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EU gender equality has some way to go

Posted by Nick Prag at 05 March 2015, 22:35 CET |

The eve of International Women's Day (8 March) is a good moment to assess the challenges that remain in tackling gender inequalities across the EU.

Three reports came out this week.

New statistics from Eurobarometer show that a large majority of Europe's citizens believe that tackling inequality between women and men should be a priority for the EU and is necessary to establish a fairer society, and that violence against women and the gender pay gap are the two areas that the EU should address most urgently.

The latest Eurostat data published on Thursday shows that the gender pay gap remained stagnant for another year running, with women earn 16.4% less per hour than men.

Finally, the Commission's annual report on equality between women and men shows that despite some progress gender equality remains an unfinished business.

The 2014 Report shows that although gaps between men and women have narrowed in recent decades, inequalities within and between Member States have grown overall and challenges remain in critical areas.

Some points stand out: while for every hour worked women earn on average 16.4% less than men, the figure is above 20% in Czech Republic, Austria, Estonia and Germany. The pension gap has reached 39%. And women still tend to work in the less well-paid sectors.

Women also still account for less than a quarter of company board members, despite representing almost half of the employed workforce. And the report says that deficient work-life balance policies hamper women's employment and therefore the potential for economic growth.

What is the EU doing in this area?

The Commission's country-specific recommendations on employment, issued to Member States every year, include the issue of female participation in the labour market.

It has also supported specific actions, such as national governments' campaigns against gender-based violence and grass-root projects led by non-governmental organisations.

And it has promised to focus on "finishing the unfinished business" to close the gaps in pay, employment, pensions and decision-making, and to eradicate gender-based violence.

The Latvian Presidency, for its part, is taking the opportunity to drive these issues forward. It is to table Council conclusions on the gender pension gap that will contribute to shaping a policy response to this issue.

Legislative proposals such as the Women on Boards Directive or the Maternity Leave Directive must now be agreed in the Council by Ministers from the Member States, and the European Parliament in order to become law. Member States are also to notify measures taken to improve pay transparency - following the Commission's Recommendation on Equal Pay Transparency giving Member States, for the first time, a toolbox of measures to tackle this issue.

Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, says she is committed to addressing these challenges and to achieve tangible results:"Europe cannot afford to underuse the potential of 50 per cent of its population. Even though equal chances for women and men are more than ever becoming a reality, there is still a long way to go."

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.