Bursting the Bubble

EU Women’s empowerment policy: In money we trust?

8 March 2017 | by

Gender equality intruded EU jargon in the past years.  Inequality between men and women started to be perceived as a form of discrimination touching many aspects of our lives (work, social position, relationships, education, politics, media, etc.), so gender mainstreaming infiltrated in many EU policies. For instance, the “Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-19” was developed to address equal access to employment and payment, participation in decision-making or gender-based violence. Thus, now it is a cross-sectoral policy, but the focus still remains on economic rights: to guarantee equal opportunities to have all of the necessary means for living.

The gender policy triumvirate: employment, income and leadership

Equal rights in the labour market are the cornerstone of EU gender equality policy because it is perceived as the path towards economic independence and participation in society. More women started working in the recognized labour market (e.g. not housekeeping) in the past decades and now they represent 46.2% of EU labor force. But men and women do not have the same money to pay their rent or the school of their children because they only earn 60 euros for every 100 euros a man makes. This disparity has widened since 2005 because their salaries are that much different for doing the exact same work, but because women work much more part-time than man. And it could widen even more as emerging non-standard employment schemes like temporary agency work are more likely to affect women than men.

Even more difficult is to make it to the top, either in the private or the public sector. While the share of female representation in member states national parliaments rose from 16 to 28 % in the last decade, at the end of 2016, only 7 out of 42 presidents and prime ministers in the EU-28 were women. In the private sector the numbers are even lower: if 100 CEOs of the largest European companies were around a table only 5 would be women. To solve this the EU is trying to “help” bringing more women into government, to train women leaders and boost women’s skills to participate actively in elections as candidates.

Nevertheless, it should be questioned whether it is a problem of training and skills considering women increasing education level, or a social approach towards women involvement in policy and business–making. In other words, should men also be “trained” and “help” to change their views towards women leaders?

Will money and training end discrimination?

Facts show they won’t.

Most cleaners, home-based workers and nurses are women. Occupational gender segregation is so pervasive that 1 out of 5 employed women in Europe work in the health sector. This issue not only matters because it entails inefficient “functioning of the labor market” as the EU says, but because is rooted partially on the undervaluation of female work and social discrimination. In this sense, social and cultural national attitudes towards women labor and men´s participation in childcare and domestic work are also barriers of the labor market. Therefore, social participation and recognition should also play a bigger role through education from a gender equality perspective.

Gender perspective in education: a pending and complex issue   

Despite some EU initiatives in education and reproduction health, member states still keep many prerogatives. An EP 2016 study showed that in some EU member states, like Croatia, Latvia, Poland and Spain, this practice has become more conservative in recent years. For example, in Spain the EP reported the absence of standardized national guidelines and the lack of professionals to provide Sexual and Reproductive Education, teacher training and funding for SRE programmes.

Progress have been made, women’s rights in the EU are certainly better than in many non-EU countries, and we should acknowledge and appreciate those advancements. Yet, that does not mean Europe should accommodate in excessive self-indulgence when it comes to women’s rights. Economic rights are part of this fight, but it will not be won as long as European policy makers still do statements like this. Clearly there is still something wrong in Europe’s perception of women’s role in society. Then, can we trust that only money will satisfy women’s aspirations? Certainly not, this is rather a more complex issue that involves culture and education.

What do you think?