Some early thoughts on an inspiring and engaging event, despite the rather depressing subject matter.
On the 25th June, the European Institute for Gender Equality (http://eige.europa.eu) launched its Index ( GEI) which charts gender equality across the EU. The GEI is a measure of gender equality (or inequality) across a binary sex distinction. The report writers acknowledge the limitations of such an approach, but argue that the quantification of differences of outcomes is important for shaping national and international policy. Importantly, the authors acknowledge that inequality may appear to shrink in certain contexts, because both men and women’s positions have worsened.
The GEI assess gender equality across six domains:
- Work (paid employment)
- participation, segregation and quality of work
- financial resources, economic situation
- attainment, segregation, lifelong learning
- economic, care and social activities
- political, social and economic
- status, behaviour and access
These domains are then measured across all the EU states. For those interested in breaking down the statistics, the reports are available online (http://eige.europa.eu/content/publications). Some summary points. The data runs up to 2012 – during the Q&A session the authors stated they had wanted more up to date data, but it is not in a suitable state for comparison (as yet). The data covers 2005 to 2012 i.e. pre, during and possibly post the financial crisis across Europe.
As the reports are available online, I wont go through all the details here. Rather, I want to reflect on the conference and the key messages which emerged. It was clear that gender equality has not shown any real improvement across the EU in the 7 years the data covers. One of the most stark statistics is the rate of decline of gender equality in the UK. The GEI measures gender equality on a scale of 1 to 100, with the higher the score the better. The GEI reveals that gender equality in the UK was scored at 62/100, in 2012 58/100. This is still higher than the EU averages (51/100 and 53/100 respectively), but is a marked decline. One of the largest declines was evident in the knowledge domain. It’s tempting to link this decline with the actions of the Coalition government and the actions of the current Conservative government need to be closely monitored.
During the Q&A sessions it was argued that the public services are key to gender equality, both in the provision of services and as a site of employment for women. This includes child and elder care support, appropriately targeted health care and education. It was also clear that time use is something in need of further investigation. Women tend to have far less leisure time – something which is largely missing from analyses of work life balance. For those interested in this, I suggest checking the work of Lyn Craig and Abigail Powell which examines time use in the Australian context.
The Q&A sessions were the most engaging. The language used was interesting in itself. While events such as this in the UK are strictly apolitical, with feminism a dirty word, here it was embraced. It was heartening to hear passionate, engaged politicians, lobbyists and academics arguing for a feminist Europe. Speakers were keen to argue that the problem isn’t the under-representation of women, it’s the over-representation of men in decision making roles. The corollary to this is the under-representation of men in care giving roles, both paid and domestic. There were strong debates about achieving change. Professor Calliope Agapiou-Josephides noted, gender inequality is social constructed and can therefore be disrupted. The question is – how? As one speaker (Xavier Prats Monne) noted, we (gender equality types) always speak to the converted. There are few men, particularly powerful men, who attend these events. The data must reach senior politicians, usually men, such as Finance Ministers and Prime Ministers.
It did strike me that there was nothing new presented today. We know all of this. However, policy makers, politicians, governments etc respond well to numbers. They are difficult to argue against. I hope that the GEI can be used to influence policy across Europe, and that intersectionality will take the project further. Doing so can reveal how gender intersects with other social identities, and the effects can be devastating.