It is important to appreciate how far we have come in strengthening women’s rights in the past century. As the largest alliance of women’s organisations in Europe, the European Women’s Lobby recognises the importance of efforts by the European Union (EU), as equality between women and men is one of the EU’s “founding values”. The women’s movement has been a pivotal player, collaborating with governments, trade unions, businesses and EU institutions to drive real and lasting change in the lives of women and men throughout Europe.
Even so, gender equality in Europe has stagnated and even gone backwards in some areas. Recently, data of the European Institute for Gender Equality 2017 Index (GEI) showed that women are still very much treated as second-class citizens in Europe. Entrenched gender stereotypes result in occupational segregation on the labour market as the sectors where women work continue to be undervalued and underpaid. Women’s life-long earnings are lower than men’s by almost 40% which, in the long term, impacts on their economic independence with heightened exposure to poverty, testified by a staggering gender pension gap of 40%.
The burden of unpaid and low paid care work continues to rest on women’s shoulders – especially on migrant women, and, as the GEI clearly shows, women simply have no time to be able to invest in paid work, and political participation. Men continue to dominate leadership roles at powerful central banks, finance ministries and in the top positions of the largest companies.
We know that one in three women in the EU, or 62 million women, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. Male violence against women knows no geographical boundaries, no age limit, no class, race or cultural distinctions and is manifested in multiple forms and involves a wide variety of perpetrators from intimate partners and family members to work colleagues as the recent outpour of #MeToo campaign bears witness.
Women are mobilising, loud and united
Populism is on the rise in Europe, flowing from fear, poverty, inequality, and growing global complexity. Fueled by manipulation of media and information, it a poisonous blend of patriotism and patriarchy; tradition and nostalgia. It is about power and control by traditional forces and always negative for women.
At the same time, we are experiencing unprecedented engagement in women’s rights with women mobilising on the streets, on social media, across sectors and borders and political divides. Women from Poland to Britain; and from Turkey to Hungary are at the forefront of mobilising against populists and fascists for a more equal, more sustainable and peaceful Europe. We are deeply encouraged and inspired by the depth and breadth of advocacy and mobilisation of young women in Europe.
It’s about time
It is time for a reinvigorated political impetus to put women’s rights and gender equality at the centre of the EU project. It is time for urgent action: at a European and member state level. The outcomes of the recent Colloquium on Fundamental Rights “Women’s Rights in Turbulent Times”, under the auspices of the European Commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans provides the perfect opportunity to start this process to bring women’s voices into the heart of the political discussion about the future of Europe.
The European Union can and must lead the way
A political strategy for gender equality and women’s rights is urgent. A strategy which enables policies and legislation at EU and national level to be implemented and monitored, through annual reporting to the European Parliament and oversight through an annual ministerial meeting on gender equality is needed. The strategy should also set our EU national and EU level accountability to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We need a gendered budget and multi annual financial framework (MFF) fit for purpose. Specific resources need to be available for women’s rights and for women’s organisations in the EU neighbourhood and developing countries, and a gender lens throughout the whole of the EU budget.
With a European comprehensive policy and legal framework, to put an end to all forms of male violence against women, at all levels, including the ratification and implementation by the EU and all member states of Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: the Istanbul Convention, and the appointment of an EU Coordinator on violence against women and girls, within the umbrella of the European Commission’s work on equality between women and men.
We know what works, we know what to do to change the situation and we know what is possible: this is simply a matter of political will! We need a massive programme of investment in women’s rights. We know it is not just possible to achieve gender equality but it is also necessary. Necessary for happier, healthier, more equal and more sustainable societies.
It’s time to move forwar