Gender equality comes with clear targets, says MEP

MEP Maria Noichl [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report Women’s day special.

SPECIAL REPORT / The European strategy on gender equality post-2015 requires clear targets and effective monitoring mechanisms to tackle discrimination in the labour market, education and decision-making positions, said Maria Noichl in an interview with EURACTIV.

She spoke to EURACTIV’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti

German MEP Maria Noichl is a member of the S&D group and Rapporteur for the EU Strategy for equality between women and men post-2015

Gender equality is a founding value of the European Union, yet it is far from being a reality. You are preparing a draft report on The EU strategy post-2015 to influence the Commission’s priorities. What barriers and how to overcome them in the coming years?

Women in all their diversity are still facing discrimination in all areas of society. Various forms of violence against women, persistent discrimination in the labour market and an unequal share of decision-making positions as well as of care responsibilities are part of women’s daily life in Europe. Stereotypes and gender roles, learned at a very young age and reproduced by the media do have a big influence on the choice we take in life. I tried to underline this situation through the structure and the holistic approach of the report. The main intention of the report is to call on the Commission to adopt a strategy for gender equality with clear targets and effective monitoring mechanisms, as well as continuous evaluation in the mentioned areas. Because of the interconnection between the various forms of discrimination, we need to tackle all of these at the same time. And we need to do it now.

The situation of women in the labour market has been a focus of the previous Commission, mainly through the proposal of setting quotas for women on boards. But that proposal is stuck in the Council. How do we resolve the deadlock?

I was happy to hear that Commissioner V?ra Jourová announced that she will do her utmost to solve the deadlock in the Council by talking to the governments of the Member States still being in opposition to it. Apparently, she already convinced one Member State by doing so.

I am confident that the flexibility clause (4b), included in the proposal during the last negotiations, will furthermore convince other countries to vote in favour of the directive. This clause gives countries which already have similar provisions in place the opportunity to pursue their efforts in their own way.

Germany, for example, is close to adopting its own quota law. I see this as a very positive signal from the national level: governments all over Europe are beginning to realise that quotas are a necessary tool to achieve the equal representation of women, especially in the economic sphere. But quotas do not work without being legally binding and backed up by effective sanctions. There are more than enough qualified women in Europe to fill these positions. And I am confident that this quota will be adopted soon and help to finally use the full potential of our society.

On average, women in the EU earn 16% less per hour than men. The result is lower pensions and risk of poverty. Are women trapped? How can they free themselves?

Talking to different women in Europe, I see that a lot of them do not feel trapped but torn between their professional aspirations and the wish to have a family life. Reconciliation policies are therefore of utmost importance to make it possible for women to combine both.

European and national politicians need to elaborate flexible strategies, in close cooperation with women’s rights organisations, in order to better share family and care responsibilities. This starts with the right to paternity and parental leave.

Moreover, we need good quality child and elderly care facilities with accessible hours, in order to facilitate reconciliation. This will also lead to the economic independence of women which should furthermore be encouraged as well by the Member States through individual tax policies. Another step needs to start at a very early age: the elimination of stereotypes. Women and men should not feel obliged to follow a certain way. This would reduce the horizontal and vertical segregation in the labour market.

We have a new EU executive. Do you see a new momentum moving gender equality forward?

It is an encouraging sign to have for the first time a Commissioner being in charge of gender equality for all the women and men working on these issues in the European Union. During the first meetings with her we realised that gender equality seems to be a matter close to her heart.

Talking about the upcoming strategy on gender equality, she underlined the importance of concentrating on persisting gaps (like the gender pay or pension gap) as well as on the eradication of violence against women. I do especially appreciate her commitment to the eradication of violence against women, as from my opinion the basis for the equal participation in society is a life free of violence. I do also appreciate her wish to work in close cooperation with the European Parliament.

I believe that this will be key to achieve real progress: not only in the elaboration of new strategies but also in the persuasion of the Member States, which sometimes can be a bit hesitant in the adoption and implementation of gender equality policies. 

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