Gender equality still progressing at snail's pace in the EU

Helena Dalli, Evelyn Regner, EESC President Oliver Ršpke, Laurentiu Plosceanu

Despite many recent breakthroughs and the fact that the EU gender equality index reached record levels this year, much still needs to be done for women to achieve equal rights as men in many domains

On 25 October, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a debate with Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, and Evelyn Regner, Vice President of the European Parliament, during Gender Equality Week – an annual event organised by the Parliament aimed at highlighting the EU's continuous efforts to put women at the centre of legislation.

This is a crucial time, when we look at all the breakthroughs achieved in the last few years, but it is also the moment to look further into the future and to chart a path for the next steps of gender policies in the EU, EESC President Oliver Röpke said.

The whole mentality towards gender equality hasn't moved and hasn't changed as much as we wanted, Vice-President Regner said.

Although progress is being made, it is far from satisfactory. In 2023, the EU gender equality index registered the highest annual increase ever, bringing the EU score to 70.2 points, as reported this week by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

We have the best figures we have ever had. This sounds great, but it is all happening at a snail's pace. We are losing ground, especially when it comes to equal opportunities in the labour market, Ms Regner said.

The labour market remains segregated, with classic divisions into male and female jobs, where women tend to be employed in sectors with low salaries and men in sectors with high pay, such as the care and STEM sectors respectively.

Over the last four years we have worked to promote and protect women's rights at all stages of decision-making, from policy development to implementation. For women and girls to thrive, lead and be free, we have proposed legislation on tackling pay discrimination and promoting women on company boards, and have introduced a set of binding rules to combat violence, Ms Dalli told the EESC plenary session, where the debate was held.

Only by joining forces can we provide an inclusive, comprehensive and enduring political solution. The European Economic and Social Committee plays a key role in building a union of equality. As the voice of civil society organisations and social partners, the Committee can, through social dialogue, foster a sense of belonging and promote our common values, Ms Dalli said.

This year, the Commission's proposal on binding pay transparency measures was adopted as a Directive, to be implemented within three years. It will help fight gender inequalities in pay and career prospects in the EU labour market.

In addition, and after 10 years of negotiations, the Directive on gender balance on company boards was finally adopted in 2022. It aims to improve the gender balance in decision-making positions in the EU's largest listed companies.

The Commission also adopted a new EU-wide proposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. It will supplement requirements of the Istanbul Convention. The proposal aims to introduce targeted minimum rules on the rights of victims of gender-based and domestic violence, and to criminalise the most serious forms of violence against women, including cyber violence.

The recent EU accession to the Istanbul Convention is such an extremely valuable and important step. We warmly congratulate the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee for their strong proposal, debates, reports and opinions, said Sarah E. Hendriks, Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Programme, Civil Society, and Intergovernmental Support, a.i. for UN Women, in a video message played at the plenary session.

The EESC President said the Committee wants to lead by example and was therefore renewing its efforts to mainstream gender equality in all policy work and to encourage female leadership within its own ranks.

Women currently account for 33% of all EESC members, said Maria Nikolopoulou, Vice-President of the EESC Equality Group set up to advance equality issues within the Committee. This makes it a bit difficult to include women in all EESC activities. We must prepare the ground for the next renewal of the Committee, and convince Member States and organisations to commit themselves to ensuring a greater representation of women.

The 4th edition of Gender Equality Week is taking place in the last week of October 2023 under the title "Gender Equality: What's next?" Its goal is to raise awareness about the importance of achieving gender equality on all fronts.

This year the EESC will once again take part in the initiative and will organise several debates on gender equality, including debates on the impact of the climate crisis on gender equality, violence against women and gender inequality in access to financial markets.