On the occasion of the European Parliament (EP) Gender Equality Week, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) debated the way to improve women's participation in the labour market with EP Vice-President Evelyn Regner. Following the debate, the EESC plenary adopted two opinions with recommendations for making EU legislation more effective in promoting women's empowerment and supporting the societal role of family caregivers. The Committee further supports the Parliament initiative with a series of events on a variety of topics linked to gender mainstreaming and intersectionality.
In recent years, the European Union has upped its efforts to promote and mainstream gender equality and the empowerment of women as workers and entrepreneurs. These efforts must not leave behind women at the intersection of different identities: gender gaps in the labour market are even wider for women with disabilities, from minority racial or ethnic backgrounds, or from migrant communities. Such inequalities and prejudices are created and reinforced as a result of institutional discrimination and harmful social norms.
EESC President Christa Schweng stated that
The current gender employment gap is unacceptable for women and also represents significant economic and social damage for the EU, resulting in billions of euros in economic loss. At a time when 7 million jobs remain vacant, we need more women in many sectors to boost the EU's recovery and economic growth. We must put in place a more favourable environment for women entrepreneurs, break down barriers and stereotypes, and have more role models for young girls and women.
The European Parliament Vice-President Evelyn Regner, who is also responsible for relations with the EESC, emphasised the need for gender mainstreaming and binding measures to improve gender equality:
When looking at the latest Gender Equality Index from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), data is clear: there is an overall slowdown in progress compared to the previous years. Data also shows that where binding measures are in place, we are still able to make progress. Of course, we need to change the culture and we need awareness to fight against biases, but we really need binding measures. And we need to work together – EP and EESC, women and men, young and old.
At the plenary debate, all EESC members expressed their support for the Gender Equality Week initiative and applauded the continued collaboration between the Committee and the Parliament. The importance of rule of law was underlined, together with the role of awareness-raising and education. The EESC members called for a long-term vision for equality that needs to start with the inclusion of gender equality in all school curricula. During the discussion, EESC members concurred that equality is not an option but a right and gave an overview of other cross-cutting issues that have an effect on gender equality, a significant example of this is seen in the way poverty can lead to discrimination.
Ozlem Yildirim, rapporteur of the opinion on Improving equality in the EU, stated that
Despite the presence of strong EU provisions against discrimination, inequalities persist and continue to worsen. It is high time for an effective anti-discrimination policy at EU level, complete with truly dissuasive sanctions. The EESC opinion recommends to urgently unblock the Equal Treatment Directive, to strengthen support for national equality bodies, and to fully implement the existing legal framework.
The opinion also stresses the importance of easier access to justice and places emphasis on the role of institutions. The co-rapporteur of the opinion, Cristian Pîrvulescu, explained that
national institutions were set up with the explicit objective of providing protection from any form of discrimination. The general principle of equality is essential because it not only prohibits discrimination but also promotes the consistent application of the rule of law. Our opinion calls for the development of the next generation of measures to promote equality in Europe, based on the recognition of this general principle of equality and of the positive obligations to enforce it.
The Committee expressed its concerns about the lack of balance between work and family life for informal carers though an opinion on the role of family members caring for people with disabilities and older persons. The EESC opinion draws attention to the fact that informal carers, who are represented by a majority of women, work for free, are compelled to work part-time or quit their jobs to take care of family members and are therefore more vulnerable to falling into poverty. The EESC advocates for strong public policies in the field and a recognition of this important societal role.
Rapporteur of the opinion, Pietro Vittorio Barbieri, explained that
This is a widespread phenomenon. European welfare is based on family caregivers, who are often left out of the welfare system. The vast majority of these are women who are forced to choose between providing care or continuing to work. We urge European and national institutions to investigate this phenomenon, which currently lacks sufficient data to adequately describe it, for the sake of caregivers as well as those being cared for.
In support of the Parliament's Gender Equality Week, the EESC sections are organising events on a wide range of topics, including women in the social economy, energy poverty, domestic violence in Latin America, increasing access to finance for women entrepreneurs, and reproductive and sexual rights. These events will take place throughout the months of October, November and December. More information is available on the EESC website.