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Explainer: EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025

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How is gender equality progressing in the EU?

The Gender Equality Index, a tool published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), measures gender equality across the EU Member States in various domains such as work, power or violence.

The 2019 edition reveals that progress towards effective equality is far too slow: with 67.4 out of 100 (where 100 means full gender equality), the EU’s score for gender equality is up just 5.4 points since the 2005 edition (+1.2 points since 2015).

The EU is closest to gender equality in the domains of health (88.1 points) and money (80.4 points). Gender inequalities are most worrying in the domain of power (51.9 points), although this is also the domain that has improved the most (+13 points since 2005), due to progress in nearly every Member State.

However, on the issue of work-life balance, progress is far from being sufficient. Being a parent continues to impact women’s access to the labour market, reflecting the disproportionate weight of care duties on mothers. The Index also shows that 31% of women (against only 8% of men) aged 20-64 in the EU, are working part-time.

Why propose the new Strategy now?

To give a fresh impetus to gender equality and set out new political objectives, as outlined in President Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines, the Commission presented today a new EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. The Gender Equality Strategy sets out key actions for the next 5 years and commits to ensuring that the Commission will also include an equality perspective in all EU policy areas.

What are the priorities of the Commission regarding gender equality as covered by the Gender Equality Strategy?

A Union of Equality is one of the major priorities of President Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission, based on the principle of equality for all and equality in all of its senses. Gender equality is a founding principle of the European Union, and the promotion of equality between women and men one of its tasks.

This Strategy sets out what the Commission will do, across all policy areas, to work towards achieving a Union of gender equality for all, where gender-based violence, sex discrimination and structural inequality between women and men are a thing of the past. This strategy includes a set of key actions aimed at achieving a gender equal Europe.

What is the vision of this Strategy?

This Strategy has the vision of a Europe where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are equal – where they are free to pursue their chosen path in life, where they have equal opportunities to thrive, and where they can equally participate in and lead our European society.

This strategy will ambitiously continue the progress we have made as a Union. This will be a strategy for all of Europe, all of its member states and all its citizens.

What are the key principles of the Strategy?

The implementation of the Strategy will be based on the dual approach of (1) key actions to achieve gender equality combined with (2) strengthening the integration of a gender perspective in all EU policies and major initiatives

Key Actions 2020-2025
The targeted measures presented in the Strategy will address some of the biggest challenges to achieve true gender equality: combating gender-based violence and challenging gender stereotypes; boosting women’s economic empowerment and ensuring equal opportunities in the labour market, including equal pay; and giving both women and men the opportunity to lead and participate in all sectors of the economy and in political life (Find more details on key actions below).

Gender mainstreaming
Gender mainstreaming
is the inclusion of a gender perspective in all EU policies and processes. It is essential to achieve gender equality objectives. Mainstreaming a gender perspective in policy and activities ensures that these adequately respond to the needs and maximise the potential of women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity.

The inclusion of a gender perspective in all EU policies and processes is essential to the goal of gender equality. The Commission will thus mainstream gender equality early in policy design by improving the integration of a gender dimension in all major Commission initiatives during this mandate.

The Commission has set up a Task Force for Equality composed of representatives of all Commission services and of the European External Action Service to ensure concrete implementation of gender mainstreaming at operational and technical level, in addition to the key actions listed in the Gender Equality Strategy.

Does this Strategy include initiatives to promote gender equality outside the European Union?

The EU promotes gender equality through development cooperation programmes throughout the world as well as EU trade policy and is a major player in international fora on gender equality. While the Gender Equality Strategy is mainly focused on initiatives to be implemented within the European Union, the strategic framework for gender equality actions in the Commission’s external relations, the European External Action Service and the EU Member States is outlined in the Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations (GAP). The GAP II (2016-2020) focuses on ending violence against women and girls, promoting women’s economic and social empowerment and ensuring the fulfilment of their human, political and civil rights. GAP III will be launched in 2020, and will be closely linked to this Strategy and the two strategic frameworks will thus be mutually reinforcing each other.

Were citizens and civil society organisations consulted in the elaboration of this strategy?

An online public consultation on gender equality in the EU took place on 8 March-31 May 2019. The aim of the consultation was to assess the Commission’s Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 and to identify future priorities. It gathered over 1,300 replies, showing that current priorities remain valid while there should be more focus on other specific aspects of gender equality. These include, among others, tackling gender stereotypes and unconscious bias, introducing measures to further support the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work or work of equal value’ such as pay transparency measures, strengthening the rights of victims of gender-based violence and tackling online hate speech, abuse and violence against women and girls. Targeted consultations took place, including public hearings in the European Parliament and a workshop with civil society organisations, to learn from their expertise and experience gained on the ground in Member States.

