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News blog8 March 2021Directorate-General for Communication2 min read

“Equal” Europe is still a long way off

Europe is the most equal part of the world, where women and men have equal rights and obligations – in theory. But a lot more must be done, and progress can very easily be reversed. Covid 19 is hitting women harder than men.


We would prefer International Women’s Day to be history. In reality, many more Women’s Days are needed to abolish the imbalance in statistics. Facts and figures show the need for change.

Here are some reminders of the state of play of gender equality in Europe:

  • For every euro a man earns in the EU, a woman earns on average 86 cents.
  • Women do the majority of unpaid work, 92 per cent of women work in unpaid care, compared to 68 per cent of men.
  • Women are underrepresented in political decision-making. Last year, the proportion of women in the national assemblies of the EU was around 33 per cent.
  • Gender-related violence severely affects women and girls. For one in five female victims of violence, the offender is the partner.

This list of inequalities could be made much longer.

On top of all this, the Covid-19 crisis is hitting women harder. Women are in the majority in the front lines against Covid-19. 76 per cent of health care workers are women. Women are the majority of workers in the service industry, hotels and restaurants, where unemployment is now rising sky high.

Reports of domestic violence increased significantly after EU Member States started to close down. The home should be a safe place, but for more and more people it has become the opposite. In France alone, reports of domestic violence increased by 32 per cent in the first week of lockdown. Similar reports have come from several Member States, statistics are being collected.

While women are more affected by the pandemic, it is mostly men who take decisions on Covid-related measures. A 2020 study shows that out of 115 national Covid-19 working groups in 87 countries, more than 85 groups consisted mainly of men. Only 3.5 per cent were gender balanced. In addition, men headed 81 per cent of these groups. Although the majority of health professionals in the EU are women, men overwhelmingly occupy management positions. Only 30 per cent of health ministers in the EU are women.

So as the first gender-balanced EU Commission, we have a lot to do.

On 5 March 2020, the Commission adopted the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. It is an ambitious framework for the way forward, in which the gender perspective must be taken into account in each proposal. The most recent concrete proposal was presented last week, requiring companies to provide salary statistics, with the aim of closing the gender pay gap.

We also have an ambitious policy to promote gender equality and the rights of women and girls outside the EU, all around the world.

Together with governments, organisations and local actors in non-EU countries, we are working on gender equality objectives. It goes without saying that women should be represented in delegations and decision-making bodies at all levels. In 2019, 64 per cent of EU-supported projects had gender equality as a target. This is not enough. In 2025, it must be 85 per cent. Of course, this requires us to work better together, lead by example, and follow up on results.

The goal is an International Women’s Day where we can celebrate, instead of repeating disappointing statistics.



Ms Jutta Urpilainen

Ms Ylva Johansson

Ms Margrethe Vestager



Article published in Europaportalen, Aamulehti and Altinghet


Publication date
8 March 2021
Directorate-General for Communication