With the dawn of 2016, and all the hope a new year brings, also comes the end of the European strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015. This now-expired strategy laid out the European Commission's commitment to ensuring women and men enjoy equality at all levels in society.
Featuring in the treaties as far back as the European Union's conception, gender equality is a fundamental and basic value of the EU. It is deeply rooted and is essential for the further development of society; socially, politically and economically.
This new Commission has said it is committed to gender equality and has endorsed a "clear, transparent, legitimate, and public Communication for a Strategy for Equality between Women and Men, endorsed by all EU institutions, at the highest political level". With this in mind, one would think that the Commission would be anxious to renew its strategy and eager to unveil its even more ambitious plan on how to deliver a roadmap to real change. However having only published a staff working document on 'strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019', which has little critical standing, the Commission are yet to produce anything. This is despite the responsible Commissioner committing in various debates to deliver a Strategy post 2015.
Historically the EU has taken important steps to strengthen women’s rights and gender equality. As a trade union official I frequently relied on the European discrimination and equal pay legislation to protect women in the workplace. However there has been a slowdown in political action and reform during the last decade. Rather than seeing promotion of equality through learning and work as part of the long term solution to fixing an economy it has been seen as an expendable policy. The previous Commission strategy was too weak and did not result in sufficient action being taken. At a national level, cutbacks in services and family benefits have compromised women’s economic independence, as benefits often constitute an important source of their income and because they use public services more than men.
This Commission should see a new strategy as an opportunity to give new energy and deliver tangible action to strengthen women’s rights and promote gender equality. It is because of this that the FEMM Committee are putting pressure on the Commission to deliver on their previous commitment to publish a gender equality strategy post 2015. Having drafted a motion for a resolution highlighting the countless arguments as to why this proposal is needed, the Parliament will then present and debate the motion in the February Strasbourg session in a few weeks' time.
A fresh action plan itself won't solve our problem. But it is symbolic and, more importantly, it must outline concrete actions women across Europe so that they can contribute to the European skilled labour shortage – which is forecasted to be around 7 million jobs by 2025 – address the pay gap, increase the number of women entrepreneurs and contribute to the Commission's overall strategy for jobs and growth in an inclusive way.