Still setting milestones? Europe’s gender equality policy must not come to a standstill

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Women constitute half of the European population, but do they have their equal share in the economic, social and political area? Since its founding, the European Union has set milestones for the implementation of gender equality. Gender equality both as a value and as a goal is enshrined in various documents and legal provisions, and European legislation has often forced member states to change their comparatively less progressive requirements.

Therefore, the latest plans of the Commission are a big disappointment. On International Women’s Day, they presented the “Road Map for Gender Equality”, outlining initiatives in gender equality up to 2010. Heralded as an action plan, the Road Map marks a standstill and does not contain even one proposal for new legislation.

Especially to stop violence against women, a comprehensive legal framework is long overdue. One in four women in Europe experiences violence, often by their male partner. A clear move from mere lip service to the introduction of a directive protecting the victims and punishing the perpetrators of violence is what women in Europe expect. Moreover, women’s human rights violations in the form of forced marriages, female genital mutilation or so-called honour killings urgently need to be placed high on the political agenda. We do know for a fact that these crimes occur in the European Union, even though statistics are scarce. Last year, the Greens in the European Parliament submitted a series of written questions to the Commission to highlight the seriousness and need for urgent action. As the Road Map shows, the Commission has apparently decided to continue closing their eyes to these gross human rights violations.

The implementation of gender budgeting is not adequately addressed in the Road Map. For any gender equality policy to be effective, knowledge and transparency on how budget allocations impact women and men is absolutely crucial. The Commission is called upon to urgently introduce gender budgeting at all policy levels.

The Commission’s promotion of the European Gender Institute as a new stepping stone exemplifies the current standstill in EU gender politics. The institute has been in planning for the last ten years already, with intensive deliberations underway since last year. Even though its establishment in 2007 is clearly a very positive step, we must be aware that it cannot replace a comprehensive European gender equality policy.

When it comes to making gender equality a reality in Europe, even today a lot needs to be done. The European Greens will continue their activism to make sure that women in Europe can fully enjoy their rights and that EU gender equality policy will be a shining star again.

Hiltrud Breyer is a member of the European Parliament for Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen. She is the Greens’ coordinator in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, a member of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and a substitute member of the Legal Committee.

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