Gender equality, + 4.2 points in… 12 years! What a progress…

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The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) published, on 11 October 2017, the third edition of the Gender Equality Index. Suffice to say that the results are far from satisfactory: in twelve years, the European Union progressed only by 4.2 points to reach the modest score of 66.2 out of 100 in 2015.

The Gender Equality Index assesses progress on gender equality in the European Union in six domains: work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health. The methodology applied also takes into account the context and the progress made by the Member States. The index also gives an overview of the scope of the phenomenon of violence against women as well as an intersectional perspective[1]. This third edition provides results for the years 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2015. Let us say that since 2005 the achievements are, in all categories, insufficient.

Conceptual framework of the Gender Equality Index[2]

The Gender Equality Index aims at providing a tailor-made measure of gender equality that should allow for comparisons between different domains of gender equality, across Member States and over time. The scores of the Index provide infor­mation on gender gaps, instead of on the specific position of women and men individually. It is therefore not possible to derive information about either women or men from the scores. The structure of the conceptual framework of the Gender Equality Index 2017 consists of six domains combined into a core index (work, money, knowledge, time, power, health). Each domain is further divided into sub-domains:

  • Work: Participation, Segregation, Quality of work
  • Health: Status, Behaviour, Access
  • Power: Political, Social, Economic
  • Time: Economic activities, Care activities, Social activities
  • Knowledge: Attainment, Segregation, Lifelong learning
  • Money: Financial resources, Economic situation

Two additional satellite domains complement those six domains: violence against women and intersecting inequalities. While they belong to the framework of the Gender Equality Index in all respects, they do not impact the overall score since they measure an illustrative phenomenon that only applies to a selected group of the population.

Using this framework, 31 indicators have been chosen to monitor developments in gender equality in the six core domains in every Member State as well as the EU28 in total. The Gender Equality Index is formed by combining these indicators into a single summary measure, which allows for the complex issue of gender equality to be synthesised into one easy-to-understand measure.

The third edition of the Gender Equality Index monitors developments in gender equality over 10 years, from 2005 to 2015. It measures how far (or close) the EU and its Member States were from achieving gender equality in 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2015. It provides results for each domain and sub-domain.

For the first time, the Index presents Member States’ scores under a composite measure for violence against women and provides further intersectional analysis of the domains of the Gender Equality Index. This allows, in addition to measuring overall gender gaps, further investigation of how social factors, such as age, family composition, country of birth, educational level or disability, can affect progress towards the achievement of gender equality.

The Gender Equality Index is based on a 10-step methodology on building composite indicators developed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only data from large EU-wide surveys from Eurostat, Eurofound and EIGE are used for the Index.

Calculating the Gender Equality Index is based on a methodology aiming at eliminating as much subjectivity as possible, by computing the set of all potential indices, from which to select the most representative index. Differ­ent indices can be obtained through changing the ways in which indicators are imputed, aggregated and weighted. The selection of the best index was done by taking the one that was the most central. The aggregation relies on the arithmetic mean at the varia­ble level, which means calculating the average in the usual sense of the terms. However, at sub-domain and domain level, the aggregation is done using the geometric mean, which minimises potential compensations between low and high values. The Gender Equality Index relies on experts’ weights at the domain level, derived using a process called an analytic hierarchy process (which is based on ordinal pair-wise comparison of domains) and equal weights at the sub-domain and variable level.

Several aspects of the methodology of the Gender Equality Index were updated in 2017, which means that the scores in the third edition are not comparable with the results of previous editions. In order to rectify this, all scores for the previous years were recalculated using the new methodology.

Health, Money, Work and Power : areas where gender inequalities are lower but for which further efforts are needed…

The domain of health is the best performing domain, with a score of 87.4 points, but great disparities among Member States exist : Romania reached 70.4 points while Sweden scored 94.1. The index measures three aspects related to health : status (perception of health status, life expectancy and life expectancy without disability), behaviour (consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, nutrition and physical activity) and access to health care (unmet medical or dental needs).

The intersectional approach reveals that a person’s state of health is highly dependent on his or her financial situation and level of education. The higher his/her financial status and education level, the better his/her health will be. Women over 65, single mothers and persons with disabilities are the most disadvantaged. Inequalities accumulated over their lives, especially in the areas of time and money, are additional barriers to accessing health care.

