Equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union and one that has been enshrined in the Treaty from the very beginning, as the Treaty of Rome included a provision on equal pay. Over the last 60 years, societal changes and persistent policy efforts have established a trend towards gender equality. The EU has always been a major force behind these developments and will continue to play an important role in maintaining momentum and building on past achievements. The 2016-19 Strategic engagement for gender equality aims at pursuing these efforts in key policy areas.
The EU’s continued engagement towards gender equality is taking place in a more global context of uncertainty. On the macroeconomic front, Europe is emerging from a period of recession; though output is surpassing pre-crisis levels and labour market outcomes have improved, employment performance is diverging among Member States. The recent increase in migratory flows has also reinforced the need for effective policies on integration of third-country nationals.
On the socio-political front, Europe is facing concerns of intolerance, an increase in social inequalities and poverty. In this context, the EU perseveres in pursuit of its Treaty obligation to promote gender equality and in its medium term strategic engagement and more long-term goals and targets agreed with global partners in the framework of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
This report takes stock of progress in implementing the Strategic engagement for gender equality:
Attention is focused on short-term developments over the last 12 months, but also on medium term changes since 2010.
This Annual Report also contributes to the monitoring and in-depth review of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on gender equality of the UN 2030 Agenda and of some other SDGs which include indicators with a gender perspective.
Over the last years, the gaps in pay, employment and working hours have been plateauing. At this rate of change, it will take more than a century to close the overall gender gap in earnings. In the 21st century, the disproportionate weight of care responsibilities on women will continue to shrink their economic independence and have a lifelong effect on their career, earnings and pensions. Some Member States are testing new approaches and might be able to accelerate progress towards gender equality and women’s economic independence, others may still be a long way off. Redefining a new work-life balance to provide for more equality between women and men is important for Europe. In 2016, the Commission has consulted widely on the direction of the EU policy choices in the field of work-life balance, with the view to proposing a new initiative in the first quarter of 2017, in relation to the Pillar of Social Rights. (See Equinet response to the consultation on the Pillar of Social Rights here.)
Men and women’s skills, talents and aspirations are needed to shape the economy and society. Yet key areas for the future are still largely female or male-dominated. Boys are less likely than girls to envisage a career in health or education, while girls do not to the same extent as boys choose careers in sciences, mathematics, ICT and engineering. However, it is worth recalling that women have made inroads in management and in politics and girls seem to outperform boys in education. Equality in decision-making no longer seems a distant goal for a handful of countries that are close to gender balance. But many countries where the share of women in decision-making is extremely low are losing momentum. The EU has a key role to play to ensure continued progress in all countries.
In 2016, the Commission gave a new impetus to its policies aimed at preventing and combating gender-based violence and supporting its victims by launching a dedicate year of focused actions to raise awareness of gender-based violence and support grassroots projects and Member States. Member States have also gradually aligned their legislation and policies with the Istanbul Convention. This joint effort will help to prevent and combating the most brutal manifestations of inequality between women and men. (See more on Equinet work on combatting violence against women here.)
Although long-term gender equality trends have been encouraging so far, 2016 has also sent worrying signals. Further advances are however possible, but by no means guaranteed. Equality between women and men can receive a major boost – but only if continued vigilance is combined with active policy initiatives. The UN 2030 Agenda points the way ahead. In 2016, the EU and its Member States have taken a number of concrete actions to ensure that women and men are to have the same power to shape society and their own lives.