COVID-19 has increased inequalities across the European Union. The hardest hit are women, minorities, disabled people and those in poverty or at risk of it. We talked about these topics, high on this year's EU agenda, with the European commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli.
On average women earn 14% less than men in the EU. What measures are you proposing to reduce this gap?
Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality:
"Yes, as you rightly point out, women and minorities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic but as you rightly as well say that there's this 14% gender pay gap which needs to be addressed. Actually, it's been in the treaties since 1957, the principle of equal pay for equal work or for work for equal value. So it is a priority of ours to present a proposal for a directive which enables pay transparency".
Some companies are reluctant to implement pay transparency measures. Do you envisage sanctions?
"I am a strong believer of social dialogue, and it is important that workers' unions, employers' unions, civil society are all on board when we make a proposal. I am sure that employers there are some model employers, who I have spoken to and who have already in place the mechanism to see that there is this pay transparency and they report to us that their employees are very happy. So I am sure that employers, there are many employers, who are already on board and that there will be more".
Are member states willing to follow your directive or are you ready to overcome some reluctance from the member states?
"From the feedback I have up to now, there are many member states who are keen on the proposal. And I am sure, I mean, governments want to do what is best for their citizens. I am sure that governments don't want this type of discrimination to continue happening. So truly, I don't think that there should be much objection to maybe some fine-tuning. But definitely, this is in the interests of all our citizens. And I am sure that governments will want to promote this".
The pandemic has worsenedthe situationfor women in the labour market, but also at home. Violence against women has increased, how can you tackle this situation?
"This is very true, and many member states have reported an increase in violence against women. There were member states which took certain actions in order to address the current situation, especially during lockdown when women were in spaces with their abusers and could not get away from this situation. So obviously there is the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, which the European Union has signed but has not yet ratified because we have not managed to get all the member states to ratify this. But we shall be having our own legislation also by the end of the year, I shall be presenting legislation which protects women and girls in situations of violence".
The Istanbul convention is a text for fighting violence against women. One member State in particular, Poland, is considering withdrawing from it. What can be done to convince governments to remain part of this convention and to strengthen women's rights?
"Well, it will be a shame if this happens. But I know also by speaking to civil society organisations in Poland and also to MEPs coming from Poland and also national parliamentarians, and that obviously they are against this also. So there is a lot of pressure against this happening".
You just presented your strategy for disabled people who are more isolated than ever because of the pandemic. What is the aim of your strategy?
"Well this is the new strategy for the coming 10 years, we shall support, by knowledge, by funds the member states so that we are heading towards a union of equality and equality means that every person in the European l Union has access to a job, to education, to housing, to health without excluding anyone that is our job to proceed in a way where we will truly have a union of equality".
What measures are you proposing to address accessibility tobuildings,transport and education?
"Well, accessibility, we are speaking, for instance, of an accessibility card. We have held a pilot project, in eight member states, and we are aiming to extrapolate this to all member states so that it would help. I mean, there is freedom of movement but if you have a disability and you are planning to go to a member state which doesn't recognise certain aspects of your rights, then there we must have this common accessibility card. So this will help persons with disabilities to travel more freely, for instance".
Some parts of your strategy look like the previous European strategy. What is different with this new one?
"Well, we cannot say that in the past 10 years, all that had to be done was done. And also then there are new realities also which arise. So I wouldn't say that there's been this 10-year strategy, that's it, we've done it! No. That is why we have another strategy for the coming 10 years so that we keep up, we keep up the pressure also on member states so that they can improve on what they have already done. There is always room for improvement. So so it's never the end".
To watch the full exclusive interview with Helena Dalli, the EU Commissioner for Equality, click on the medial player above.