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EU should heed Parliament’s call in bettering Gender Equality Strategy

In March 2020, the European Commission presented the EU Gender Equality Strategy, which sets out policy objectives and actions to advance towards gender equality by 2025. After lengthy consultation and debates by the Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), a vote takes place at plenary today with the aim of improving the original proposals.

The main pillar of the report is devoted to the socio-economic dimension of women’s oppression. In its assessment, however, the FEMM committee condemns the complete lack of reference to women and girls who are at risk of social exclusion, poverty and homelessness. It calls for additional policies on employment, housing, mobility and access to public services – all of which have added significance during the pandemic.

The report also promotes stronger commitment to eradicating economic dependency and gender pay gap, for example through binding measures of pay gap transparency, increased pensions and maternity leave with full pay. Further, it calls for greater investments in public services, particularly in healthcare – including reinforcing sexual and reproductive health rights – and abortion as a fundamental right of all women and girls.

These are of paramount relevance to The Left in the European Parliament, as MEP Sandra Pereira (PCP, Portugal) explains:

“It is by exercising women’s rights that the improvement in living and working conditions, equal participation in all areas of society – namely in maternity and paternity – that we can change people’s perception and views on gender equality.”

“Tackling inequalities requires an end to unregulated working hours, job insecurity, low wages, indiscriminate dismissals and disinvestment in public services.” 

Indeed, the FEMM committee recognises how important all of the above have become during Covid-19, with the pandemic exacerbating women’s exploitation. In response, socio-economic measures addressing the health crisis, together with the EU Recovery Plan, will need to include and integrate key perspectives on women’s rights. The main demand in this regard is to level up wages and working conditions in female-dominated precarious sectors: in particular, in care, health and retail.

Violence against women is also one of the key issues that has been prioritised in the report that will be voted on. EU member states, for instance, must strengthen their implementation of the Istanbul Convention, and the EU must put in place concrete measures that focus on psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace. By taking a robust position on prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation – both deemed “incompatible with human dignity” – the report demands legislative measures to tackle such forms of paid violence, especially in countries where the sex industry is legal.

And last but not least, the efficacy of the Strategy has also been called into question. Indeed, by adopting an individualistic and generally vague approach, EU policies are unable to address the institutional, structural and historical dimensions of women’s oppression, as Left MEP Maria Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (Podemos, Spain) explains:

“There are two major challenges facing the EU’s Strategy for Gender Equality: its implementation and how to put its proposals into effect as quickly as possible – the pandemic should not be an excuse for delays – and also how to prevent the far-right and the ‘gender ideology’ discourse from preventing its adoption and application.”

The FEMM report therefore calls for action to ensure that the Strategy can achieve its full potential and is implemented efficiently. It proposes a number of ways: firstly, it calls on member states to collect gender-sensitive data, exchange best practice examples and converge women’s rights by introducing the most ambitious measures into their national legislations.

Secondly, the report draws attention to combating multi-layered discriminations that perpetuate gender inequality: women with disabilities, migrants, ethnic minority and Roma women, women in rural areas affected by climate change, single mothers, and LBTIQ+ people, amongst others.

Overall, the report is on the overly optimistic side when it comes to the EU’s actions on gender equality. Despite our calls for public and free care systems, and kindergarten services to be included in the report, we did not gain the necessary support. However, Left MEPs believe this report marks a positive step forward. Therefore, along with the majority of the Parliament, Left MEPs will be voting in favour at the plenary today.

 

Report by Leire Zapiain Egana

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Image

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