It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities, by also taking a heavy toll on women. Over the last year, women have had pivotal roles in fighting the crisis, by highly figuring among health sector workers, caregivers, teachers, researchers and other frontline jobs. Nevertheless, the pandemic has highlighted the pressing need to achieve more equality during the recovery from this global crisis, especially in top-ranked positions at the political and management level. In this regard, since the theme for this year’s Women’s International Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, let’s try to grasp how women are represented in a reality closer to us, the European Union Institutions.
On March 5th 2021, ahead of today’s recurrence, the European Commission has released a press statement, acknowledging how women have been underrepresented in the decision-making processes related to the pandemic. For this reason, thanking women for their essential contributions in such traumatic times is not enough, but concrete actions are sorely required. In this regard, the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 presented by Ursula Von der Leyen, the first woman leading the European Commission, together with Vice-President Vera Jourová and Commissioner Helena Dalli can be of the utmost importance. This plan entails a significant number of actions to advance gender equality, both within the EU and beyond. The issue of women’s under-representation in leadership roles is highly multifaceted, since it strongly intersects broader fields of social policies. These include legislative acts aimed at increasing female employment rate, reducing the gender pay gap, enabling equal access to education, employment and family-friendly policies.
Nevertheless, when looking at the single EU Institutions, some discrepancies in gender equality are to be found. For instance, while the College of Commissioners is close to gender parity, with 13 women and 14 men, the European Parliament scores lower. Even though the percentage of female Members of the Parliament has increased over the different legislatures, 60% of the Chamber are men. As stated by Papadimoulis in October 2020, the Parliament’s Vice-President in charge of gender equality and diversity, more steps are to be pursued. By the end of the legislative period in 2024, the Parliament will strive to ensure that women will constitute the 50% heads of unit, 50% directors, and 40% directors-general. The situation in the Councils, upholders of Member States’ interests, is again a different one. More specifically, civil organisations such as the European Women’s Lobby point out that the Council of the European Union still does not have a configuration of ministers engaging with gender equality.
All things considered, it thus appears clear that the EU institutions still have not reached gender equality in leadership positions, even if some are closer to the aim than others. In order to have a more prominent role as a frontrunner of gender equality, the EU should thus further pursue this goal in two directions. On the one hand, this entails bridging the gender gap within the Union through ad-hoc legislation. On the other, actions ensuring a coherent internal approach in the EU Bubble are needed, so as to first secure gender equality within the EU institutional ranks.
European Commission. (2021). Achieving gender balance in decision-making. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/gender-equality/equality-between-w... [Accessed 8 Mar. 2021].
European Commission - European Commission. (2021). Press corner. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_890 [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].
European Parliament (2019). Women in the European Parliament (infographics) | News | European Parliament. [online] Europa.eu. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20190226STO28804/women-in-the-european-parl... [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].
Hirsch, C., Adkins, W. and Arnau Busquets Guàrdia (2021). How to join the EU bubble — Brussels careers by the numbers. [online] POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/what-to-study-to-join-the-eu-bubble-careers-eu-university-studies-eu... [Accessed 7 Mar. 2021].Papadimoulis D. - Regner E. (2020). Still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in all EU countries | News | European Parliament. [online] Europa.eu. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201029IPR90417/still-a-long-way-to-go-to-achieve... [Accessed 8 Mar. 2021].