17 March 2021

Gender Equality in the EU: the role of civil society and institutions


Crises change the course of social battles. The battle for gender equality could be one of the victims of the pandemic crisis, for which the UN raised the alarm in August 2020. [1] The health crisis and the lack of reforms to protect women's labour rights could wipe out decades of achievements in gender equality. A report published by UN Women [2] in March found that most women in the world are paid on average 16% less than men and that nearly one in five had experienced domestic violence in the previous year. The pandemic has amplified social and economic inequalities. Women in 2020 bore a greater burden of childcare, housework and suffered more layoffs on average than men. 

The actions of the European institutions

The crisis has disrupted the European Commission's programme, which has had to shelve gender equality, one of the main priorities of von der Leyen's mandate. The European strategy is based on the Commission's communication A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 of 5 March 2020. [3] Gender equality is seen as a key value of the Union as reaffirmed by Article 8 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

“In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.”

The strategy is based on 6 points:

1. Being free from violence and stereotypes, combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims.

2. Thriving in a gender-equal economy, increasing female labour market participation and economic independence of women and men, reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps and thus fighting poverty among women.

3. Leading equally throughout society, promoting equality between women and men in decision-making.

4.  Gender mainstreaming and an intersectional perspective in EU policies.

5.  Funding actions to make progress in gender equality in the EU.

6.  Addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment across the world.

Concerning the gender gap, on 4 March 2021, President von der Leyen, presented the proposal for a directive on pay transparency to ensure that in the European Union women and men receive equal pay for equal work. The Commission proposes that employers with at least 250 employees should disclose information on the pay gap between women and men within their organisation. The idea is that in the case of a gender pay gap of at least 5% that is not justified by a valid, gender-neutral reason, employers will have to re-evaluate pay, in cooperation with workers' representatives. President  von der Leyen, said: 

Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.” [5] 

What is the role of civil society in the gender equality battle?

Civil society actors play a key role in shaping the public debate and awakening citizens' consciences. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an independent EU agency dealing exclusively with gender equality, plays a major role in spreading knowledge. Since 2013, the EIGE has published the Gender Equality Index, which measures the progress of member states by assessing six specific areas: work, money, knowledge, time, power and health.

The 2019 EIGE report has an indicative title: Still far from the finish line. [6] The overall index for the European Union - calculated on 2017 data - is 67.4 points out of 100, improved by only 5.4 points since 2005. The figure is not great and hides significant geographical differences. There are more than 30 points of difference between Sweden, first among the member states with 83.6 points, and the countries at the back Greece (51.2 points) and Hungary (51.9). The countries of northern and central Europe dominate the ranking, while those of central and eastern Europe are at the bottom, showing little progress compared to 2005. Romania is just behind the bottom three with 54.5 points, an increase of 2.1 points compared to 2015.

In the field of gender equality, organisations like GEYC are active in promoting equality in Romania and worldwide with an intersectional approach. In the four fields managed by GEYC (Democracy & Human Rights, Digital, Entrepreneurship & Employability, Sustainability) gender equality is an integral part of the creation and promotion of policies, projects, events, workshops and conferences. Youth and young female workers are the main target group. Creating a common consciousness within the youth community is crucial for broadening the horizon of the social battle and achieving real gender equality in the long run by changing people’s perception of the problem and reality. 

An example of GEYC's day-to-day work is the International Women's Day event on 8 March 2021. GEYC organised a special edition of the #GEYCTalks in Spanish, focusing on the challenges and opportunities of achieving gender equality in Europe and Latin America. Guests included Dr Yuchi Zhao, the coordinator of the UNESCO Prize for Girls' and Women's Education.


At a time of economic uncertainty, cutting some programmes may seem necessary. However, continuing to pursue objectives such as gender equality is even more important at this time. In the immediate term, it protects the most vulnerable groups, including women, from the consequences of adverse economic cycles. Women tend to have lower incomes and more precarious jobs and are at greater risk of exclusion from the labour market, as discussed above. But gender policies are crucial beyond - and regardless of - crises. Policies of inclusion and guaranteeing rights help produce the cultural change that leads to a more equitable, cohesive and sustainable society.


[1] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1071372

[2 ]https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/progress-of-the-worlds-women

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0152

[4] DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_881

[6] https://eige.europa.eu/publications/gender-equality-index-2019-report/still-far-finish-line