Will the Commission propose binding measures for pay transparency?

President von der Leyen, committed in her Political Guidelines to introduce binding pay transparency measures. The Commission is launching today a public consultation on pay transparency measures as well as targeted consultation with Member States and the social partners and will engage in a large consultation of all stakeholders on the specifics of the proposal. Following this consultation process, the Commission will propose legislative measures by the end of 2020.

How will this Strategy be implemented and monitored?

Achieving a Union of Equality has to be a joint undertaking by all stakeholders. This includes action by EU institutions, Member States, and also by representatives of the civil society, social partners and the private sector. The Commission will take the necessary actions to deliver on the objectives of this Strategy and ensure gender equality is treated as a priority. The key actions presented in this Strategy will be regularly updated and supplemented, their implementation will be monitored and progress, including examples of practice in the Member States, will be reported on an annual basis. The annual reports will include data, including from Eurostat and Eurofound, as well as indicators for measuring progress, building on EIGE’s annual EU Gender Equality Index. EIGE will also provide data and research to feed into the evidence-based policy-making of EU institutions and Member States.

What are the key actions presented in the Strategy?

1. Freedom from gender-based violence and gender stereotypes

Key actions for the European Commission:

Finalise the accession of the EU to the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’);

Should the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention not be possible the Commission intends to propose in 2021 measures, within the limits of EU competence, to achieve the same objectives as the Convention;

The Commission, in particular, intends to extend the areas of crime where harmonisation is possible, adding violence against women to the list of EU crimes defined in the Treaty (so-called ‘Eurocrimes’). The Commission will also propose additional measures to prevent and combat specific forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, abuse of women and female genital mutilation (FGM);

Present a Commission Recommendation on the prevention of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation, forced abortion and forced sterilisation, early and forced marriage and so-called ‘honour-related violence’;

Launch an EU network on the prevention of gender-based violence and domestic violence, bringing together Member States and stakeholders to exchange good practice, and fund training, capacity-building and support services;

Propose a Digital Services Act clarifying online platforms’ responsibilities with regard to user-disseminated content and facilitate the development of a new framework for cooperation between internet platforms to address illegal and harmful online content;

Present an EU victims’ rights strategy in 2020, an EU strategy on a more effective fight against child sexual abuse and a new EU strategy on the eradication of trafficking in human beings;

Improve available data through an EU survey on gender-based violence against women and other forms of interpersonal violence published in 2023;

Follow the European approach on AI, as set out in the new Commission White Paper, grounded in EU values and fundamental rights, including non-discrimination and gender equality;

Launch an EU-wide communication campaign to tackle gender stereotypes.

Key actions for the Council:

Conclude the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention and ensure swift EU ratification.

Key actions for the Member States:

Ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention (if not already done so);

Ratify and implement the International Labour Organization Convention to combat violence and harassment in the world of work;

Implement the Victims’ Rights Directive, the Child Sexual Abuse Directive and other relevant EU law protecting victims of gender-based violence;

Systematically collect and report data on gender-based violence;

Support civil society and public services in preventing and combating gender-based violence and gender stereotyping, including with the help of EU funding available under the ‘citizens, equality, rights and values’ programme (2021-2027).

2. Thriving in a gender equal economy

Key actions for the European Commission:

Propose binding measures on pay transparency in 2020;

Enforce the Work-Life Balance Directive and other EU laws to close gender gaps and discrimination in the labour market;

Monitor through the European Semester the gender equality progress in Member States, in particular in their labour market, social inclusion and education;

Support structural reforms in Member States to increase gender equality in the labour market through the Structural Reform Support Programme;

Support women as investors and entrepreneurs through the Horizon Europe’s European Innovation Council and through the InvestEU programme;

Address the digital gender gap in the updated Digital Education Action Plan;

Present the Updated Skills Agenda for Europe and a proposal for a Council recommendation on vocational education and training, addressing gender balance in traditionally male- or female-dominated professions, address gender stereotypes and gender gaps in education and training;

Propose to revise the Barcelona targets for the provision of early childhood education and care arrangements for children and propose a Child Guarantee focusing on barriers preventing children from accessing necessary services;

Assess how risks and resources are shared in pension systems between women and men in the 2021 edition of the Pension Adequacy Report;

Present a Green Paper on Ageing with a focus on long-term care, pensions and active ageing.

