On Friday 26 March, almost 2 000 people tuned in for “Europa sostantivo femminile: Social responsibility from a gender perspective”, an event organised by Virginio Merola, member of the PES Group and Mayor of the metropolitan city of Bologna together with the European Committee of the Regions, as part of the series of “local dialogues” hosted in view of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The virtual event connected Bologna and Rome with Brussels, thanks to the participation of the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, the Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities and Family, Elena Bonetti, and the Vice-President of the Emilia-Romagna Region, Elly Schlein.
This event proved to be an excellent opportunity to share best practices and to discuss the topic not only between different institutions, but also with academics, the private sector, including the Capo D Network, and over 900 students from secondary schools, training institutions and universities.
Virginio Merola opened the discussion, claiming that the Recovery Fund must make the fight against gender inequality one of its key objectives: “We need to build together a European space for citizenship rights and the right to work for all, which gives due consideration to the role of women, who are paying the price for the pandemic more than anyone else”.
The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that decades of progress on gender equality can be swept away in just a few months, forcing women to be relegated to traditional gender roles at home, struggling to combine working from home and care responsibilities. Moreover, women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they represent the majority of school and healthcare workers and have the most precarious employment conditions generally. Moreover, we are seeing an increase in the number of reported cases of gender-based violence during lockdowns, as highlighted by the 2020 Committee of the Regions’ Regional and Local Barometer.
In relation to this issue, President David Sassoli claimed that gender parity is a central theme in the post-COVID-19 recovery and that “we need an EU-wide crime of gender-based violence that is prosecuted in all EU countries”.
"Serve una grande riforma del nostro mercato interno e del Pilastro sociale, che è la nostra carta d'identità. Non si tratta soltanto di riparare ingiustizie, ma di guardare al futuro con occhi e meccanismi nuovi."
— PES Group Committee of the Regions (@PES_CoR) March 26, 2021
The central role of local and regional authorities
As stated by the EU Commissioner Helena Dalli, “the pandemic showed women’s vulnerability both inside and outside the labour market” and “the process towards gender equality remains too slow.” According to the Commissioner, “governments, local authorities and businesses have a key role to play in accelerating this process of promoting equality."
The implementation of policies addressing gender equality is therefore essential, as women’s rights are under pressure in Europe and women are still underrepresented in decision-making positions. This represents a democratic deficit that public authorities must address in order to pursue a “Union of Equality”, one of the European Commission's goals. As stressed by the Committee of the Regions’ opinion on the European Commission “Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025”, led by PES Group Vice-President, Concha Andreu Rodriguez, President of La Rioja (Spain), local and regional authorities have a crucial role to play and have to be considered key partners in the design and implementation of the new EU strategy thanks to their specific competences.
The Recovery Plan: a possible ally?
The new Recovery Plan launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic must play a key role in the fight for gender equality, as it could provide the necessary resources to help tackle the gender-gap and achieve a “cross-gender system in all public policies”, as demanded by Vice-President Elly Schlein during the event. She added that, if the Next Generation EU plan is not developed from a gender perspective, there is a real risk of increasing the gap. Minister Elena Bonetti stood on the same side, saying that the Recovery Plan must “enable women to unleash their energies” as this is the only way to make the necessary step change.
All the participants agreed on the fact that it is time to take actions in order to reduce the gender employment and pay gaps and support the training of women in all fields. As stressed by Elly Schlein, cities and regions are important actors because by “investing significant resources also in social infrastructure, as we are already doing in Emilia-Romagna, we can turn unpaid care work into skilled and paid work in the services sector.”
Linda Laura Sabbadini, Director of ISTAT and chair of Women 20, presented a series of data on the post-COVID-19 economic and employment crisis, highlighting that “as long as women's potential is underutilised, Italy will not grow”. Therefore, it is crystal clear that we need gender equality strategies capable of eradicating the existing gaps and facilitating the development of a fairer Europe.
In this regard, the Conference on the Future of Europe is a great opportunity to come up with a new idea for the Union, which needs to be more equal in order to counteract the trend that the pandemic has exacerbated. For this reason, the Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee has written a letter voicing its concerns about gender imbalance on the Conference's Board to Parliament’s President David Sassoli and all group leaders. Their message is loud and clear: “let’s not miss the tremendous chance given by the Conference on the Future of Europe to work our way towards a gender-equal society and to improve women’s rights”. As progressive cities and regions, we share this fight and, as the city of Bologna and Mayor Virginio Merola have shown, we can lead by example on the path to an equal society for all.
Photo credits: Città Metropolitana di Bologna.
The PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions has put gender equality at the heart of its political priorities. To this end, in 2018 it adopted a Code of Conduct for Gender Parity which applies to all its work. It is the only political group in the Committee of the Regions, as well as the European Parliament, to have such a Code of Conduct.