International Women’s Day, marked annually on 8 March, is a day of reckoning, or at least it should be. It is a day when the world comes together to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It should also serve as a reminder of what we have yet to achieve.
Oftentimes, when a discussion regarding gender inequality sparks, many of us automatically think solely of the workplace. We can hardly be blamed, however, seeing as gender inequality within the workplace is a narrative we are all too familiar with.
According to Eurostat employment statistics, between 2005 and 2019, the employment rate for the population aged between 20 and 64, increased by 6.3% across the EU, from 66.8% to 73.1%, a couple points shy of the 75% target set in the 2010 Europe 2020 strategy.
With regards to the employment rate for women, it was seen to have increased all across Europe, with the largest increases being observed in Malta at 31.9%, Bulgaria and Poland, both at 13.3%. This is a step in the right direction. Just a step, however, as we have a long, winding path ahead of us.
Among other aspects, despite the grand leaps and bounds women have made in the last few years alone, studies still show a significant gender pay gap, both on local and regional levels. In this regard, I welcome the proposal by the European Commission for a Directive to introduce pay transparency measures. The Directive includes binding, legislative measures, which will be applied to all employers, as well as employees, within private and public sectors, allowing for the creation of pay transparency within companies, the imposition of sanctions for non-compliance and the giving of compensation to those affected. This is the first, necessary step to effectively address the gender pay gap.
As a member of the Committee of Regional Development, I am in the process of negotiating a report on the gender dimension in Cohesion Policy, which I strongly believe will contribute to achieving our crucial goal.
In the same vein, on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, I have negotiated a report on the European SMEs strategy, wherein I made sure to include a strong gender dimension, to promote further actions that would unleash the potential of female entrepreneurship, also in the light that women are still considered missing entrepreneurs in the field.
Resources allocated to regional policy could benefit the fight against gender inequality, along with a strong social, and economic, dimension. Take the example of childcare facilities and how they have helped to increase women’s participation in the workplace. If resources are utilised in an effective manner, it would result directly in more women having a meaningful presence in all sectors, including even greater entrepreneurial success.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I visited several female-run businesses in Gozo, with the aim of emphasising the importance of women taking more of a leading role within the entrepreneurial sector. We need to promote female role models in the field and invest in adequate skilling and assistance.
I strongly believe in the importance of cultivating and expanding on women’s participation even further within the digital sectors and embrace efforts such as the Skills Agenda, which calls for more female STEM subject graduates. Hence why, as Permanent Rapporteur for Gender Mainstreaming in the Committee on Industrial, Technological and Research policy, one of my aims is to bring experts from varying sectors together, to have an open discussion about potential improvements and actions, to reduce the gender gap in these areas.
That being said, I strongly believe that we have a duty to broaden that discussion and open our minds and our eyes, to the myriad of instances where gender inequality is unfortunately, a stark reality.
That is where the Cohesion Policy plays a part. In a nutshell, the Policy is the European Union’s strategy to promote the overall harmonious development of its member states and regions.
Our topic of interest, gender equality, is considered under this framework.
Why should we promote gender equality? Primarily, to reduce regional economic and social disparities. Also, to ensure the long-term development of regions, which coincidentally, are the two main objectives of the Cohesion policy. If we as a nation, as the European Union, fail to overcome the rampant gender disparities, we will not be able to fully achieve our objectives of growth, competitiveness, employment and inclusion. In many ways, gender mainstreaming, which refers to the integration of the gender equality perspective at all stages of policies, programmes and projects, is an essential precursor for promoting crucial economic development. The lack of it, rather, gives the impression that human resources and allotted funds are not being utilised in a way that would benefit not only the economy, but also society at large.
We must take into consideration that men and women’s priorities differ widely, even when talking about basic services such as water and sanitisation, public transport and urban housing. Logic tells us, therefore, that if we were to focus on areas of investment, which would result in the promotion of equality, we would all be in a better place. Firstly, we would reduce women’s lack of free time due to unequal distribution of caring responsibilities. Secondly, we would reduce their rampant exclusion from many local economic activities and finally, women would be more present in well-resourced networks and decision-making arenas. Is it enough?
Developing physical infrastructure is not enough. We also need what is referred to as “soft” investment. Only in this way will we be able to put social inclusion first and, ultimately, make progress in gender equality. For instance, vocational training and skills development for a more inclusive job market is an important and well-needed investment. Indeed, I am engaged, both at the European Parliament and at the national level, to promote a Skills Agenda that takes into account a strong and effective gender dimension.
Despite the European Union’s strategy being to promote innovation, supporting job creation and increasing employment rates across the board – all of which are encompassed by Cohesion Policy – there are still many hurdles to overcome.
Beyond the formal inclusion of the principle of gender equality in the Partnership Agreements in the Operational programmes of the former programming period 2014-2020, there is still, unfortunately, a gap in terms of implementation. We must therefore monitor and make use of gender–disaggregated data, in order to create a complete picture on how the gender dimension is addressed within Cohesion Policy.
International Women’s Day should motivate us to take an in-depth look into the gender disparities, which are present not only in the workplace, but interwoven into society at large. Let us work together, not only on International Women’s Day but every day, to achieve gender mainstreaming and a wholly more fair, just and equal society that our generation, as well as many others to follow, would be proud to be a part of.