Women’s equality and policy: a Women’s Day overview

women's equality and policy
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The European Commission released its 2019 report on gender equality in the EU yesterday to mark International Women’s Day (IWD).

The report showed that, while progress continues to be made towards achieving gender parity in European policy fields, further work must still be done. EU-wide, women’s employment rate was at 66.4 per cent in 2017; but eight Member States – Austria, Czechia, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and Slovakia – received specific recommendations last year to do more to encourage female employment. Meanwhile women’s salaries in the EU are on average 16 per cent lower than men’s; and the pay gap extends to 35.7 per cent in terms of pensions.

In a statement on women’s equality and policy, the European Commission said: “Many of the remaining inequalities are linked to the place of women at work. The EU’s new rules on Work-Life Balance will contribute to getting more women at work by giving families a real choice on how to organise their professional and private life. It will open up opportunities for working women and men to share caring responsibilities, for children and relatives, on an equal basis. This will increase opportunities for women to find jobs that reflect their level of education and ambition. Unlocking this potential would be the best economic stimulus we could offer to boost our economies.”

The Work-Life Balance Directive mandates at least 10 days of paternity leave; and makes provision for at least two months of non-transferable paid parental leave. It also allows for an additional five days per year of carer’s leave to allow employees to care for sick relatives and strengthens the right of employees to flexible working hours.

Vĕra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “Women are still underrepresented in politics across the EU, this also goes for the European institutions. I want to see more women running for election. We should lead by example: I call on Member States to present more female candidates as future European Commissioners.”

The report highlighted the lack of female representation at the top of business and in public life, with only 6.3 per cent of CEO positions at publicly listed companies across the bloc held by women. Of the 28 Member States’ parliaments, six have women leaders; and 30 per cent of MPs across the EU are women. 30.5 per cent of senior ministers in national governments are women: this is the highest figure since full levels of data became available from all Member States in 2004; however, the report noted that the portfolios allocated to women tend to be disproportionately low priority or “soft” sectors.

The Commission’s statement said: “Women remain underrepresented in politics. In the upcoming European elections, we would like to see more women across the EU not only voting, but standing and succeeding as candidates. The Commission also calls for more women to be represented in the highest level of all EU institutions, including as Commissioners. This Commission has been leading by example: today we have nine female Commissioners and women account for almost 40 per cent of our managers.”

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued a statement yesterday focusing on the ongoing need to shore up sexual and reproductive rights for women, noting that guaranteed protection of women’s sexual health and reproductive freedom has been shown to have a quantifiable effect on the advancement of women’s rights as a whole. While the majority of EU Member States adhere to their moral and legal obligations to provide their female citizens “affordable, safe and good-quality reproductive health services”, she said, certain Member States maintain restrictive abortion legislation, mandatory waiting periods and unregulated conscientious refusal by medical professionals to provide abortion care. Sexuality education remains widely varied in scope and content across the EU; as does the cost of contraception.

Commissioner Mijatović said: “Women have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health without discrimination under international and European human rights law. Several countries are currently in the process of reforming their legislation on sexual and reproductive health to meet their human rights obligations. I urge all governments to uphold women’s right to self-determination about their sexual and reproductive health, and to ensure women’s effective access to health care facilities, goods, services and information. Instead of stagnating, we need to move forward on women’s sexual and reproductive rights.”

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