Women’s rights: We cannot go back a single day

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

epa07410421 Women take part in a race during International Women's Day celebrations in Madrid, Spain, 03 March 2019. International Women's Day is held across the world on the 08 March annually and raises awareness around women?s rights. EPA-EFE/FERNANDO ALVARADO

Despite modest progress, the EU is still decades away from obtaining gender equality and the overall picture is still bleak, writes Helena Dalli.

Helena Dalli is the European Commissioner for Equality.

According to the Gender Equality Index 2020, presented on 29 October by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the score for gender equality in the EU stands at 67.9 out of 100. To reach the 100 mark – and therefore equality – it is estimated that it will take us at least sixty years, at the current rate of progress, that is: an improvement of half a point per year.

It is good to see committed member states in this area of policy such as Sweden, Denmark and France consolidate their place as the top three. It is encouraging to see Italy, Luxembourg and Malta striving and registering the highest rate of improvement – each gaining approximately 10 points since 2010.

However, the picture is bleak. We are talking about more than half the population in the EU, still struggling to be treated equally, on par with the other half. We must up the ante and defy EIGE’s researched projections. Gender equality cannot wait another sixty years, and cannot be allowed to slip, not even by the equivalent of a day.

The gender equality strategy which the European Commission presented last March aims to help member states to strengthen their legislation and policies so that we may advance together faster and stronger. Europe must show leadership in the field of equality.

The gender equality strategy outlines a number of targets we ought to reach as a Union by 2025 in terms of:

  • our work on gender-based violence, especially the ratification and implementation of the gold standard in this area, the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention;
  • achieving pay transparency to address the gender pay gap;
  • eliminating gender stereotypes;
  • ensuring  work-life balance; and
  • strengthening gender balance at decision-making levels including on boards of publicly listed companies.

These initiatives must be fully implemented throughout the current Commission’s mandate if we truly believe in a gender-equal European Union in all social, economic and political aspects.

We can only achieve this with the commitment of all member states and none must accept the sixty-year trajectory.

Worse than progressing slowly is losing what we already have.

We must be vigilant on those who want to backpedal where women’s rights, or all human rights for that matter, are concerned.

We are very alarmed at the growing attacks on women’s rights and the witnessing of instances where rights are being dismantled in some member states.

What we are seeing is not only the door being slammed shut to progress but also a threat to roll back rights and freedoms legitimately and painstakingly acquired over the years.

As President Ursula von der Leyen put it: “Progress is hard won, but easily lost. Strong women’s rights are an asset and an achievement the whole of Europe must be proud of. We should push forward, not backwards. Backsliding is not an option for a continent that aims for winning the future.”

We support and stand firm in solidarity with women everywhere, in their quest for equality. Our Union’s commitment to gender equality is carved in stone because we recognise that women will never gain full dignity and control over their lives until their human rights are fully respected and protected.

We cannot go back a single day.

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