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75 years on from the Nazi defeat, many still suffer impact of conflict

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Moscow, USSR. May 9, 1945. Fireworks on Red Square in honour of the end of WW2 . TASS News Agency/Nikolai Sitnikov

On 8 and 9 May, the UN commemorates the millions who lost their lives during the Second World War, the tragic conflict that led to the birth of the United Nations. In a video message released late on Friday, UN chief António Guterres warned that divisions still exist, and called for a world based on peace and unity.

In his message, Mr. Guterres paid tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the War. The victory over fascism and tyranny in May 1945, he said, marked the beginning of a new era, but “we must never forget the Holocaust and the other grave and horrendous crimes committed by the Nazis”.

The United Nations was created, that same year, out of a collective will to save succeeding generations from the horrors of war, with the devastation of the years between 1939 and 1945, bringing about an appreciation for the importance of international cooperation.

Division and hatred, as coronavirus spreads

75 years on, the UN chief noted that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, a worldwide health crisis that can only be defeated by an international community that is working closely together, there are those who are sowing division and spreading hatred.

On Friday, Mr. Guterres made a global appeal to address and counter what he called the “tsumani of hate and xenophobia” that has risen alongside the global tally of COVID-19 cases.

The UN chief referred to examples of hate speech that have surfaced during the crisis, ranging from anti-foreigner sentiment, to antisemitic conspiracy theories and attacks against Muslims, and called on civil society to strengthen outreach to vulnerable people, and religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect.

With this year marking the a milestone anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and the birth of the United Nations, Mr. Guterres urged the world to “remember the lessons of 1945 and work together to end the pandemic and build a future of peace, safety and dignity for all”.

‘Disturbing echoes of the past’

Speaking on Friday at an “Arria Formula” meeting of the Security Council (meetings at which non-governmental organizations have the opportunity to address the 15-member body outside the official Council meetings), Rosemary di Carlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, warned that, today, we are seeing “disturbing echoes of the past”.

“The voices of populism, authoritarianism, nationalism, and xenophobia are making themselves heard ever more loudly. We must confront those who would drag the world back to a violent and shameful past”, she said.

Recalling that, with international help, Europe was able to build a more prosperous and peaceful society after the war, Ms. Di Carlo declared that the current pandemic presents an opportunity for the international community to first “overcome the crisis and then create a more equitable and peaceful world”.

Sacrificed on the ‘altar of victory’

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, told UN News that, for those who live in the countries of the former Soviet Union, 9 May is a day to pay tribute to “our loved ones, and our compatriots who sacrificed their lives on the altar of victory. Thanks to them we are living in peace”.

This year, said Mr. Polyanskiy, UN Missions of the countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, have been searching for material about compatriots who fought, performed acts of valour, or lived on the Home Front during the War, and publishing the stories on Twitter or Facebook, with the hashtag #Victory75. 

“All of them were fighting in one army, for one and the same country, and all of them deserve to be remembered”, he said.

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Development

Equality in engineering crucial to achieving sustainable development

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Regional disparities in engineering, especially in Africa, must be addressed if the world is to realize a common future where no one is left behind, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and partners. 

The study highlights currently insufficient engineering capacities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the internationally agreed blueprint for a peaceful and prosperous planet, as well as the lack of diversity in the field. 

“Engineering is one of the keys to the sustainable development of our societies, and to activate its full potential, the world needs more engineers and more equality”, said Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General. 

Pandemic accelerates action 

The report, entitled Engineering for Sustainable Development: Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, was prepared in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Engineering; the International Centre for Engineering Education (ICEE), based at Tsinghua University in Beijing; the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO); and other international engineering organizations. 

It was released ahead of World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, observed this Thursday, 4 March. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the call for urgent action to deliver on the SDGs, while affirming the relevance of engineering to sustainable development”, the authors said. 

Women ‘historically underrepresented’ 

The report underscores how equal opportunity for all is crucial to ensuring inclusivity and gender balance in a profession that has played an essential role in development and human well-being.  

Engineering is critical to mitigating the impact of climate change and advancing the SDGs, especially in Africa and the small island developing States, UNESCO said.  

Despite the profession’s importance, the UN agency noted that women have been “historically underrepresented” in engineering, making up only 10 to 20 per cent of workers.   

Barriers hampering women include persistent gender stereotypes in the field and inadequate policies or educational environments that do not meet their needs and aspirations. 

Transforming and innovating 

The report showcases engineering innovations and actions from across the world that are contributing to meeting the SDGs. The 17 goals aim to end poverty, reduce inequality and spur economic growth, while also protecting the natural environment. 

Examples mentioned include the increase in digital technology use during the pandemic, such as telemedicine for virtual treatment, while Artificial Intelligence, or “AI”, is helping to make water systems more adaptive and efficient. 

The authors said “engineering itself needs to transform to become more innovative, inclusive, cooperative and responsible”, underlining the need for “a new paradigm” that bridges disciplines in order to address complex issues such as climate change, urbanization and preserving the health of oceans and forests. 

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EU Politics

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

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The European Commission has today presented a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men in the EU get equal pay for equal work. A political priority of President von der Leyen, the proposal sets out pay transparency measures, such as pay information for job seekers, a right to know the pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. The proposal also strengthens the tools for workers to claim their rights and facilitates access to justice. Employers will not be allowed to ask job seekers for their pay history and they will have to provide pay related anonymised data upon employee request. Employees will also have the right to compensation for discrimination in pay.  

