Gender Equality Week - ETUC Priorities

Brussels 26 October 2020


Dear MEP,

I am contacting you to wish you every success for the Parliaments first Gender Equality week and to request your assistance to ensure that the discussions put an emphasis on Gender Equality in the world if work as a priority.

This week takes place against the backdrop of Covid-19 and women workers have been particularly hard hit (Document attached – COVID-19 is not gender neutral). Working women are at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 crisis, essential and key workers who have worked right through this, putting themselves on the line for the rest of us. Women have taken on the larger burden of managing home life and home schooling while on telework. Women unable to work remotely, face a significantly higher risk of reductions in hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs. In this context, the transposition of the Work-Life Balance directive is key, especially the provisions regarding flexible working arrangements and parental leave (ETUC Trade unions’ strategies and good practices to promote work-life balance - Rebalance Reports and Toolkit). The costs have fallen most heavily on women who are least able to bear them. Women make up the majority of workers caught in lower-paid, part-time, less-secure and platform-based jobs and as a consequence have less savings to fall back on. Unemployment and its financial consequences for women and the families they support are a grave concern.

This week is situated in the context of marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, providing an opportunity to discuss the achievements and future challenges for the advancement of girls' and women's rights and gender equality. 

Yet at the same time the reality is an increase in attacks on women's rights and efforts to roll back reproductive rights. There is clearly a need to ensure that this crisis is not used as a reason to create even greater inequalities nor undermine women’s acquired rights. This calls for the EU to accede to the Istanbul Convention as a matter of urgency (Please see the letter to President Von der Leyen from Trade Union women leaders).

Women’s economic empowerment has long been a feature of EU policy, but the shift in priorities in the aftermath of the last economic crisis has left the employment policy largely gender blind. New technology seems to be promoting sexism and bias against women (ETUC fact sheet on the risks that AI worsens gender bias). The Future EU must not be built on a basis of growing inequality between men and women. Measures are urgently needed to address the Gender Pay Gap. As research carried by ETUC shows, the EU gender pay gap has closed by 1% over the last eight years, which means women will be waiting for another 84 years to achieve equal pay if current trends continue. In nine EU countries the gender pay gap rose between 2010 and 2018. This underscores the need for the EU Commission to return to the announced plan and publish its proposals for the Pay Transparency Directive (please see the ETUC Resolution  and leaflet) so that the EU can once and for all address the undervaluing of work that is predominantly done by women.

Protecting and advancing women’s participation is essential and the ETUC is calling for action to unblock the Women on Boards Directive (ETUC Resolution).

A workplace focus is also needed for the discussion that will take place on combatting breast cancer. There is an urgent need for action to reduce workplace exposures linked to breast cancer. For too long the link between occupational factors and breast cancer has been pushed into the background or denied.

We are facing an uncertain future. Gender Equality week demonstrates that our elected representatives are putting the needs and interests women to the forefront and it is essential that the position of women in the world of work is central.

I wish you a fruitful and successful week.

Esther Lynch
Deputy General Secretary

Annexes: 7 documents