The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities around the world, and in the EU, it has disproportionately impacted women. The European Parliament’s regional development (REGI) committee sees cohesion policy as key to gender equality. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Domestic violence, occupational stress, access to education and the labour market: in many ways, economy and society have suffered from the effects of the pandemic. Women and girls have been disproportionately affected.
But at the political level, this problem has been lost sight of, warns the REGI Committee. In public debate, there is “a lack of awareness of [gender equality’s] importance” and politically, the EU lacks coherence in implementing gender equality, states a draft report adopted by the committee on 22 April.
Gender equality in the EU is not only a fundamental value enshrined in the treaties: it also makes an important contribution to economic growth and territorial development, explains rapporteur Monika Vana, a Greens MEP.
In the context of post-pandemic recovery, promoting gender equality is therefore essential to “reduce regional economic and social disparities,” the report contends. Cohesion policy – the EU’s central instrument for regional development – would play a key role in this respect.
For example, on the subject of working conditions: as caregivers, women have been exposed to particularly high stresses since the beginning of the crisis, both professionally and privately. Cohesion policy plays a “central role” here in ensuring investment in care services and improving working conditions in this sector, the report states.
The same applies to access to education. There is still a “digital divide” between women and men. For women in particular, cohesion policy must therefore ensure better access to training to overcome this gap “and support the ecological and digital transformation.”
However, cohesion policy in the context of gender equality is “still far from realising its full potential,” the draft report said.
The biggest snag remains the political will to act. For example, the REGI committee complains that “there is a lack of clear political commitment [to gender equality] and a lack of awareness that it is important for the entire population,” adding that when women have better opportunities, the entire economy benefits.
This is an important point to which little attention seems to have been paid in the course of crisis management.
The EU Recovery Fund “focuses on economic stimuli for sectors with a high share of male employment, while many of the sectors of the economy profoundly affected by the COVID-19 crisis have high proportions of female employees,” the report notes. This risks “increasing gender inequalities in the EU workforce,” it added.
Before the crisis, there was a lack of binding strategies for de facto equality between women and men in the EU, both at national and regional level.
The Committee therefore calls for “a strong political commitment to gender equality at EU and national level in order to enhance the attention given by national and local stakeholders to gender equality, both from a human rights perspective and as a crucial factor for socioeconomic development.”
Specifically, the committee insists on “clearly and explicitly” written rules that should “be binding in relation to gender equality.”
In the context of cohesion policy, the body would like to see the introduction of binding requirements on gender equality “in all operational programs.” This is because the issue is still treated in too general a manner and is mainly taken into account during programming. In the implementation and evaluation of the various cohesion policy programmes, however, the issue still comes up short.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]