Gender equality in basic math symbols
The beauty of mathematics, - deriving from the Greek word máthēma, which means “knowledge, study, learning”- is that it can apply to a plethora of concepts and situations beyond numbers. Basic math symbols in particular are perfectly nuanced when transposed in gender equality: from strict inequality (<) and inequality (≠), to approximate equality (≈) and equality (=). From subtle to very explicit, these symbols can apply to different parts of the world but also different areas of gender policies, with the genuine "equals sign" remaining a challenging goal to reach, even in our European Union.
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Convention, which established an international framework for gender equality in order to empower girls and women across the world. Earlier this year, European Commissioner in charge of Equality Helena Dalli presented the much-awaited Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which aims at achieving equality within the European Union in accordance with Article 8 of the TFEU and the European Pillar of Social Rights.
This Strategy constitutes a new base and framework for action, putting gender mainstreaming and intersectionality at the forefront of the next five years in order to achieve gender equality in the European Union. It includes a series of areas where there needs to be progress in terms of equality including violence against women, the participation of women on an equal footing as men in private and public decision-making processes, the protection of the LGBTI community and other vulnerable sectors of the population, and a stronger presence of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
What about COVID-19? United in inequality?
The Strategy thoroughly identifies the challenges that need to be tackled to achieve gender equality, with the exception of the implications of the pandemic, which occurred shortly after the roadmap's publication. During the last few months, we have seen how the COVID-19 crisis has shaken the world and impacted women in particular.
Indeed, the majority of people who work in jobs deemed “essential” are women. With most of the economy put on hold and society in confinement, the world has been moving thanks to those essential workers that have enabled the continuation of our lives. It has become more and more evident that those essential workers, those who were more exposed to the pandemic in order to guarantee that the rest of us could move forward, those were largely women. Cleaners, supermarket cashiers, nurses, caregivers, retailers, and the list goes on. These are the jobs that have kept societies moving and it has meant that women have subsequently been more exposed to the virus.
What is more, the reality of jobs involving long hours and low salaries are mainly carried out by women. We have also seen how women, despite being more exposed to the virus, have had to take the role of carers both in society and in their homes. Moreover, the majority of part‑time or precarious jobs lost during the economic crisis as a result of the pandemic have been held by women, meaning that they have been forced to leave their jobs or simply lost them , whilst still having to care for their families and close ones, while providing unpaid work.
And it hasn’t all been about jobs: Strict gender inequality?
Another vital element to take into account is that the pandemic has brought to the limelight domestic violence. There have already been several calls to ensure that all Member States ratify the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence, and this has become even more necessary after the COVID-19 crisis. A general lockdown has meant that survivors of domestic violence have been forced to stay at home with their abusers, increasing the levels of violence and minimising their options to be in a safe environment. Several local and regional authorities implemented strategies to help survivors of violence during the lockdown period, but these strategies need to become pan-European and local and regional authorities must be put at the forefront of the implementation of these strategies.
At the same time, all EU Member States must ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is a very useful instrument in the fight against violence. However, ratification stumbles on prejudiced perceptions about the meaning of "gender" by very conservative governments, to the detriment of all women and girls victims of violence.
Local and regional authorities: changing approximate equality into genuine gender equality
Local and regional authorities have dealt first-hand with the crisis and they should be involved in the implementation and design of equality policies in the EU. As the authorities in charge of implementing, and in many cases also designing, education policies across Member States, they can be the main drivers of change in the pursuit of equality. If given the necessary tools, they can effectively raise awareness among young people about gender stereotypes and gender violence, guaranteeing that equality is seen as a fundamental part of their lives from an early age, and encouraging the participation and interest of young girls and women in areas like STEM.
Similarly, because they are in the closest contact with our citizens, they are the ones who are best-equipped to know the policies that would be most suitable to achieve equality. At the same time, to successfully take forward gender equality, we need more women in decision-making processes, be it administrative or political.
Our member and President of the Spanish region of La Rioja, Concha Andreu, has been the rapporteur of the Committee of the Regions' opinion on the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, adopted earlier this week by the Committee's plenary session. In her opinion, Andreu calls for the creation of an interinstitutional working group involving also the Committee of the Regions and the participation of local and regional entities in the design, implementation and monitoring of the strategy, to ensure multilevel governance. Moreover, Andreu The rapporteur urges the European Commission to include all forms of violence against women and girls in the "Eurocrimes" set out in Article 83 TFEU.
Andreu calls for universal access to family-planning, and sexual and reproductive-health services. She stresses the need to combat the vertical and horizontal sex segregation in the labour market and for an equal sharing of caring responsibilities, both paid and unpaid. She also asks the Commission to consider a care agreement for Europe, similar to the Youth Guarantee, to satisfy care needs as part of a rights-based approach, and she urges Member States.
Women only account for 15% of mayors, 21% of regional presidents, 35% of members of regional parliaments and 23% of members of @EU_CoR.
Our cities and regions call to address gender gap in representation and recovery in a debate with @helenadalli.
— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) October 9, 2020
The report fully reflects the vision of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, putting gender equality at the core of our political priorities. In fact, we are the only political group who has a gender equality code of conduct to ensure the equal participation of women in all the works and decision-making positions in our group, but also its external representation. It is; however, our approach became the norm beyond the PES Group rather than remain the exception.
Moving forward: solving the gender equality equation
The Commission’s Strategy is a positive and necessary step forward but we should not stop here. The economic recovery from COVID‑19 will be long and difficult, and women are an integral part of it. However, because women are more exposed to the consequences of the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, this should be fully acknowledged in the Recovery and Resilience Plans that will be launched next year. What is more, the accomplishment of gender equality in the European Semester and in the Rule of Law Report should be taken into account.
The progressive family calls for gender mainstreaming in all policies of the European Union and in the recovery strategy, as well as a way to ensure that the right steps are being taken through audits and follow-up commissions that can examine the extent and application of the equality measures. After all, beyond its numerous challenges, this recovery can become an opportunity to achieve equality in the European Union and progressive cities and regions must be the drivers of it!