How is the EU tackling gender inequality?

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By Sara Berruti

One of the aims of the European Union as an international organization is to eliminate inequalities in as many fields as possible. One of the aforementioned aims regards the disparity between men and women. 

During the 1990s the EU recognized gender mainstreaming, that is, a political strategy which consists of realizing equal opportunities for women and men in the community policies. In order to reach this ambitious goal, a gender perspective must be adopted by every political actor.

The formal recognition of gender mainstreaming happened with the Amsterdam Treaty, signed in 1997, which officially put on paper gender equality as one of the aims of the European Union  (article 2 TEU). 

What has the EU done so far to reduce gender inequality?

The Commission is the European Institution which is more committed to the creation of strategies and programmes to reach gender equality in the EU. In 1997 it adopted a communication titled “Agenda 2000 for a stronger and wider Union”, a list of the main challenges the EU was going to face at the beginning of the then-new century once the enlargement had taken place. In this document women are addressed because they are considered as a fragile group in a changing society. 

It is now in progress the Agenda 2030 for “sustainable development goals”, which includes 17 main goals among which are gender equality and women’s empowerment (n. 5). The EU follows the targets enlisted in the UN 2030 Agenda. After the Covid-19 pandemic these targets have proved to be more urgent than ever – just to give you some figures, among all the people who lost their jobs 70% were women.

The Commission has committed to the implementation of different strategies to reach and improve gender equality. Two of them are the Gender Equality Strategy 2016-2019 and the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.

The first Gender Equality Strategy 2016-2019 tackled five main issues, which are the following: increasing women’s participation in the job market, decreasing the wage gap, promoting gender equality during the decision-making process, fighting violence on women, and promoting gender equality and women’s rights all over the world. 

In 2020 the Commission declared that adopting a gender perspective in every political decision is necessary if gender equality has to be attained. This declaration was about the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, a series of measures introduced by President of the Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen at the beginning of her mandate in order to succeed in her commitment to build an inclusive society. Among the main targets of the strategy is mandatory measures for salary transparency. 

The final goal is to provide men and women with the same opportunities and reach gender integration.

The European Institute for Gender Equality and its index

The EIGE is a European Agency founded in 2010 and based in Vilnius, Lithuania. It provides information on gender equality in the European Union and its aim is to make the EU a society based on equality, where men and women are given the same opportunities and can equally contribute to societies both within and outside the EU borders.

The EIGE’s team provides policy makers with the tools and information necessary to design the appropriate measures to make gender equality effective. The Institute works and cooperates with other EU institutions, Member States, NGOs, universities, and research centers. 

The agency’s most effective working method is the collection and analysis of data about the level each country has reached in giving equal opportunities to both genders in every field. An index is then created on the ground of the information collected. Every year the index assigns both the EU and each single Member State a score ranging between 1 and 100 (full gender equality), and it measures the differences between women and men in six main domains, namely work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. The index considers how age, birthplace, family type, educational level and disability can affect the gender dimension and the different life paths women and men follow.

According to the index, in 2022 the European Union has reached a 68.6 score. The most developed country in terms of equal opportunities has been Sweden, with an index of 83.9, while the least integrated has been Greece, with a score of 53.4. 

The index can provide politicians and authorities with useful insight about which national or European area needs improvement or attention.

The ever-present issue of gender pay gap

Despite the commitment the Institutions and the European Agencies have on the matter of gender equality, the ever-present issue of gender pay gap has not been solved yet. Although the principle for equal pay was already introduced in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, the phenomenon still persists and the reasons are structural. The gender pay gap is the difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men and it is calculated on salaries directly paid to employees before income tax and social security contributions are deducted.

The gender pay gap in the EU amounted to 12.7% in 2021, which means that women earned, on  average, 13% less than men per hour.                                  

As we can see in the graph, there are many differences across EU countries; indeed, the pay gap ranged between less than 5% in Luxembourg and Romania for example, to more than 18% in Germany and Latvia. However (and luckily) it’s had a decreasing trajectory over the last 10 years. 

Even so, it is useful to remember that there is no direct correlation between gender pay gap and gender equality: a lower gender gap could mean that women generally don’t work and only well-educated women are allowed in the job market, so the few women who work are paid as much as men.

The hope is that the European Union will continue promoting and achieving the targets it imposes in order to effectively decrease the systemic obstacles and injustices creating disparity between men and women in a society where the concept of gender is already overcome.