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Europe's civil society calls for political commitment to achieving equal treatment of men and women

Despite the general progress on gender equality, at this pace it will take more than a century for women to become equal to men in Europe, says the EESC

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has urged the European Union and its Member States to put gender equality at the top of their political agenda amid concerns that recent attacks on women's rights in Europe might seriously compromise progress towards equality between men and women.

This decade is witnessing a visible and organised backlash in gender equality and human rights. In many areas, including pay, pensions and employment opportunities, progress towards equality has either stalled or gone into reverse, said Indre Vareikytė, rapporteur for the EESC opinion on gender equality issues, adopted by an overwhelming majority at the Committee's plenary session in May.

Gender-based stereotypes permeate all areas of life. If attitudes do not change, daughters of future generations will have fewer rights than us, the women of today, Ms Vareikytė warned.

In Ms Vareikyte’s own-initiative opinion, the EESC asks the EU to step up its efforts and make equality a stand-alone goal in its future financial frameworks. It also seeks an ambitious and binding five-year strategy requiring every possible effort by governments, EU institutions, civil society and the private sector to effectively tackle all aspects of gender equality.

To counter the bleak statistics showing home to be the least safe place for every third woman in the EU, the EESC has called on all Member States that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention – an international treaty designed to combat violence against women - to reconsider their position.

Expressing deep regret at a series of retrogressive laws and polices being passed across Europe, which seek to curb women’s sexual and reproductive rights, the EESC has demanded tough action against such legislation and proposed establishing an emergency legal fund at EU level that would help NGOs challenge such laws in the courts.

It has also asked the Commission to add online harassment and mobbing of women to the definition of illegal hate speech. According to global figures, one in five young women has experienced cyber harassment. Women politicians are often the likely targets as well, with fully 85% of them being harassed online or even receiving death threats.

One of the top priorities of the five-year strategy should be applying effective measures to address  persisting gender inequalities in the labour market, where European women continue to face  segregation and a gender pay gap, which alone will cost the EU an estimated EUR 240 billion in GDP by 2030.

Europe should tackle non-flexible working arrangements and inadequate care infrastructures, which forces women to take part-time jobs and earn less. Another problem is gender-stereotyped education, with men outnumbering women in STEM and ICT studies in all Member States. A concrete consequence is that only two out of 10 ICT jobs go to women.

Such a lack of economic empowerment, coupled with still prevailing gender norms, stereotypes and attitudes continues to hinder equal representation of women in political and economic decision-making bodies.

In the EESC’s view, the EU institutions should lead by example and ensure equal representation within their own ranks. It has thus called on the Council to review its guidelines for the appointment of EESC members and recommended that the Member States select them on a gender parity basis.

Although many senior positions have been filled by women since the appointment of the EESC's new Bureau in April 2018, women currently account for only 30% of EESC members, and the Committee said in the opinion it will strive to ensure gender equality in all its operations.

The EESC also stressed a vital yet often overlooked role played by the media in promoting gender equality and said it was crucially important to start acknowledging the consequences of gender stereotypes produced by media content, as well as of gender-stereotyped marketing to children.

All those efforts should be geared towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality by 2030. The EESC sees these efforts as the best collective response to combat the discriminatory and misogynistic populist movements that have sprung up across Europe, but also as a means to achieve a fair and equal society.

According to surveys, around 90% Europeans think that gender equality is of utmost importance for a democratic society, but also for the economy and for them personally.

It is an economic and social imperative that women and men should be treated equally. Our constant inability to ensure equality is affecting chances and choices in the lives of real women with their everyday struggles. For example, the goal to eliminate pay gap was established 60 years ago in the Rome Treaty and yet we are still talking about how to solve it, Ms Vareikytė warned.

If we do nothing, gender inequalities will continue to stall sustained economic growth, innovation and social progress. I would really like to hope we will not have to wait for 100 years for women to become equal to men in Europe. Ms Vareikytė concluded.

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