Statement by the European Commission ahead of International Women’s Day 2021

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the European Commission issued the following statement:

“The past year was a difficult one. The COVID-19 pandemic has spared nobody, and was particularly challenging for women around the world. Doctors, nurses, teachers, shop assistants – jobs often held by women – have found themselves at the frontline of the pandemic. All this, while taking on greater responsibilities at home.

Let us take a moment to thank women for their bravery, their compassion and their contribution in fighting this crisis, also by keeping our societies, care systems and most essential services running.

While women make up the majority of frontline workers in the healthcare, they were barely represented in the pandemic decision-making processes. For instance, of the national dedicated COVID-19 task forces in 87 countries, including 17 EU Member States, 85.2% were led by men.

Gender equality must be at the heart of the post-pandemic recovery. The Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation provides that gender equality and equal opportunities for all should be taken into account and promoted throughout the preparation and implementation of national recovery and resilience plans. Women must also be better represented in leadership position be it in politics or on companies’ boards – we will continue to fight for it.

The Commission spared no efforts in pushing for greater equality between women and men in Europe and beyond. Delivering on one of the key elements of the EU’s Gender Equality Strategy, the Commission tabled a proposal for new measures enforcing the equal pay principle. Gender equality is one of the key principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and this week’s ambitious Action Plan to implement the Pillar. Gender equality is at centre of the EU’s external action too. The EU Gender Action Plan (GAP III) outlines a bold and operational agenda to promote equality and ensure women and girls all around the world are empowered to participate in shaping democracy, justice, peace and security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequalities in our society. It put women at a great risk, including at times in their own homes. Later this year, the Commission will present a new proposal to combat gender-based violence in the EU. In our partner countries, the joint EU/UN Spotlight Initiative adapted priority actions on the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence to urgent needs.

Progress is hard-won, but easily lost. We must work for Europe to remain a trailblazer in women’s rights. Backsliding is not an option and we will continue to push forward.”

Background

Delivering on the commitments made by President Ursula von der Leyen, the first female President of the European Commission, last year, Vice-President Vera Jourová and Commissioner Helena Dalli presented the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. The Strategy set out a number of ambitious actions to advance gender equality in Europe and beyond. Today, the European Commission is publishing its annual report on equality between men and women (see press release).

One of the main priorities of the Strategy was an initiative to strengthen the principle of equal pay through pay transparency. The Commission adopted a legislative proposal yesterday. The Commission will also continue pushing for the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards.

The Commission is also working on a new legislative initiative to combat gender-based violence. A public consultation on the initiative was launched in February. In parallel, EU accession to the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention remains a key priority for the Commission. In June 2020, the Commission adopted the first-ever EU victims’ rights strategy, further stepping up its fight against gender-based violence.

Tackling online violence against women is another important element of the Gender Equality Strategy. A Digital Services Act, proposed by the Commission in December 2020, supports the strategy and aims to further harmonise and update the rules for digital services providers, while addressing user-disseminated illegal content and providing safeguards for the protection of fundamental rights. In the Digital Education Action Plan and European Skills Agenda, the Commission announced a range of actions to promote gender-balanced participation in ICT-related professions and digital skills development. The Reinforced Youth Guarantee supports measures to address gender bias and discrimination in employment counselling and guidance.

In line with the objectives set by the Media and Audiovisual Action Plan, the Commission will soon launch a gender and diversity awareness campaign focused on inspiring role models in the audiovisual and news media sectors. This is part of a broader effort to promote gender balance and diversity in the creative and cultural sector, which also includes actions  carried out under the Creative Europe MEDIA programme.

The gender dimension is fully integrated into the Horizon Europe programme and a New ERA for Research and Innovation. Inclusion and equality are also core tenets of the Erasmus+ programme, which supports female social entrepreneurs or academics, and helps opening up new areas of research into gender equality, sustainability and female empowerment. To highlight the achievements of European women in research, innovation, education, culture and sport Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, Youth and Sport, launched a social media campaign, #EUwomen4future.

Today, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) have launched a joint and collaborative project – the Gender Equality Strategy Monitoring Portal for the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.

The new Multi-annual Financial Framework 2021-2027 strengthens gender mainstreaming in the spending of the EU budget, in particular through the EU structural funds. NextGenerationEU also pays specific attention to gender equality. In particular, national recovery and resilience plans should set out how the investments and reforms that will be financed by the Recovery and Resilience Facility are expected to contribute to promoting gender equality and equal opportunities for all.

Outside of the EU, the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen presented a set of actions to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment through the new Gender Action Plan (GAP III) for 2021-2025. The launch of the Spotlight Initiative by the European Commission together with the United Nations specifically addresses gender-based violence at the global level.