Gender inequality persists in Europe

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

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

SPECIAL REPORT / The glass ceiling has not disappeared. There are still too few women in leadership positions, writes V?ra Jourová.

V?ra Jourová is the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

I want to seize the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March) to celebrate progress towards greater gender equality in recent decades. I believe that Europe is a “good address” for women, but we need to work hard to keep it that way and make it even better. Ending gender inequality should be our goal in the years to come: no woman in Europe should ever have to doubt that she has the same chances as a man.

My aim in this area is not to make everybody the same, but to make sure that men and women have the same choices in life and the same rights and freedoms.

Gender equality, a core value of European societies

Nine in ten Europeans see gender equality as a core value for a fairer society. Two thirds of Europeans believe that gender inequalities in their country are less widespread now than a decade ago.

We can take pride in the progress Europe has achieved over several decades. Social patterns have evolved. Women now are strongly present on the labour market and have become financially independent.

I am glad to see that men wish to be more active participants in activities long considered for “women only”. Young fathers are now happy to benefit from parental leave, something most of their fathers would never even have thought about.

But inequalities persist. Around three in five Europeans think that inequalities between men and women continue to be widespread in their country. I agree with my fellow European citizens: gender equality is no done deal, there is still work to do to guarantee that women have the same opportunities or recognition as men.

Closing the remaining gaps and fighting violence against women

Women should be equal participants in all aspects of society, including in leading positions either in businesses or the public sector.

Women’s employment rate currently stands at 62.5% against 74.3% for men. Young women still find it harder than young men to enter the labour market. Yet, the European economy needs all the potential and talent women have to offer – this talent should not be wasted.

Moreover, women are still paid on average 16% less than men for the same job. They are more likely than men to take up part-time jobs or interrupt their careers altogether to care for children or a sick parent. This inequality is also carried on to women’s pensions, which are on average 39% lower than men’s.

The glass ceiling has not disappeared: there are still too few women in leadership positions. Today they account for an average 20.2% of the members of board of directors in the largest companies, and only 3% become chief executive officer. Where progress has been made, it is concentrated in those few countries which have introduced legislative measures. National parliaments do not leave enough space for women with men still holding more than two thirds of the seats.

Finally, I wish to point to the most alarming phenomenon; violence against women. One in three women in the European Union experiences physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. This is an unacceptable situation.

My commitment as gender equality Commissioner

As European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, equality between women and men is one of my key priorities.

I will in the coming months set out ways for women to secure further access to the labour market, and to top positions. The European Commission will also push for sufficient and high quality childcare, after school care, as well as support for women and men who care for other dependants. And we intend to press on forcefully with practical measures to eradicate violence against women.

We have to tackle the remaining challenges for gender equality to become a reality on the ground. I am committed to address these challenges and achieve tangible results.

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