Friday, January 11, 2013

Gender Equality in the European Union

Gender equality, is one of the social terms which attracts me as a feminist, and I try to explore it in every field and every nation. Right now it is the time to explore it for the first time in the EU institutions. Before planning to do this article, I had two main questions. Does the European Institution take any measures to improve Gender equality in the level of the institutions and the member states? Is there a bottom up action to promote Gender mainstreaming  tin the level of EU citizens? Is the Gender Equality principle strong enough to face the current economical crisis in EU? In spite of the efforts of the EU institutions to integrate gender equality in their policies and legislation, I observe on the reality that there is still inequality between men and women in the sphere of society especially when it comes to decision-making position at the work place, so I see the majority in those highly prestigious positions are men.

The Treaty of Amsterdam and later the Lisbon Treaty have entrenched “gender equality as one of the central missions and activities of the Union, and the Treaty on European Union formalized the EU's positive obligation to not only achieve but also to promote gender equality. Article 2 TEU includes equality as one of the values on which the Union is founded. Article 3 TEU provided that gender equality and the combat of discrimination constitute aims of the EU.  

 In the European Union the concept of gender equality tends to centre on labor market issues-gaps between male and female employment rates or the gender pay gap being key. So, the Treaty of Rome (1957) contained an article which provided for equal pay between men and women. However, the principle was not successfully invoked until 1975 when it was used to defend a Belgian flight attendant named Gabrielle Defrenne who had objected to being paid less than her male colleagues as it defied the Treaty. The case lead to the first European directive on equal pay for men in 1975, which explicitly prohibited all discrimination on the grounds of sex related to pay.  

Increasingly, broader political and social concerns have been incorporated, such as achieving equality in decision making or ending gender based violence. The integration of the gender perspective into all policies at all stages of the policy process by all participating actors, namely gender mainstreaming, is a strategy that has been adopted by EU institutions and Member States since 1996.  Besides, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly states that gender equality is a fundamental right. Since December 2009, this Charter is legally binding on the Union and its Member States.  
In addition, On International women's Day in 2010, the EU released a Women's Charter targeting equal pay, equality in decision making, economic independence and an end to gender based violence, and Equality between women and men is enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon as one of the community's fundamental objectives. 
Apart from the directives and treaties on equal conditions in the labour market, the EU also has common guidelines on employment. Each Member State follows up the common guidelines each year to give them concrete expression in national action plans for employment. In the action plans the Member States commit themselves to policies that will lead to increased equality in the labour market. Female employment in the EU countries now stands at close to 55 per cent. The Union contributes to this with actions to reconcile work and family life, including care facilities for children and other dependants. The EU has set a target employment rate of 60 per cent for women to be reached by 2010.


The European Commission
It is the main implementation body within the EU structure, and also the body that proposes new legislation. The Equal Opportunities Unit is based in the EU Commission Directorate General for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs. It is responsible for ensuring compliance with the EU Directives on equal opportunities for women and men. This Unit is also charged with the implementation of the Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality. Furthermore, the President of the Commission and a number of Commissioners comprise the Commissioners Group on Equality. They maintain an overview on equal opportunities between women and men at European Commission level and discuss in particular the question of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all services and policies. It is worth noting that since 2004 the European Commission has presented an annual report on developments in the area of gender equality, also the commission set up five-year strategy for gender equality 2010-2015, the following five priority areas are listed: 
Equal economic independence for women and men;
Equal pay for equal work of equal value;
Gender equality in decision-making;
Dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence; and
Gender equality in EU external action.
Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
The committee was set up by the commission in 1981, and it assists the commission in formulating and implementing measures promoting equal opportunities for women and men and submits opinion to the Commission. The Advisory Committee (68 members) is composed of representatives from ministers and equality bodies in the member states, EU social Partners and the European Women's Lobby, as well as representatives from international and professional organization and other associations, including the European free Trade Association. 
Council of Ministers
Members of government of the Member States meet in the Council of Ministers. The Social Affairs Council of Ministers, where national ministers of social affairs are represented, is the Council that is responsible for most decisions relating to the equality of women and men.
Moreover, in 1998 the Council of Ministers adopted new regulations in order to place more women in senior posts in the EU institutions. In these regulations the Ministers make equality of opportunity one of the objectives in recruitment and promotion to senior posts within the EU institutions. The Council of Ministers has exhorted the Member States and the EU institutions to recruit more women to decision-making positions. In a recommendation issued in 1996 (96/694/EC) the Council calls for more initiatives that will result in an even distribution between women and men involved in decision making. Also, every year the Council of the European Union conducts a review of how the EU Member States and institutions are implementing their commitments under the UN action plan for gender equality adopted in Beijing in 1995, i.e., the Beijing Platform for Action.
The European Parliament (EP) 
It is the only European institution elected directly by the citizens of the Member States. The European Parliament does not have full legislative power, as do parliaments in Member States, but it can give political signals and has control over the budget legislation, policies and many political actions affecting women. It drafts reports on the Commission’s proposals on women’s rights, organizes public hearings and defines budget priorities for Women’s Programmes. The work of the European Parliament is organized in different parliamentary Committees, including the Committee on Women’s Rights. This Committee has played an important role in advancing gender equality issues within the EP.

