Press article by the Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus Androulla Kaminara published in "Haravgi" newspaper on October 12, 2010.
A few days ago, the European Commission adopted a new, five-year strategy for promoting equality between women and men in Europe. This information may not seem particularly new; after all, there have been several European activities, initiatives, programmes promoting gender equality in Europe in the past. So the question arises: what is so special about this new development?
To start with, this strategy was formulated in order to address the specific challenges arising from the current financial and economic crisis. In the European Commission's view, inequalities between women and men damp economic growth and represent a waste of talent. There are economic and business benefits from enhancing gender equality. Hence, three out of the five key priorities in the new strategy are:
• getting more women into the labor market and helping to reach the "Europe 2020" target employment rate of 75% overall for women and men;
• putting forward targeted initiatives to get more women into top jobs in economic decision-making; and
• promoting female entrepreneurship and self employment.
Secondly, this strategy builds on the achievements of previous strategy documents. Since its creation, in 1957, the European endeavor has provided for gender equality and against sex discrimination in a number of ways. Since then, a lot has been achieved and encouraging trends still exist. For example, more women are in the labor market today (62.9% of women in Cyprus, almost 60% on average in the EU) in relation to the past.
Yet, gender gaps remain in many areas. In the labor market, women are still over-represented in lower paid sectors and under-represented in decision-making positions. Gender pay gaps (differences between men's and women's wages for the same job) still exist throughout Europe. The new Strategy's fourth key priority is, therefore, instituting an annual European Equal Pay Day to raise awareness of the fact that women continue to earn an average of nearly 18% less than men across the EU (in Cyprus, this gap is almost 22%).
Another reason why this Strategy is important in the current context is because Europeans themselves consider gender equality important. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, more than two thirds of women (68%) and more than half of men (57%) think that gender inequality is widespread in the European Union. The survey also reveals that Europeans' top three priorities for action in the field are (a) tackling violence against women, (b) closing the gender pay gap and (c) the violation of women's rights in developing countries. It is interesting that domestic violence is so important for Europeans (and Cypriots). According to another Eurobarometer survey published only a few days ago, 98% of Europeans (and Cypriots) are aware of domestic violence. One respondent in four across the EU (25% - almost one in three Cypriots, 31%) knows a woman among friends or in the family circle who is a victim of domestic violence, while one in five Europeans (21% - more than one in four Cypriots, 27%) says they know of someone who commits domestic violence in their circle of friends or family. The vast majority of Europeans (84% - 89% of Cypriots) believe that domestic violence against women is unacceptable and should always be punishable by law.
In response to these findings, the fifth key priority of the new Strategy was decided to be presenting an EU-wide strategy to combat violence against women, which will also promote gender equality beyond the EU by pursuing the issue in external relations and with international organizations.
The road to gender equality is long, there is no doubt about that. The European Commission remains active in the field and ready to contribute to more and more victories for women in Europe and the world.