Por Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

HomePostsTowards an egalitarian Europe: Legislative Progress in the European Parliament

Towards an egalitarian Europe: Legislative Progress in the European Parliament

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements made in gender equality, but also to reflect on the new challenges ahead. It is a day to demand greater political and social involvement, promoting concrete actions to achieve an egalitarian Europe and defending the fundamental rights of half the population.

In Europe, feminists have devoted almost a century of effort to make equality real. From the gradual approval of women’s suffrage to our election as national parliamentarians, a movement emerged. It persists today and has spread in many countries, even reaching the European Union. The presence of women in the European Parliament has increased exponentially since its inception: in 1979, at the beginning of the first parliamentary term, there were only 16.6 % of MEPs; that figure increased to 39.4 % today, a percentage above the global average and the European average in national parliaments.   

It is necessary to make visible the significant parliamentary work carried out in this legislature by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, mostly composed of female MEPs. I have no doubt that this work has improved equal opportunities for women in Europe, contributing to closing gender gaps and encouraging greater female participation in elections. Often, unfortunately, this effort does not receive the well-deserved recognition outside the institutions.
This mandate began with the adoption in August 2019 of the Work-Family Life Balance Directive, which aims to improve family access to family leave and work flexibility. An essential law since we know that 7.7 million women are unemployed due to care responsibilities. This Directive introduced certain legislative measures to modernise the existing legal and policy framework in the EU, with the aim of improving work-life balance, promoting a more equitable distribution of parental leave and addressing the under-representation of women in the labour market.

Other directives have been key to reducing important gender gaps in the world of work. Firstly, the directive on gender balance on boards of listed companies in the European Union (Women on Boards). When we passed this directive we faced a bleak picture in the European Union, as only 9 of the 27 Member States had national legislation on gender equality on boards of directors. At the same time, seven out of ten members of these groups in the European Union were (and still are) men. Thanks to this directive, there will have to be at least 40 % of the presence of women on the boards of companies. If Member States choose to apply the new rules to both executive and non-executive directors, the target will be to reach 33 % of all director positions.

We are facing a structural change aimed at addressing the persistent lack of female representation on boards of directors. Women on Boards has promoted the adaptation of selection processes for these roles, ensuring their impartiality and transparency through clear and neutral criteria. The benefits of these adjustments are shared by all, as the equal representation of women and men in decision-making not only reflects principles of equality, but also supports human rights, strengthens democracy and improves economic efficiency. Evidence supports greater diversity in boards of directors positively contributing to decision-making and business outcomes

Secondly, the Wage Transparency Directive represents another crucial milestone in this legislature. For the first time, it sets binding targets with sanctions for the 27 Member States. It is imperative to remember that the gender pay gap persists at around 13 % in the European Union and has undergone little significant change in the last decade. This means that women work 50 days for free every year compared to men.

This directive represents a significant step forward in improving EU legislation in three crucial areas: pay transparency, facilitating the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and strengthening enforcement mechanisms. Closing the wage gap benefits all sectors, including companies. Finally, equitably valuing the skills and contributions of women and men not only promotes a culture of equality, but also facilitates the recruitment and retention of the best talent.

This directive therefore imposes an obligation on organisations to inform the relevant national authority about the gender pay gap identified. Companies with more than 250 employees must do so annually, those between 100 and 249, every three years. Smaller organisations will do so on a voluntary basis, but the Directive leaves the door open for Member States to demand as well.

The ratification by the European Union of the Convention on Violence and Harassment, 2019 (No. 190) of the International Labour Organisation. At the next plenary session of the European Parliament, consent to this ratification is expected. 

The gender bias present in workplace harassment in the European Union is a cause for concern. According to the 2014 Fundamental Rights Agency survey, the data are alarming: 75 % of women in qualified professions and 61 % in the services sector have experienced sexual harassment. In addition, 32 % of all victims of gender-based violence in the EU identified a boss, partner or client as an aggressor. This means that, in the European Union, about one third of women who have experienced sexual harassment have experienced it in the workplace.

The Convention on Violence and Harassment is the first international instrument to establish minimum standards to address these problems in the workplace. The ratification of the European Union is a historic step, considering that only seven Member States have ratified it so far: France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy.

To close this reflection, I would like to emphasise that women with a more prominent presence in the public sphere face a particular exposure to online violence. The adoption of the first European Directive to combat gender-based violence and domestic violence is therefore particularly important. In this directive, we have reached a significant milestone by criminalising four forms of gender cyberviolence: the non-consensual dissemination of intimate or manipulated material, cyber stalking, cyberbullying and incitement to violence or hatred through cyber-media.

This directive will become the first international legislation specifically addressing the online field of gender-based violence, thus filling a gap left by the Istanbul Convention, which does not include this increasingly common form of violence against women and girls.

Despite the significant advances and the opportunity that this day offers us to be proud of our achievements, March 8 urges us to renew our commitment to a world where equality is not only an aspiration, but a palpable reality. 

Every small step taken represents a brick that contributes to building the world we long for: a world where women are recognised and fully enjoy their rights. We aspire to a future where International Women’s Day is, solely and exclusively, a day of celebration.

Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

Mujeres al frente es un espacio de reflexión dirigido por la política y abogada española Soraya Rodríguez Ramos. Desde 2019, es diputada del Parlamento Europeo en la delegación del partido Ciudadanos. Desde su escaño de eurodiputada, desarrolla un intenso trabajo como Portavoz de Derechos Humanos del grupo Renew Europe, así como por la defensa de la igualdad y derechos de las mujeres como titular de la Comisión de Igualdad, y miembro de la Comisión de Medio Ambiente, por su compromiso con el cuidado del planeta y la justicia climática.