The score of the domain of money reached 79.6 points in 2015, an increase of 5.7 points over a period of 10 years. In this area, the index assesses gender inequalities in access to financial resources (monthly wages and other sources of income) and the economic situation that includes the risk of poverty. Most Member States have improved their scores over the last twelve years. The most notable progresses are recorded in Slovakia (+12.5), Malta (+12.1) and Poland (+11.9). However, no need to take pride in the results: significant progress remains to be made. Wage inequalities between men and women persist, creating a greater risk of poverty for women at the time of retirement. Currently, pension gaps are around 40 %!

EIGE has great hopes for the European Pillar of Social Rights’ positive spillovers, as it should introduce specific measures aimed at tackling poverty and social exclusion. Likewise, the issue of wages and pensions appears in the European Commission’s 2016-2019 Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality as well as in the Council’s Gender Equality Pact. The upcoming signing of the Social Pillar in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017, following the green light granted by the EU Council on 23 October 2017, seems to reinforce EIGE’s hopes. While the European Pillar of Social Rights is undeniably a first step in the direction of a long-awaited social Europe, a project that has been sacrificed on so many occasions in the name of economic Europe, there are grounds, however, to remain cautious regarding its actual future impact on gender equality. First of all, experience taught us that beautiful principles on paper do not always translate into concrete actions, especially if they are not accompanied by legal obligations. Monitoring the enforcement of the European Pillar’s 20 principles and ensure that they will effectively materialise in rights that European citizens will be able to enjoy on a daily basis will therefore be necessary. In addition, the Pillar has many internal weaknesses such as the glorification of the principle of “flexicurity” or “adaptability”, in other words employees must adapt to the economy without being offered any guarantee of actual security. However, at a time of precarious jobs, mostly occupied by women, EIGE insists on the fact that when considering employment policies, policy-makers should not limit their vision to the issue of access to the labour market but also and above all think about work in qualitative terms: to achieve balance in terms of gender equality, working conditions must be fair!

Speaking of work, in this domain, the index assesses the extent to which men and women have equal access to the labour market and good working conditions. Among the factors taken into account are: the full-time employment rate by gender, the length of working life, gender-related occupational segregation, the flexibility of working hours or the prospects for change.

The domain of work reaches 71.5 points. While achieving the third highest score, progress in the sector is far too slow. Over ten years the increase is only of 1.5 points in the EU! During the same period, the results of five Member States did not even increase one iota. Romania even experiences a regression of 1.5 points. The data indicate further that gender-based occupational segregation persists and that women continue to face difficulties in accessing the labour market, especially if they have a disability or low qualifications. In addition, the intersectional approach shows that the family composition positively impacts men in their career but disadvantages women. The employment rate of mothers in a relationship is very close to that of single mothers, 56% and 55% respectively. Having a partner does not favour the participation of women with children in the labour market. On the contrary, the employment rate for fathers living in a couple (84%) is much higher than for single fathers (66%). In addition, the employment rate is systematically much higher among men, regardless of the family configuration. Italy, Greece and Slovakia are the countries where the situation is most critical. Sweden (82.6), Denmark (79.2) and the Netherlands remain the Member States where the greatest progress has been made towards gender equality in employment.

EIGE points out that the Directive on work-life balance, that is currently under discussion at the Council, would improve the participation rate of women living in a couple with children in the labour market and narrow the gap between men and women. However, in order to achieve such results, the Directive must include ambitious objectives… For instance, in the case of informal caregivers, the latest European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) published in 2012 shows that women are more likely to be caregivers than their male counterparts, a difference that grows as the intensity of the assistance increased: 7 % of women versus 4% of men between 18-64 years of age provide daily care to a loved one with all the impact this has on labour market participation, pay and pension inequality or quality of life[3]. Should the Commission’s proposal be adopted, a worker would be entitled to 5 days of leave per year as carer, paid up to the same level as sickness benefits, in order to be able to care for seriously ill or dependent relatives. This is certainly better than nothing, but it lacks a bit of ambition knowing that a person who must take care of a loved one in a situation of great dependence – disabled child, ill parent, etc. – will often stop working hence becoming much more vulnerable, in the short and long term, to situations of exclusion and poverty.

