This year, I was fortunate to attend the Gender Equality Index 2017 conference. The Gender Equality Index is a tool to measure the progress of gender equality in the EU, developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The Index has six core domains – work, money, knowledge, time, power and health – and two satellite domains: violence against women and intersecting inequalities. It gives more visibility to areas that need improvement and ultimately supports policy makers to design more effective gender equality measures. The results are updated and revealed every two years at an international conference.
Since the last index, the score has improved by 4 points and now lies at 66.2 points out of 100. The top performing country is Sweden with a score of 82.6, while Greece dropped to the bottom with 50 points. Italy recorded the biggest improvement. Overall, although the majority of Member States improved their overall scores from 2005 to now, nearly two thirds of them fall below the EU-28 average score.
A few things struck me as particularly noteworthy. Firstly, progress is way too slow. We cannot afford to miss out on women’s skills in the workplace for the next decades, and cannot afford men to suffer from the health consequences of toxic masculinity, either. We need to do better as soon as possible. Secondly, we often assume that we are continuously moving forward, but cannot take this for granted. We will only make progress if we constantly push for the cause. I was struck by low scores in some of the economically strong member states who are often praised for their well-functioning politics. Specifically, my own country Germany scored disappointingly low on many dimensions. As Ghandi put it, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Let us raise all countries to higher standards, and let us no longer accept that a society functions well only for half of the population.
In light of this, GenPol’s work (both past and forthcoming) feels all the more urgent, professionally and personally. Serlo, for instance, is a grassroots organization for education on sexuality and gender equality that originates in Germany but is gradually being expanded to other countries and languages. The platform’s aim is to enable personalized learning and to provide high quality educational resources free of charge. Similarly, the Italian organizations PREVENT and PIÙ SANE both aim to promote consent-aware sex and relationship education in Italy, as well as women’s self-esteem, empowerment and overall mental health. Considering the gender equality index dimension “violence against women” the Italian organisation Non Una di Meno might play a pivotal role in fostering increased scores. This network of feminist activists came together ahead of the planned ‘women’s strike’ for the 2017 International Women’s Day with a specific focus on the national problem of violence against women.
We must not underestimate the impact that these small organisations scattered across Europe might have on gender equality. By fuelling ideas and continuously pushing for change they might make fundamental contributions to an increase in the gender equality index scores. Non Una di Meno, for instance, vehemently pushes for cultural change to key areas such as education, legislation, media, and social support. Moreover, they make hands-on suggestion as to how to achieve this change (one of their latest projects concentrates on the revision of school books to remove gender stereotypes, for example).
Gatherings like the gender equality index conference certainly present a valuable meeting point for policy makers and activists with an interest in gender equality, and might function as an incubator for future initiatives across Europe. Indeed, the wealth of feminists from all over Europe was truly inspiring. We listened to Åsa Regnér, Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, who stated that we owe little girls that they will have the same chances as boys, and to Tiina Astola, Director-General, Directorate-General for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality at the European Commission, who pointed out that gender equality is not necessarily a linear process. And finally, Frans Timmermans, First Vice President at the European Commission, who closed the conference with a fantastic speech full of determination and encouragement to create a better future – an excellent example of a male ally. With an audience just as knowledgeable as the speakers, interesting discussions unfolded throughout the day. The speakers and the audience agreed that gender equality will be achieved through political decisions, allocation of resources, and a constant fight in public debates.
I am convinced that grass-root organizations, and think tanks such as GenPol will have an important role to play in these, and ultimately in improving the statistics for the Gender Equality Index 2019.
A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on: https://www.antoniasudkaemper.com/2017/10/13/progress-but-slow-gender-equality-index/