders of women, who have historically been expected to include this type of care in their duties at home.

This fact trickles down to other aspects of women's lives: as stated by the report, "women’s greater involvement in informal care, which negatively impacts their participation in the labour market, also increases their risk of economic dependency, poverty and social exclusion."

National policies are also lagging behind when it comes to providing and encouraging paternal leaves for fathers of newborn children. This lack of adequate social policies means that men are often still perceived as the automatic full-time breadwinners, assigning women to reproductive roles and unpaid childcare, several European countries don't promote women's economic independence and labour-market participation.

Power, though, is the field where, according to the Index, the gap is most evident. In Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Hungary, women account for less than 20 % of parliamentarians. and, overall, men dominate the boards of the largest listed companies and central banks across the EU. Women represent 40% of board members of public research-funding organisations and 36 % of publicly owned broadcasting organisations.

As for one of the largest elephants in the room, violence against women, EIGE chose not to include it in the overall index since, as an indicator, it does not measure differences between the situation for men and women but instead focuses on the female experience of violence.


A general lack of updated information since 2014 also meant that data for each country was deemed insufficient to draw coherent conclusions, with 11 states not providing any specific data on femicides (intentional homicides by an intimate partner or family member),

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