The domain of power examines the representation of women and men in the political (ministries, parliaments, regional assemblies), social (media, sport, research) and economic sector (boards of directors of the largest national companies, national central banks). Despite a score of 48.5 points, this is the area where the EU has made the greater progress (+9.6 points since 2005). Efforts to increase women’s participation in these sectors, including the imposition of quotas on corporate boards as well as in some parliaments and political parties, need to be pursued and extended to other spheres of society. The research, media and sports sectors remain heavily dominated by men.

Knowledge and Time: two sectors particularly lagging behind…

The index of domain of knowledge increased from 60.8 points in 2005 to 63.4 points in 2015. This index measures gender inequalities in education and takes into account level of education, participation and segregation. The main progress in this area is related to the increase in the level of women education, which now outperforms the men’s rate. However, compared to men, they have more difficulty to exercise the profession for which they studied: their potential is not fully exploited on the job market. In addition, gender segregation persists in the field of education. Some studies continue to be considered “feminine” and “masculine”. As a result, women are underrepresented in scientific, technological, polytechnic and mathematical studies, but dominate education, health, welfare and the arts. Segregation is therefore found on the labour market and leads to an underestimation of women’s skills.

Gender inequalities worsened in the domain of time between 2005 and 2015 with the respective results of 66.7 and 65.7 points. The area measures gender inequalities in the distribution of time allocated, on the one hand, to domestic tasks and, on the other hand, to social life and leisure. The index takes into account factors such as time spent for the education of children, caring for people with disabilities, cooking and housework and comparing them to time spent on leisure activities. Inequalities among Member States are particularly striking: Bulgaria ranks last with a score of 42.7 points while Sweden, first in the ranking, reaches the score of 90.1 points. While women’s participation in the labour market has increased, they continue to invest a lot more of their time in housework and personal care. Only one in three men devote more than an hour of their daily time to this type of work. This gap is even greater for women born outside the European Union. In the end, this imbalance has an impact not only on women’s working lives, but also on their social life and leisure.

Working together on a fairer Europe

The Gender Equality Index is a valuable tool for recognising the extent to which Europe in general, and some Member States in particular, are lagging behind in terms of gender equality, and for highlighting the objectives to achieve. It should be systematically consulted by the authorities, at all levels, in the development of their policies and in their impact assessments. Besides, it is all the more necessary to incorporate gender equality issues as well as an intersectional approach in any legislation impacting the lives of the European citizens.

Certains pays comme la Suède ont entrepris des changements radicaux dans leur mode de gouvernance dans les années 70 et récoltent aujourd’hui les bénéfices de ces changements. D’autres, notamment certains pays de l’est de l’Europe, sont plus en retard. Ces progressions différenciées engendrent des inégalités au sein même de l’UE. Ce n’est qu’ensemble que nous pourront vaincre ces inégalités et créer une Europe plus juste, où toute jeune fille, toute femme, indépendamment de son pays de résidence, ses origines, son âge, son handicap, son orientation sexuelle, puissent avoir les mêmes opportunités que les hommes en matière d’éducation, d’emploi, et de santé. C’est d’une société plus juste et égalitaire qu’émergera une véritable croissance économique durable.

AEDH calls on Member States to make a collective effort to promote gender equality. Due to the different historical, social-cultural and political contexts, the EU does not experience a linear progression in terms of gender equality. Some countries such as Sweden made radical changes in their governance in the 1970s and are now reaping the benefits of these changes. Others, including some Eastern European countries, are lagging behind. These differentiated progressions create inequalities within the EU itself. It is only together that we will manage to overcome these inequalities and create a fairer Europe, where every young girl, every woman, regardless of her country of residence, origins, age, disability, sexual orientation, will have the same opportunities as men for education, employment, and health. It is from a fairer and more egalitarian society that a real sustainable economic growth will emerge.


 For further information: 

Report Gender Equality Index 2017, Measuring gender equality in the European Union 2005-2015

[1] The intersectional approach takes into account the multiple forms of domination or discrimination simultaneously experienced by a person in a society and measures the impact of these multiple discriminations.

[2] EIGE, Report Gender Equality Index 2015, Measuring gender equality in the European Union 2005-2012, 201R and Report Gender Equality Index 2017, Measuring gender equality in the European Union 2005-2015, November 2017