Key actions for Member States:

Transpose the Work-Life Balance Directive and properly implement EU gender equality and labour law;

Follow up on the Council conclusions of June 2019 “Closing the Gender Pay Gap: Key Policies and Measures”;

Ensure adequate investments in early childhood education, care services and long-term care services including from available EU funding;

Implement the Ministerial declaration of commitment on ‘women in digital’.

3. Leading and participating equally throughout society

Key actions for the European Commission:

Push for the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards, which set the aim of a minimum of 40% of non-executive members of the under-represented sex on company boards;

Promote the participation of women as voters and candidates in the 2024 European Parliament elections;

Promote EU Platform of Diversity Charters in all sectors;

Reach gender parity (50%) at all levels of Commission’s management by the end of 2024 and increase efforts towards reaching a larger share of female managers in EU agencies.

Key action for the European Parliament and the Council:

Adopt measures to improve gender balance at all levels of their management and in leadership positions;

Adopt the proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards;

Key action for the Member States:

Transpose and implement the Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards, once adopted;

Develop and implement strategies to increase the number of women in decision-making positions in politics and policy making.

4. Key external actions on gender equality:

Launch in 2020 the third Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Relations (GAP III);

Adopt the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024);

Continue to implement the EU Strategic Approach and Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2019-2024;

Actively promote gender equality through the EU’s trade policy (including through its active engagement on the issue in the World Trade Organisation), in the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement policies (including in the context of accession negotiations and the Stabilisation and Association Process), and in the EU’s actions in fragile, conflict and emergency situation;

Implement the Spotlight Initiative, a joint EU-UN global programme with €500 million EU funding to help eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls;

Launch a campaign #WithHer in 2020, designed to challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes, which perpetuate violence against women worldwide.

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EU Politics

Towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area

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The first ever Schengen Forum, convened today by the Commission, allowed for constructive exchanges towards building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area. The videoconference gathered Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers with the aim of fostering cooperation and political dialogue and rebuilding trust.  

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s discussions showed a strong collective commitment to preserve and strengthen Schengen. For the last 35 years, we have built an entire Schengen architecture to better protect the area without controls at internal borders. And we must continue to build on and improve that architecture going forward.” 

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown how much we need Schengen. Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions today on building a more resilient Schengen are so important.”  

The discussions focused on: 

Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules: Options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism were discussed for better monitoring, quicker and more efficient identification of possible deficiencies and effective follow up. 

Finding a way forward on the revision of the Schengen Borders Code: Participants discussed possible ways forward to improve the current Schengen rules, with the shared objective of overcoming existing internal border controls and ensuring that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time. 

Better managing the EU’s external borders: Participants stressed the need for quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). These systems complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full. The ongoing work towards ensuring that information systems for migration, border management and security become interoperable by 2023 was highlighted as crucial to give border guards the information they need to know who is crossing the EU’s borders. The deployment of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps starting from January 2021 will also provide increased support to Member States’ border guards whenever and wherever needed. 

Enhancing police cooperation and information exchange: Common and coordinated European action, for instance through increased police cooperation, better information exchange and better use of new technologies, is crucial to guarantee security within the Schengen area. Police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls. Measures such as joint patrols, joint investigation teams, cross-border hot pursuits or joint threat analysis were discussed as being alternatives to effectively address threats to security.  

Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area: Regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, will help ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.  

Next steps  

Today’s discussions are the first step in an inclusive political debate towards building a stronger Schengen area based on mutual trust. They will feed into the Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021.  

Following today’s first videoconference, the Schengen Forum will continue to meet regularly both at political or technical levels. The next meeting of the Forum at political level will take place in spring 2021, ahead of the presentation of the Strategy for a stronger Schengen area. Targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.  

Background  

35 years ago, 5 Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. Today, the Schengen area encompasses 26 European States with over 400 million citizens and it is a key policy of the European Union. It underpins the seamless functioning of the EU internal market in goods and services and has allowed Europeans to organise their private and professional lives around unfettered travel around Europe. 

Schengen rules require an update to adapt them to evolving challenges. The pandemic, security concerns, and migration management issues have led Member States to reintroduce internal border checks. To address these challenges and build a more resilient Schengen area, the Commission announced in September this year the creation of a Schengen Forum to foster operational cooperation and stronger confidence in the rules.   

