Legally, men and women are equal in Europe. That equality is enshrined not just in national laws, but at the international level in the UN Convention on Human Rights, which declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

However “equality” seems to mean different things to different people. So-called “men’s rights” activists argue that feminism is a cancer upon society, while nationalist-populist parties call for a return to “traditional” gender roles.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Christian, who believes that equality between men and women already exists as strict laws are in place. So, according to him, any differences in things like pay or employment as purely a result of personal decisions. Is he right?

To get a response, we spoke to Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the UN Women Brussels Office. What would she say? Are women already equal to men?

Unfortunately, this is not right. First of all, we have not achieved gender equality in any country in the world, so we still have a long way to go. There has been, of course, a lot of progress over the last few decades but there is a danger that not a single country will reach in time the goals set by the Agenda 2030 in terms of gender equality. We are seeing a backlash on certain issues including on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Gender inequalities goes far beyond personal decisions because they are the expression of institutionalized inequalities. The political environment and existing policies are key in setting the agenda for women and men, girls and boys, and the society at large. It therefore goes beyond the individual even though obviously, culture, traditions and gender stereotypes do have a strong impact at the individual level. To come back to Christian’s question, personal decisions are obviously crucial to ensure that there is gender equality in your household, in your family or even to change mindsets in your community, but again, if the legislation is discriminatory, you will lack the legislative leverage to ensure gender equality. For instance, legislation on domestic violence is a clear indication of this necessary approach. If you do not have a law that prohibits and domestic violence, rising against domestic violence in a household becomes much more difficult. Laws need to ensure equality both in public and private spheres, because even though the individual is key to gender equality, we simply cannot only rely on personal decisions to achieve such an important goal.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Julian, who argues that sexism is still ubiquitous and, in fact, is witnessing a political resurgence. Are we going backwards when it comes to gender equality?

We put this comment to Emma Rainey. She organises the Brussels Binder, a database of Brussels-based female experts that aims to improve diversity on panels and in other policy debates, so that the “manel” becomes a thing of the past. What would she say?

For me, we’ve never been fully 100% there on gender equality. We’ve progressed over the last number of years, but we’re at the point where we’ve stagnated and haven’t progressed from where we are over the past decade.

We have these right-wing parties coming into certain Member States in the EU, in the likes of Poland and Hungary, and even not extreme right-wing but social conservatives play a big part in stagnating gender equality. So, we haven’t moved but there has been an attack, as well, on gender equality, especially in these countries; in Hungary, for example, the situation of banning Gender Studies and all these ‘family welfare’ policies that are supposedly designed to empower women but are really just about making women into walking incubators.

Also, a big part of feminism, in my opinion, is about monitoring what we have already won. Making sure that we have this win in place still, and ensuring that we don’t backtrack.

Finally, what would Dagmar Schumacher say to Julien’s comment?

While Julien does have a point, I also want to stay positive and repeat that we have seen a lot of progress in terms of gender equality. Statistics show that gaps in some sectors such as the pay gap are – even though very slowly- closing. At the same time, yes indeed, we do see a trend of backlash and we do see backsliding on certain rights we are taking for granted in progressive countries. In this regard, sexism is indeed the expression of these rights being questioned and we see encouragement of sexism through rampant misogyny and gender-based discrimination. Today, even the words gender or gender equality are being questioned in some European countries.

On the positive side, since the #MeToo uprising, we have seen a lot of movement building around the topic of fighting sexism in all its forms. It is now widely known that women face sexual harassment in the workplace, in their private life and in their public life. It is not necessarily getting better, it’s rather getting worse in certain areas such as in politics. However, building on this #MeToo movement, we have a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the context of gender equality because next year, we will have the anniversary of the very progressive Beijing.

Declaration and Platform for Action from 1995. This will be a unique opportunity to give another push on gender equality while also taking stock on what was achieved and what remains to be done. This anniversary will bring heads of states, governments, the private sector, civil society, the academic world and global citizens together to push for gender equality. Finally, may it be to fight against sexism of for gender equality, we count on men to particularly engage as equality would benefit the entire society.

