Exchange of views with Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli in the EU Parliament.

JS – 05/2020

On 26 May 2020, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) will exchange views with EU Commissioner for Equal Opportunities Helena Dalli on the Commission’s work programme and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. Prior to this, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) will meet to prepare a report on the issue.

Several studies and associations have revealed an alarming picture for the financial circumstances and health of women as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Impact on safety and health

According to UN Women, 70% of workers in social services and care professions worldwide are women. Similarly, women also make up the majority of the workforce in the cleaning and retail sectors. These women are exposed to a higher risk of infection. Caring jobs and the risk of infection mean an increase in psychological stress.

Concerns about livelihoods and lockdown restrictions have also led to an increase in domestic violence.

Impact on pensions, careers and company developments

In terms of the socio-economic consequences, a recent study by the Hans Böckler Foundation and a survey by the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) show that it is predominantly women who have taken unpaid leave from work or have reduced their working hours in order to take care of children. The negative consequences of this are many and varied.

An above-average number of women are employed in precarious jobs and in the low-wage sector. The loss of income due to reduced working hours cannot be recouped and poverty can be the result.

Other long-term effects include a drop in pension entitlements due to lower contributions.

As a result, there are fewer women present in companies at a time when many decisions are being made about setting the future course for these businesses. Consequently, women are missing out on career opportunities.

This also means that they have fewer opportunities to contribute their opinions about the company’s future development and culture. There are fears that this could lead to a backwards slide in equality.

Calls on policymakers to take action

Associations and institutions such as the European Institute for Gender Equality and the European Women’s Lobby are therefore calling on policymakers and European institutions to learn from the crisis and implement appropriate gender equality policies.

In a declaration from 5 May 2020, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, stated: ‘All measures and actions taken in response [to the pandemic] should be inclusive and gender-responsive and ensure the women’s full and effective participation in decision-making processes and in all stages of response and recovery.’

It remains to be seen if the exchange of views with EU Commissioner Dalli will bear fruit or whether the equal rights movement in the EU will be set back by years or even decades.