International Women Day 2021: Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

The EESC NAT Section and its Sustainable Development Observatory take part in the #IWD2021 action!

Equality between women and men – too little progress!

Equality between women and men is a fundamental value and objective of the European Union, enshrined in the European treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and most recently reaffirmed in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

While there are numerous positive initiatives within Europe to tackle various aspects of gender inequalities, the drivers for true equality, especially within the Member States and regions, are complex and multi-faceted. Despite the general progress that has been made, the EESC regrets that, at the current rate, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender equality in the EU.

The EESC has called for an overarching strategy for sustainability in implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In this context, the Committee believes that the EU and its Member States must make every effort to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality by 2030.

Gender equality, the labour market and COVID-19

As we already reported last June for the World Population Day, according to the Eurostat Sustainable Development Goals monitoring report, for SDG 5 (gender equality), the overall development was negative. In fact, it is the only SDG for which the EU moved away from the goal over the last five years.

In the labour market, European women continue to face persistent gender inequalities, segregation and a gender pay gap, which leads to women being at greater risk of poverty. Women are over-represented in part-time employment and their choice of part-time work is often influenced by caring responsibilities. The share of involuntary part-time work has decreased only slightly (0.1%) in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate effect on women. During the COVID-19 recession in the United States, women’s unemployment rate rose by 12.8 percentage points between February and April 2020, 2.9 percentage points larger than men’s increase of 9.9 percentage points. Moreover, the increase in childcare needs due to lockdowns affected women more than men. In Europe, Eurostat data show that, between April and September 2020, more women than men lost their jobs. The pandemic also pushed more women than men into inactivity (meaning, effectively, that they dropped out of the labour market). Overall, women have struggled more than men to balance their professional and personal lives during the pandemic.

According to the UN SDSN Sustainable Development Report 2020, short-term impacts of Covid-19 on SDG 5 can be negative due to possible disproportionate economic impacts on women (e.g., job losses, poverty) and other social impacts on women from the lockdown (e. g., domestic violence).

Last but not least, the current backlash against women's sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe has serious implications for women's human rights and a general threat to the universality of human rights.

Gender equality and the climate and environmental crisis

Gender inequality has been linked to environmental degradation. The United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Report found that when gender inequality is high, environmental factors such as forest depletion and air pollution are as well. Climate change disproportionately affects women, particularly poor women in developing countries. The IPCC found that gender inequalities are further exaggerated by climate-related hazards, and they result in higher workloads for women, occupational hazards indoors and outdoors, psychological and emotional stress, and higher mortality compared to men. Climate change has also been linked to gender-based violence, as increases in natural disasters limit access to resources, and violence against women is used to enforce gender imbalances for control of resources in these situations.

However, women can also be a key to solving climate problems. Empowering women represents a major opportunity in striving to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement. For instance, empowerment of women farmers, increased global access to family planning, and the right to an education — were the necessary changes proposed by Project Drawdown that could improve gender equality with huge benefits for the climate.