Bursting the Bubble

Once a burden, always a burden: how women cope with always entering the race with “race card two”?

21 November 2014 | by

At the Journalist Thematic Network Meeting in Rome, experts of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) proved with data that discrimination accompanies the lives of women from early childhood through to their senior years.

This year it is 20 years ago since the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) was adopted at the 4th UN World Conference on Women. The BPfA set out the first international agenda for women’s empowerment and affirmed that women’s and female children’s human rights are inalienable, integral and indivisible. The same year, the European Council acknowledged the European Union’s commitment to the BPfA and expressed its intent to review their implementation across the Member States on a yearly basis. Italy, which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of this year, decided to carry out an extensive review on all Beijing Areas for this 20th anniversary.

Estonian expert, Merle Paats who recently joined the EIGE team presented step by step, relying on the statistics collected and processed by the Institute to fulfil the request of the Presidency which confirmed that from early education onwards girls’ fate are sealed – almost peremptorily pointing to a certain direction. For example, in 23 Member States girls received lower results in mathematics than boys partly due to being discouraged by traditions that this field is simply “not for them”. Consequently when the time comes to continue their studies (even in choosing secondary education) they do not orientate themselves towards mathematics and/or science – in the EU the proportion of female students in science, mathematics and computing is lower than 40% and has not changed in 10 years. Instead they opt for humanities and arts, healthcare or teacher training and educational science (the proportion of female students is the highest in these areas).

With time, their choice has economic implications: the “gender-segregation” of education (primary, secondary, tertiary) has adverse impacts on the chances of women in the labour-market. Being a teacher, nurse or social worker does not seem to pay as well in the near future as an IT-expert, engineer or factory owner and we have not even mentioned the importance of being employed part – or full-time which also determines women’s economic independence. Because in some of the Member States – rooted in tradition (NL) or due to the lack of other possibilities (DK) – numerous women have the possibility to work only part-time.

And from the gender-gap in income and earnings, we have already arrived to the point of the gender-gap in pensions. Namely that gender-based segregation throughout education and employment (e.g. working part-time) has long-term effects on prospects, including lower pensions and increased risk of poverty.

The Institute has come to the conclusion that from early education onwards, girls should be encouraged to engage in mathematics and sciences in order to orientate themselves to a more prosperous life path. It drew attention to the role of governments and social partners across the European Union in ensuring that the economic situation does not undermine family-friendly policies and establishing minimum wage, which would have a different impact on women as they are over-represented in minimum-wage jobs.

Forming a link with the Italian Presidency, the Institute invited Italian experts from the Ministry of Economic Development, the advocacy association “Corrente Rosa” and from the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Parliament – all inspiring women – to present their endeavours to adjust the long traditional Italian female image to the realities of the 21st century. The chair of the latter, Valeria Valente presented how several regions received inspiration from the “dual preference” election system (i.e. the voters have the chance to mark two preferences on the voting list so the second preferred candidate has to be of a different gender) of the region of Campania.

A truly charismatic woman herself, Serena Romano, president of “Corrente Rosa” (also a consultant on technology and gender-issues) spoke about how they decided to produce a documentary film (“per la mia strada/on my way”) starring 8 inspirational women knighted by the President of Italy to promote women as role models and thus give guidance to young Italian women in finding their life-goals and change their perception of female roles.

What do you think?