European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM)
The Committee comprises 64 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and is responsible for:
The definition, promotion and protection of women's rights in the Union and related Community measures
Equal opportunities policy, including equality between men and women with regard to labour market opportunities 
The removal of all forms of discrimination based on sex
Follow-up and implementation of international agreements and conventions involving the rights of women, and information policy on women
The current focus of the Committee's work is on gender-specific pay gaps, poverty of women, lack of involvement of women in decision-making processes, human trafficking and violence against women and children. 
The European Women's Lobby
A major actor in the field of gender equality is the European Women’s Lobby. EWL follows very closely the processes of changing the EU Treaties, all legislative proposals having a gender aspect and tries to integrate a gender perspective in all areas. EWL takes positions on the different legislative proposals and lobbies of the EC and the EP.
European Institute for gender Equality (EIGE)
The decision to establish a new European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius, Lithuania, was taken in December 2006 by the European parliament and Council of Ministers. The Institute officially began its work in June 2010. The institute is a European agency that, in its capacity as a centre of knowledge and network of experts, is tasked with supporting member states and European institutions in their efforts to promote gender issues among EU citizens. 
A European Gender Equality Pact (2011-2020)
A new Gender Equality Pact was adopted at the Council meeting in March 2011 in which Member States committed to strengthening the gender equality element in EU cooperation. Five years after the adoption of the first European Gender Equality Pact, fresh impetus was needed, especially to confirm and support the close link between the Commission's Strategy for Gender Equality 2010-2015 and the joint EU growth strategy, Europe 2020. The Pact highlights issues such as the importance of reducing the gap between women and men in the labour market, improving access to childcare and combating all forms of violence against women.

EU between Reality and Treaties

Although 40% of the EU's advisory are women, the EU president himself, Herman Van Rompuy, has said that regrettably, "gender inequality still dominates the European Council".
Once women are in decision-making positions, evidence shows that they have to fight harder for respect. "Somehow, when you are a woman, you are not allowed to fail" says Diana Wallis, Vice president of the European Parliament.  

There is enough legislation at EU level" says Edit Bauer, MEP and member of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality in the European Parliament (FEMM)," but these issues are still largely in member states' hands". However, three quarters of Europeans think that the reason why women are less likely to have positions in decision- making  is either because  of their responsibilities  towards their families  or because the  business world is dominated be men who do not place enough trust in women, according to the most recent Eurobarometer study.  

I believe that media, toy producers, or whoever else involved in a world where boys in blue clothes take up the role of hard working daddy, while girls in pink dresses brush their doll babies' hair. Because that gender equality is not yet plant in the European culture yet, I noticed that gender equality is deteriorating especially in the countries which are mainly affected by the current economic crisis.

Despite the measures and a continual emphasis on equal pay for men and women, these still an average gender pay gap of 17% in the EU. Moreover, women are affected by the ongoing Euro zone crisis. For example, in March 2012, 26% of Greek women were out of work while 17% of Greek men were unemployed. 

The literature tells us that in times of such economic hardship, policies 
aimed at inclusivity and equality (such as gender policy) can be pushed into retreat or at the least their progress can be slowed, as policy-makers and the public focus instead on economic  survival.  As Moghadam notes:  

"Economic crisis has a way of undermining social and labor rights. Paid maternity leave is not enjoyed by all working women…but its expansion is undercut by recessions… Gender budgets instituted by governments to ensure that women are integrated into policies and planning and that they benefit from economic growth and social expenditures may be compromised if not eliminated as a result of austerity measures…"

Bakker (ed) The Strategic Silence: Gender and Economic Policy (Zed Books, London, 1994); L Beneria and S Feldman (eds)  Unequal Burden: Economic Crises, Persistent Poverty, and Women’s Work. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Boulder, 1992); D Elson (ed) Male Bias in the Development Process (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1991); P Sparr (ed) Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment (Zed Books, London, 1995) All cited in VM Moghadam “Women, Gender, and Economic Crisis Revisited” 
(2011) Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 10 at 33.
   VM Moghadam at 35. 


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Jacotine,K., 2012. EU's Admirable Gender Equality Goals Facing a crisis [online] Available at [accessed 3 January], March 2010. Viviane Reding Speech [online] Available at [Accessed 3 January 2013], 2011. European Union and Gender Equality [online] Available at [Accessed 3 January 2013]

 Gender,Equality, 2003-2006. Gender Equality in the European Union [online] available at [Accessed 3 January 2013]

Gunda Werner Institute,????. Institutions of the EU Commission and Parliament [online] Available at [Accessed 3 January 2013]

Radzyner,P.A., 2010.Gender Inequality and the EU [online] Available at [Accessed 4 January 2013]

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