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EU Politics

MEPs condemn Turkey’s activities in Varosha, Cyprus, and call for sanctions

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Turkey’s decision to “open” the sealed-off suburb of Varosha undermines prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, warn MEPs.

In a resolution adopted by 631 votes in favour, 3 against and 59 abstentions, MEPs condemn Turkey’s illegal activities in the Varosha suburb of the city of Famagusta and warn that its partial “opening” weakens prospects of a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, exacerbating divisions and entrenching the permanent partition of the island.

MEPs call on Turkey to transfer Varosha to its lawful inhabitants under the temporary administration of the UN (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 550 (1984)) and to refrain from any actions that alter the demographic balance on the island through a policy of illegal settlement.

Tough sanctions against Turkey

A sustainable solution to reunify the island of Cyprus and its people can only be found through dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiations, MEPs stress. They call on the European Council to maintain its unified position on Turkey’s illegal actions and impose tough sanctions in response.

MEPS regret that the Turkish authorities have endorsed the two-state solution for Cyprus and reiterate their support for a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single international legal status. They also call on the EU to play a more active role in bringing the negotiations under UN auspices to a successful conclusion.

Tense EU-Turkey relations

As Turkey distances itself more and more from European values and standards, EU-Turkey relations are at a historic low, warns Parliament. Its illegal and unilateral military actions in the Eastern Mediterranean infringe on the sovereignty of EU member states Greece and Cyprus. MEPs also point out Turkey’s direct support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as its actions in Libya and Syria.

Background

The Turkish army fenced off Varosha immediately after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Greek Cypriots who fled from Varosha were not allowed to return and with public entry prohibited, Varosha has effectively become a ghost town.

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Commission and EBRD promote innovative use of data in public procurement involving EU funds

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The European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Open Contracting Partnership are joining forces to improve the quality and transparency of public tenders co-funded by EU funds in Greece and Poland. Thanks to their support, two pilot projects will provide expertise and hands-on support to public authorities in both countries, with a focus on digital innovation.

By promoting the smart use of innovation and open data, the two pilots will help public administrations to better plan, implement and monitor the procurement of works, goods and services. This will improve the use of public resources and increase opportunities for businesses, especially for small and medium companies (SMEs). Moreover, thanks to a cooperation with local civil society organisations, this initiative will also favour transparency of public spending and stimulate citizens’ participation in the monitoring of investments with a direct impact on the community, such as investments in sustainability, local development and social inclusion. 

The two pilot projects

  • In Greece, the project will aim at consolidating and integrating all databases into a single smart public contract register. This will enable online access for bidders and citizens, improve quality of data and facilitate the use of data-driven analytical tools for monitoring the procurement process.
  • In Poland, the initiative will support Polish national and local authorities to introduce open data in public procurement and promote automated collection, standardisation, and consolidation of procurement data on all tenders.

The two pilots will run until the end of 2021 and their results will be disseminated in order to ensure a successful roll out in other Member States.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “In the programming period 2021-2027, Cohesion policy will continue to support Member States and regions in their economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, as well as boosting competitiveness through new investments in research and innovation, digital transition and the implementation of the European Green Deal agenda. Through the use of new technologies, national and local public authorities managing EU funds will be able to spend public money more effectively ensuring the best possible results for citizens and businesses”.

Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, added: “Transparency in public procurement is essential to ensure efficiency of public investments, in line with the EU strategic policy goals aiming at a greener, digital and more resilient Europe. Public authorities can rely on the EU’s public procurement framework, tools like the electronic procurement systems and open data for an efficient use of public funds.”

The EBRD Vice-President, Pierre Heilbronn commented: “The EBRD is committed to support legal and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring that procurement laws and practices are modern, in line with international standards and can swiftly respond to emerging challenges. Together with Open Contracting Partnership, we are sharing the experience of successful civil society procurement monitoring based on open data. Our joint efforts aim to create a framework for enlisting civil society organisations to support public procurement reforms and use open data to monitor procurement.”

Background

In the context of the next long-term EU budget, more than €370 billion from Cohesion policy funds will be invested to support the digital and green transitions of the Member States. Every year, public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on public procurement, amounting to more than €1.9 trillion. Almost half of Cohesion policy funding is channelled through public procurement. The Commission has promoted a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the way administrations and beneficiaries use public procurement for EU investments. These include the Integrity Pacts to ensure more efficient and transparent tenders and safeguarding EU taxpayers’ money. The Commission also took action to facilitate citizen engagement for better governance and effective Cohesion policy investments.

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