The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) calls on the European Commission to promptly implement its new Gender Equality Strategy, while tackling the damaging gender impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has further exacerbated existing social and economic gender inequalities, increasing violence against women and different forms of discrimination against them.
In the opinion adopted at its July plenary session, the EESC stated that the Commission must make sure that the Strategy takes into account the negative repercussions of the crisis for gender equality. The EESC also emphasised that the COVID-19 crisis requires the gender perspective to be incorporated into all member states' recovery measures.
"With COVID-19, women have increasingly been at risk of violence, poverty, multiple forms of discrimination and economic dependence. The strategy should be implemented without delay, to prevent women from continuing to pay the price for the pandemic," rapporteur for the opinion, Giulia Barbucci, told the plenary.
Barbucci said that the EESC supports the Commission's approach of using gender mainstreaming to incorporate the gender perspective into all fields and all stages of policymaking. This should also include the governance of finance programming mechanisms.
As the pandemic has further exposed the glaring gender pay gap, the EESC welcomed the announcement of a Commission initiative to introduce binding measures on gender pay transparency as early as this year and rejected any postponement of such an initiative.
Women represent the majority of workers in the health, social care and the services sector, which has put them in the front line during the pandemic, posing a risk to their health. As jobs occupied by women tend to be underpaid, undervalued and precarious, it is essential to give greater social recognition and economic value to these occupations, which would contribute to reducing pay and other gender-related gaps.
The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the need to finance measures in favour of work-life balance, the absence of which is often the culprit, together with persistent stereotypes, for gender-related gaps in the economy.
Women still bear the brunt of care responsibilities at home, which strongly limits their social and economic empowerment and prevents them from receiving fair pay and pensions. The EESC recommends a systematic approach to care policies and urges EU Member States to continue their efforts to increase the supply, affordability and quality of early childhood education and care services.
In the opinion, the EESC puts a strong accent on eradicating violence against women, which has increased during lockdowns: "Domestic violence has seen an exponential rise during the confinement, while cyber violence has become a growing threat for women. Member states have no tools to deal with online harassment of women and girls, and the Commission should come up with proposals for this common problem," warned the co-rapporteur Indrė Vareikytė.
The EESC calls upon the Commission to launch initiatives to tackle violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and at home and has repeatedly asked for online harassment and bullying of women to be added to the definition of illegal hate speech.
According to the EESC, civil society organisations can play a vital role in the prevention of violence against women and in the promotion of a gender-sensitive culture, by raising awareness and collecting and sharing good practices. The EESC has repeated its suggestion for an emergency legal fund to be established at EU level, which would provide support to civil society organisations that challenge legislation that violates women's rights in court.
Vareikytė underlined the important role played by the media in creating and perpetuating stereotypes that lead to prejudice against women and create further inequalities. She said that the EESC is calling for a new thematic focus – media and advertising – to be included in the next Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).
"The power of the media to create and perpetuate stereotypes must no longer be underestimated and we have to tackle it. The representation of gender in the media is still stereotyped, and the situation in the advertising sector is even worse. Advertising should promote gender equality in society, and not vice-versa, as is often the case," Vareikytė said. The media should thus adopt codes of conduct and other measures outlawing sexism and damaging stereotypes.
In its opinion, the EESC also calls for various measures to close persistent gender gaps in other fields: it asks member states to adopt specific measures to improve educational and career guidance to counter gender segregation in education and employment, which currently prevents many girls and young women from choosing a career path that is considered less traditional. The EESC also calls for actions to reduce the digital gender gap and encourage women to enter STEM, AI and ICT sectors, which hold better career prospects and the promise of better pay.
Another persistent shortcoming is the lack of balanced participation of men and women in decision-making. The EESC once again asks the Council to proceed with discussions on the directive on improving the gender balance on corporate management boards.
Commission encourages member states to ratify International Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work
The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Decision allowing member states to take forward the process of ratifying at national level the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.
The Convention, adopted during the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centenary in June 2019, is the first international instrument setting out global standards on work-related harassment and violence.
Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The new Convention is a much-needed international instrument to protect everyone's right to a workplace free from violence and harassment. Once adopted, this Decision will support Member States in leading the way for its ratification and implementation.”
Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said: “Violence against women at work affects us all – the victims of course the most, but also the colleagues and teams around them. The International Convention is the legal solution ensuring that women and men do not suffer from violence and harassment at work. I encourage the member states to ratify this Convention. We must all do our part to bring about real change towards gender equality.”
The Convention recognizes that violence and harassment at work can be a human rights violation or abuse, posing a threat to equal opportunities. The EU cannot ratify ILO Conventions because the EU is not a member of the organization, only member states can ratify such Conventions.
When the ILO instrument touches on EU competences, a Council decision authorizing ratification is required.According to the survey on violence against women conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 1 in 2 women in the EU said they have experienced some sort of sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. Of all sexual harassment, in 32% of the reported cases, the perpetrator was someone related to the woman's employment (colleague, boss or customer).
More information about the Convention is available on the ILO website.
#IstanbulConvention - All member states must ratify it without delay, say MEPs
The non-legislative resolution, adopted by 500 votes in favour, 91 against and 50 abstentions on Thursday (28 November), calls on the Council to urgently conclude the EU ratification of the 'Convention on preventing and combating violence against women', also known as the Istanbul Convention. It urges the seven member states that have signed but not yet ratified it - Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and the UK - to do so without delay.
MEPs condemn the attacks and campaigns against the Convention in some countries, which are based on deliberately misinterpreting and falsely presenting its contents to the public, they say.
MEPs request that the Commission adds combating gender-based violence as a priority in the next European Gender Strategy. They also ask the Commission to submit a legal act tackling all forms of gender-based violence - including online harassment and cyber violence - and plead for violence against women to be included in the catalogue of EU-recognized crimes.
All member states should ensure that the Convention is properly implemented and enforced by allocating adequate funding and human resources to the right services. Providing appropriate training for all professionals dealing with victims (magistrates, doctors, police officers...) is particularly essential.
The EP also reiterates its position in favour of specifically earmarking €193.6 million for actions preventing and combating gender-based violence in the Rights and Values programme.
The Istanbul Convention, adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011, entered into force in 2014 and was signed by the EU in June 2017. It is the first international instrument of its kind - states that ratify it must follow comprehensive, legally binding standards to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.
According to a 2014 Fundamental Rights Agency survey, one in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. 55% of women have been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment (11% have been subjected to cyber harassment). One in twenty have been raped.
Commissioner Jourová in Paris for G7 ministerial meeting on #GenderEquality
Today (10 May), Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Commissioner Věra Jourová (pictured), will be in Paris to participate in the G7 ministerial meeting, 'Making Gender Equality a Global Cause'.
"Since the beginning of its mandate, the Juncker Commission has acted on all fronts to improve the lives of women in Europe, the fight against violence against women, pay gaps and a better work-life balance," said the commissioner, "but there is still a way to go to move gender equality forward more quickly. This is the message I will be sending at this meeting."
Before the G7 meeting, Commissioner Jourová will visit the city of Bondy, in Seine-Saint-Denis
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