EU gender equality report reveals ‘mountain to climb’

By on 18/04/2017 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Vĕra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality

The EU still has “a mountain to climb” in ensuring gender equality, the European Commissioner in charge of gender equality has warned, with women across the Continent continuing to face a glass ceiling in reaching management and leadership positions.

Vĕra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, told Global Government Forum that women’s rights remain “a top priority” for the EU, 60 years after they were enshrined as a fundamental value in the Treaty of Rome.

Speaking as the EU released its annual gender equality report, she said: “We have made great strides for women’s rights, yet too many inequalities still exist and progress remains slow and uneven. So we should celebrate the progress we have made, but we must not let ourselves fall into the trap and believe our work is done. We still have a mountain to climb.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said “enormous strides” had been made towards meeting the target of 40% women in top management positions in the Commission by 2019.

Internally, there are only nine female Commissioners out of 28. However, women now account for 32% of EC posts at director level and above, with 35% of middle managers currently women. The Commission recently appointed several women as director general or deputy director gender, increasing female representation from 13% in November 2014 to 29% today.

“Europe is a pioneer of gender equality and that is something we should be proud of,” said Juncker. “Be it in employment and occupation, vocational training, social security or access to goods and services: women and men have to be treated equally. That is the law. Unfortunately the road to effective equality still has some bumps ahead. That is why we cannot let up.

“If intolerance and chauvinism start to proliferate inside or outside our borders we have to push back twice as hard with a simple and thoroughly European message: gender equality is not an aspirational goal. It is a fundamental right.”

Asked what could be done to improve gender balance at Commission level, Jourová told GGF that member states and the European Parliament should actively support gender balance in their nominations.

“In the current climate of rising populism, gender-balanced participation in politics can only improve democratic governance and increase public trust in our institutions,” she said.

“Women should be given the same opportunities as men to be nominated. I am convinced that, where there is true political will, it is possible to achieve gender balance in leadership positions in the European Commission and other EU institutions.”

The 2017 gender equality report states that when women do reach cabinet level within national governments, they are often allocated so-called “soft” portfolios with lower political priority.

In October 2016, more than 68% of male senior ministers in EU countries held a high-profile or economic portfolios, compared to around 43% of female ministers. In contrast, more than 44% of all women ministers had a socio-cultural portfolio, compared to just over 19% of men.

“A more gender-neutral allocation of portfolios could help governments to pass a stronger message about their commitment to gender equality,” the report states.

Jourová said it is up to political parties to ensure equal opportunities for men and women through, for example, training and development programmes and financial support. “Political parties should also fight against the prevalent gender biases that consider leadership qualities to be most closely related to male qualities in political culture,” she said.

The report also finds that women remain significantly under-represented in politics and account for less than 20% of members of national parliaments in eight countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Malta and Romania). In contrast, parliaments in Sweden and Finland included at least 40% of each gender in November 2016.

It says: “Equal participation of women and men in decision-making positions is a matter of justice, respect for fundamental rights and good governance. It is needed to better reflect the composition of society and to strengthen democracy.”

Women were found to earn 40% less than men on average across the 28 EU member states, with the gender pay gap expected to persist for another century if progress on eliminating it continues at this rate.

Only four countries (France, Italy, Finland and Sweden) had achieved 30% of women on the boards of large companies, and the female unemployment rate was found to be very high in southern countries.

Elsewhere, the European Parliament has urged member states and the Commission to do more to achieve equality between men and women.

MEPs adopted a resolution calling for the revision of existing maternity and parental leave regulations and for more to be done to prevent the portrayal of female stereotypes in the media, among others.

Spanish MEP Ernest Urtasun, who wrote the resolution, said: “Data clearly show that the EU is only half way towards achieving gender equality.

“Equal pay between women and men in the EU… is still not a reality. On many issues, including pay, pensions and employment opportunities, progress towards equality in the EU has either stalled or gone into reverse. Gender equality clearly needs to be moved up the political agenda and be given priority status.”

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See also:

Progress on female ministers has stalled, says UN

OECD chief of staff calls for bold policies on gender equality

Former Canadian supreme court justice to lead on UN migration efforts


About Martha Moss

Martha Moss is a journalist with a background covering European and UK politics. She was based in Brussels for four years, where she specialised in reporting on the European Parliament - particularly on environmental, gender, justice and international development issues.

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