Why is the Commission ignoring women?

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

EU projects can have a positive impact on gender equality. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission had a ‘Strategy for Equality between Women and Men’ for the years 2010-2015, and a ‘roadmap’ for 2006-10. Yet the executive has no plan to turn these good deeds into concrete initiatives any time soon, writes Montserrat Mir.

Montserrat Mir is Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

The European Commission is refusing to comply with the demand of government ministers, and of trade unions and civil society, for a strategy for gender equality to be agreed on by ministers and members of the European Parliament.

The EU has a clear duty to act for gender equality. Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty says that the European Union shall promote equality between women and men.

What’s more, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that “equality between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay”. The European Commission itself recently acknowledged that women earn over 16% less than men per hour in the EU.

The European Commission had a ‘Strategy for Equality between Women and Men’ for the years 2010-2015, and a ‘roadmap’ for 2006-10. Both were clear, public documents of intent, endorsed by all EU institutions. Yet in its work programme for 2016 – published in November – the European Commission made no mention of drawing up a new gender equality strategy to cover the years after 2015.

It is ironic that a Work Programme entitled ‘No time for business as usual’ only refers to work/life balance for working parents and barely mentions tackling the institutional sexism of our society (and labour market) holding back the female half of Europe’s citizens, and Europe’s economy.

In response. ministers at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 7 December asked the European Commission to “adopt, as a Communication, a new Strategy for gender equality after 2015”.

What does this jargon really mean? Translating the Euro-speak into plain language, the Commission should produce a plan to be presented to, and discussed by, all EU institutions. The effect would be to would create a consensus at the highest political level to take further actions in favour of gender equality.

Instead, Commissioner Jourova said in the press conference following the Council that gender equality strategy will be covered by a ‘staff working document’. This means that it will not be presented to the other EU institutions, not be subject to democratic approval, not have a high political profile, and be less transparent (being an internal Commission document).

This raises troubling questions

  • Why would the European Commission want its work on gender equality NOT to enjoy democratic legitimacy and a high profile?
  • Why is the European Commission willing to incur the anger of ministers (and trade unions and civil society) in order to downplay its work on gender equality?
  • Why would the Juncker Commission, the first to have a Commissioner in charge of gender equality, be so weak on an issue that directly affects all Europeans?
  • Is it planning to do less on gender equality than ministers and MEPs would expect?

The best answer to these questions would be for the European Commission to comply with the demand for a gender equality strategy that will be presented to and discussed by Government Ministers and the European Parliament. At a time when the EU desperately needs to reconnect with its increasingly disillusioned citizens, it is incomprehensible that the European Commission is seeking to downgrade the fight for gender equality. 

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