“2016 must be a better year for gender equality in Europe than 2015. 2015 was, in fact, a year of stagnation – at best! The year started off with the withdrawal by the European Commission of its proposal for a revised EU maternity directive. After national ministers in the Council had continued to simply block negotiations with the EU’s second co-legislator, the European Parliament, the European Commission saw no reason to uphold its proposal.
National ministers in the Council also acted infamously with regards to a second landmark file, the Women-on-boards directive proposal by the European Commission, which looks at ways to achieve a more balanced representation of men and women among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. Even though the proposal dates back to as long ago as 2012, and even though the European Parliament already adopted its position in 2013 and was ready to engage in negotiations, ministers in the Council failed in December 2015 – again – to agree on a common internal position. The file is pending to the day.
Not only the Council disappointed me in 2015 – also the European Commission failed to identify with strong pro-gender equality politics. The EU Gender Equality Strategy 2010-2015, which laid out action priorities to achieve gender equality in pay, decision-making and other aspects across Europe, ran out on December 31. However, despite engaged and widespread support by the European Parliament, organised civil society groups and trade unions – including CESI – and even by the governments of most EU Member States, the Commission did not propose a successor strategy. What has been left to work with as of 2016 is a low-level ‘Commission staff working document on a Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019’ – a document with a political weight nowhere near a Strategy.
Especially in light of recent set-backs, it is vital to continue pushing for better gender equality policies and politics in Europe. The Commission recently issued a roadmap on an overarching initiative on work-life balance which looks at how working families and carers can be better supported in their efforts to combine work and domestic responsibilities. Of course, this initiative is of interest especially for women. After all, it has been mostly women that raise children and care for older family members – often at the expense of their careers and salary and pension levels. While consultations with the organised civil society and social partners are still ongoing, we therefore need to make sure that this initiative will yield hard legislative proposals by the Commission that grant adequate parental and carer’s leave rights especially for women.
In this context I join the UN in calling on the EU institutions and the governments of the EU Member States to live up to the UN’s theme of the 2016 International Women’s Day: “Step it up for gender equality!”