“The burden is simply on women and we need men to participate as well”
The main message from speakers and delegates was that progress towards gender equality over the past 10 years (since the Index began) has been painfully slow. EIGE director, Virginija Langbakk, described the 4 percentage point increase across the EU as a “snail’s pace” to the 328 delegates representing 38 nationalities (including all 28 EU member states).
Although many people applauded the important work of the Index in providing a concrete, academically solid and politically robust measure of gender equality usable for policy development and lobbying, a lot of the speakers through the day were dismayed by the lack of progress reflected in the Index. Some, such as Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, pointed to a lack of male involvement, saying: “the burden is simply on women and we need men to participate as well”.
We also heard from Åsa Regnér, Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality who shared some experiences of her government’s more feminist approach, which was generally seen as a reason Sweden is top if the Index table.
You can see how your country fared, and compare different spheres being measured (such as Work, Time, Health, and Power) online: http://eige.europa.eu/gender-equality-index
EIGE will publish more detailed country-by-country reports in due course, and in November there will be a specific Index report on gender-based violence.
As Joanna Maycock, Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby explained, “there has been a lot of progress in the last 100 years, but we have stalled in the last decade…I’m not willing to wait another 100 years, which is what it will take at this rate”.
The index aimed for the first year to take an intersectional approach to include other discriminatory factors such as ability/disability, economic situation, migration status, and education. The aim is to ensure no one is left behind. However, there was some criticism raised by delegates that the Index still fails to reflect issues of racism in relation to gender. The statistical issue, EIGE responded, is that most countries do not collect ethnicity data as doing so is problematic and can be seen as discriminatory. Similarly, there was a lack of representation of sexual orientation and gender identity in relation to gendered power relations within the Index. But here too, the response from EIGE was that they only work on the basis of statistics provided by member countries’ governments. Like the data about ethnicity, data on sexual orientation and gender identity are not collected by national statistical offices.
In discussion between MenEngage members and others at the conference, we felt that there is a role for civil society in the member states to contribute to such data collection as both the issues of ethnic/racial and sexual orientation and gender identity in their intersectional relation to gender are vital in policy making to address multiple discrimination issues.
The conference closed with an emphatic speech from Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, who proudly described himself as a feminist and discussed, among other things, the hurdles of engaging with men who see gender equality as a threat. From a MenEngage perspective, it is encouraging to see that male involvement is now being discussed as an important factor in achieving progress. Hopefully this gradual shift in the debate will help open up more space for the work we do as individuals, organisations and as a network here in Europe.