New measures, which take into account the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on both, employers but also on women, who have been hit in particular hard, will increase awareness about pay conditions within the company and give more tools to employers and workers to address the pay discrimination at work. This will address a number of substantial factors contributing to the existing pay gap and is particularly relevant during COVID-19 pandemic, which is reinforcing gender inequalities and puts women into greater risk of poverty exposure.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová said: “It is high-time both women and men are empowered to claim their right. We want to empower job seekers and workers with tools to demand fair salary and to know and claim their rights. This is also why employers must become more transparent about their pay policies. No more double standards, no more excuses.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, said: “The pay transparency proposal is a major step toward the enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between women and men. It will empower workers to enforce their right to equal pay and lead to an end to gender bias in pay. It will also allow for the detection, acknowledgment and addressing of an issue that we wanted to eradicate since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Women deserve due recognition, equal treatment and value for their work and the Commission is committed to ensuring that workplaces meet this objective.”

Pay transparency and better enforcement of equal pay

The legislative proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay: measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers as well as better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination.

Pay transparency measures:

Pay transparency for job-seekers – Employers will have to provide information about the initial pay level or its range in the job vacancy notice or before the job interview. Employers will not be allowed to ask prospective workers about their pay history.

Right to information for employees – Workers will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by sex, for categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.

Reporting on gender pay gap – Employers with at least 250 employees must publish information on the pay gap between female and male workers in their organisation. For internal purposes, they should also provide information on the pay gap between female and male employees by categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.

Joint pay assessment – Where pay reporting reveals a gender pay gap of at least 5% and when the employer cannot justify the gap on objective gender neutral factors, employers will have to carry out a pay assessment, in cooperation with workers’ representatives.

Better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination:

Compensation for workers – workers who suffered gender pay discrimination can get compensation, including full recovery of back pay and related bonuses or payments in kind.

Burden of proof on employer – it will be by default for the employer, not the worker, to prove that there was no discrimination in relation to pay.

Sanctions to include fines – Member States should establish specific penalties for infringements of the equal pay rule, including a minimum level of fines.

Equality bodies and workers’ representatives may act in legal or administrative proceedings on behalf of workers as well as lead on collective claims on equal pay.

The proposal takes into account the current difficult situation of employers , in particular in private sector, and maintains proportionality of measures while providing flexibility for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and encouraging Member States to use available resources for reporting of data. The annual costs of pay reporting for the employers are estimated to be from €379 to €890 or companies with 250+ employees.

Next steps

Today’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law and communicate the relevant texts to the Commission. The Commission will carry out an evaluation of the proposed Directive after eight years.

Background

The right to equal pay between women and men for equal work or work of equal value has been a founding principle of the European Union since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The requirement to ensure equal pay is set out in Article 157 TFEU and in Directive on the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

The European Commission adopted a Recommendation on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency in March 2014. Despite this, the effective implementation and enforcement of this principle in practice remains a major challenge in the European Union. The European Parliament and the Council have repeatedly called for action in this area. In June 2019, the Council called on the Commission to develop concrete measures to increase pay transparency.

President von der Leyen announced binding pay transparency measures as one of her political priorities for this Commission. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and today the Commission is presenting a proposal to that end.

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EU Politics

The gender dimension must be included in the COVID-19 recovery plans

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MEPs, national MEPs and high-level guests discussed women’s crucial role in leading the fight against the pandemic, in an interparliamentary meeting on Thursday.

At the opening of a meeting hosted by Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Chair Evelyn Regner (S&D, AT) on the occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD), EP President David Sassoli said: ‘‘The pandemic has not only increased inequalities that already existed, it is also likely to wipe out decades of achievements. Measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus have often exacerbated the gender divide. To make sure women’s lives take a step forward, not backwards, we have to achieve genuine equality. It is time to end the rhetoric and to forge ahead.’’ He added that the EP will carefully monitor that the gender dimension is included in national recovery plans.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dedicated this International Women’s Day to women on the frontline, to health workers, sales assistants who kept supermarkets open, mothers who took care of their children while working from home, and those who lost their jobs. ‘‘We are working on putting women at the centre of all our policies”, she added. “Today, we propose a Directive on pay transparency: women must know if their employers treat them fairly, and if not, they must be able to fight back and get what they deserve. Later this year, we will propose new legislation to fight violence against women online and offline.’’

Greece’s first female President, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, focused on the impact that this pandemic has had on different vulnerable groups of women: single mothers, migrants, elderly women and women victims of domestic violence under lockdown. She also highlighted that 86% of those who work in the care sector in the EU were women, often poorly paid. ‘‘We have to adopt policies that take into consideration the different experiences and needs of men and women’’, she concluded.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee Chair Evelyn Regner said: ‘‘It is strikingly clear that we need gender equality and we need strong women, without which the economic and social recovery would remain incomplete. It is our duty and responsibility to make sure the differing yet interlinked needs of people of all genders are taken into account and catered for in the COVID-19 response to build a more resilient, more equal, more just society.’’

The discussion panel on ‘‘Women on the frontline: lessons learnt from the crisis management’’ gave the floor to women leaders in the political, economic and health sectors, such as Kharija Arib, President of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, Dr Isabelle Loeb, Medical Director at St Pierre Hospital in Brussels and Kristel Krustuuk, Founder of Testlio, to share their experiences on the ground. EP Vice-President Dimitrios Papadimoulis concluded the panel, which was followed by a debate with MEPs and members of national parliaments, with closing remarks from Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and Evelyn Regner.

IWD celebration in plenary

President Sassoli and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (the latter via a pre-recorded video message) will address MEPs during a Women’s Day celebration on Monday 8 March at 17:00. That same day at 11.00, Women’s Rights Committee Chair Evelyn Regner will be live on Facebook to answer citizens’ questions about the current state of gender equality in the EU. At 12.00, she will have a live Instagram exchange with Polish influencer Anja Rubik.

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