The Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019 in Europe constitutes the current framework of reference within the European Pact for Gender Equality 2011-2020. The Strategic Engagement encompasses more than 30 actions in five priority areas: equal economic independence for women and men; equal pay for work of equal value; equality in decision-making; dignity, integrity and an end to gender violence; and gender equality beyond the EU. In 2015, the United Nations approved a series of goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, one of which relates to equality between men and women.
The 2018 Report on equality between women and men in the EU points out that even though unemployment in Europe reached unsustainable levels during the economic crisis, the number of economically active women has risen steadily in recent years. In 2018, employment among women in the EU reached the highest rate ever recorded (67.4%). Spain remains one of the countries with the lowest employment rates, behind Greece, Italy, Croatia and Romania. At the same time, women have been increasingly involved in decision-making. Even though just 21% of the members of the boards of directors of the most important listed companies were women in 2015, this figure is nine percentage points higher than the situation five years earlier. Within the business sphere, women continue to be under-represented, amounting to 29% of all businesspeople.
The report also notes that the balance between men and women in politics has also improved, though at a slower pace. Spain stands out as one of the countries with the largest presence of women on its legislative bodies (European Institute for Gender Equality). In education, inequalities between men and women persist in terms of the preferences for subjects, performance and participation. Mention must also be made of the fact that women spend two to ten times as much time as men on tasks for which no remuneration is given, which constitutes one of the main obstacles holding back their financial and political independence.
There have, therefore, been advances and setbacks in the progress towards equality. Whereas the rate of women’s employment and their participation in decision-making have increased in recent years, there remains a marked inequality in pay.
The prime objective of the EU’s Gender Action Plan 2016-2019 is to increase women’s participation in the labour market and to promote equal financial independence for women and men. With regard to this first goal, figure 23 shows that the growth in the average rate of women’s employment between 2010 and 2018 – which is higher than that for men – is making it possible to get close to achieving the proposed goal of raising women’s participation in the labour market and to promoting equal financial independence for women and men. Even so, the gap remains very wide.
The second aim of the Action Plan is to reduce the disparities between the sexes in pay, income and pensions and thereby combat poverty among women. Figure 24 shows the change in the difference in the remuneration received by men and women for their work in the labour market. The pay divide varies considerably from one country to another and the change can swing in the opposite direction in certain countries. In general, it may be said that there has been very little success in relation to this goal, as the gender divide may have diminished in some countries but the opposite has occurred in others and elsewhere there has been barely any variation. Furthermore, figure 25 shows the tremendous gender divide in pensions, which places women aged 65 and over at a clear disadvantage in comparison with men despite the fact that there has been a certain reduction in the difference.
With regard to the third goal of the Strategic Engagement 2016-2019 concerning gender equality in decision-making, the changes are positive, as shown by figure 26. Nevertheless, the level of women’s participation in major decision-making bodies is still very low.
The EU also compels states to combat male violence against women and protect and support victims and to promote equality between women and men and the rights of women around the world. To achieve the goals established in each of the priority areas, it was proposed that a combination of assorted instruments, legislative and non-legislative alike and financial, be used (European Commission, 2016). Even though EU member states frequently address gender equality through national plans, the aims of these plans included policies on equality in the labour market and on gender violence, as well as education, training and establishing a balance between work and family life.
Spain is one of the member states of the EU whose action plans and strategies on gender equality include all the points put forward by the EU.
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