In the coming months and years, key gender-related milestones will frame our agenda. From the EU Gender Equality Strategy to the elaboration of the GAP III and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, the EU will have multiple opportunities to reiterate its pledges on gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights. Following the European Parliament elections and the recent designation of the European Commissioners, where do we stand today? The proposal on the table shows some mixed progress.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen made it very clear from the beginning: she wanted gender parity in her college of Commissioners. And she looks set to ensure it happens. For the first time ever, a woman is at the head of the Commission and gender-balance might be achieved in the high-level executive body. We can praise this determination. Yet, it also gives pause for reflection.
Considering the extent of gender inequality both in Europe and beyond, -it will take another 108 years to close the overall gender gap at the current rates of progress – this could be considered cosmetic. Like the VP-designate, Frans Timmermans, recently said, “it’s not only about the 14 women Commissioners, but about the 250 million women in Europe and what we will do for them.” Not to mention those beyond Europe’s borders!
When looking at the “Equality” portfolio of Helena Dalli, we can applaud the commitments to inclusion and equality that were made from a gender perspective, especially the promise to develop a European Gender Strategy. But, the vision is still very narrow. By focusing on a limited number of economic rights (such as equal pay) and civic rights (such as anti-discrimination laws), Ursula von der Leyen is putting aside the far more complex, systemic issue of how huge power imbalances permeate every facet of society, the economy, politics and governance … and the list goes on. She risks reducing gender equality to easily identifiable ‘issues’. We would propose that, at the very least, if she is serious about gender equality, then addressing it must be woven throughout each and every Commissioner-designate’s portfolio. Yet, most of them are exempt of any gender reference.
Von Der Leyen’s wish that “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls continue to be a top priority in our international cooperation and development policies”, as set out in Commissioner Urpilainen’s Mission Letter, delivers a strong message. Looking at the impact of EU policies through a gender-lens, inside and outside the EU, is a step in the right direction. So why are the other portfolios so gender-blind? “An economy that works for people” needs to consider that women are still doing most of the unpaid work; the Agriculture portfolio should take into account that women make up 43% of the labour force in agriculture in developing countries; the Commissioner entrusted with the Trade portfolio will need to work on the fact that trade and investment have exacerbated gender inequality, and been unwilling to admit that fact.
In the upcoming “Trade for her” conference, I will advocate for strong gender-just trade policies and agreements. CONCORD will push for the GAP III to be taken much more seriously by EU trade departments. And we will keep on advocating for 20% of EU external action to target gender as a principal objective in the future EU budget.
There are still so many aspects for which we need to include a gender-sensitive perspective. We will therefore keep on monitoring and calling for action, alongside some of our members during the European Week of Action for Girls, and we stand ready to collaborate with the European Commission – and the EU more broadly – for a fairer and more equal world.