Do you believe in equality between men and women? Do we only have equality on paper? What else needs to change for true gender equality? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: (cc) wikipedia – Clemensfranz; Portraits: (c) Schumacher – UN Women, (c) Rainey – Natalie Malisse

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    > So-called “men’s rights” activists argue that feminism is a cancer upon society
    As a Men’s Rights activist, reading this makes me very sad. Reading the linked article even more so, they do more harm to MRA’s than any feminist has ever done.

    I find equality between genders incredibly important, so i think it makes a lot of sense to look at all genders. Women have many issues in our society, and we need to solve those. But so do men, and i do honestly believe they are overlooked.

    For example, one of issues discused here is pay inequality. This is a very real and important issue, on average women are paid less than men and that is something we have to solve. Yet there are many countries in the EU[1] that have a lower pension age for women than for men, this is pay inequality by law. By forcing men to work more, they will earn more. Now obviously this does not explain the entire gap, but it is an example of inquality by law that we dont talk about. This is something that affects millions of men here in Europe and there is no discussion about this at all.


  2. avatar

    Yes, and most people would say the same. One of the major problems, though, is that we have numerous terms, many of which are emotive and impactful, without a clearly defined and agreed upon criteria. Moreover, we treat the debate on sexism largely as old fashioned conservative versus feminists. It’s far more diverse than that, but this narrative means that issues men and trans people (as well as various others) face are often not taken seriously.

  3. avatar

    No women are superior :D we have different needs but we are equal!

  4. avatar

    Actually I am surprised that very often agree on the general term but have very different role models and expectations….

  5. avatar

    Equality before the law, certainly, and this is guaranteed in Europe. Otherwise let women be women and let men be men. Telling women that their success in life depends on how well they compete with men is one of the biggest lies of our age.

  6. avatar

    Equality before the law, not forced equality of outcome.

  7. avatar

    Is it a question to ask in 2019? The question is ‘how to guarantee to each individual full and complete equality’.

  8. avatar

    Ofcourse not. I have reason and I’m not blind.

  9. avatar

    Do you believe that air is essential for our life?

  10. avatar

    This is in all European national constitutions of member states. This why Islam is unconstitutional and should be banned in Europe

  11. avatar

    Equality before the law and equality of opportunity – yes. Equality of outcome – no.

  12. avatar

    Equal opportunity and equal pay and equal before the law. And not guaranteed equal outcome. But not just for the nice things each provides but for the ugly and not so happy things too.

  13. avatar

    Not at all ! After divorce fathers are supressed and humiliated.

  14. avatar

    fundamentally different to each other. Yet none is better or worse or deserve better or worse, just different. So gender should never be a reason to tread anybody in anything better or worse or different. But gender should also not be a reason to get anything underserved just because you belong to one or the other gender. There should also not be gender quotas or catch ups, like the next 100 years we rule.

  15. avatar

    Equality is not the correct term. Maybe something like equalrighty? Equality means man=woman which is not true even in all levels simply because men and women are two different “morphotypes”. There is a need for a more correct and try term.

  16. avatar

    If you stop thinking about people as men or women and just take them for human beings as they are, you can see that people are all different, but still deserve same opportunities. Gender does not matter when you look at humanity as a whole.

  17. avatar

    Of course, not. Women and man are biologically different, why must different things be submitted to equality? That’s violence. Differences should be understood, respected and treated accordingly.

  18. avatar

    They should be equal ,as human beings..but they are not ,many have to be done towards this goal. You don’t have to be the same in order to be equal ..but you have to think the same in order to respect equality.

  19. avatar

    Well, this may be a shock to you but, as you might have noticed, men and women are different. Yep.
    Different bodies, different cerebrums, different ways of thinking and reacting, different breeding roles… to name just a few.
    Not respecting this or trying to ignore these facts is the first step to keep things as they are. Or even make them worse with the rise of extremism.
    The same payment? Of course, if they have exactly the same functions, responsibility and performance!
    The same opportunities? Depends. To clean a female’s showers I might have to exclude men…
    The same rights? Well a pregnant woman’s husband doesn’t have priority in a line does he?
    So, let’s not exaggerate and take extreme positions.
    Generally speaking, they should be treated equally and given equal rights.
    But this cannot be a blind rule that does not have the differences into account!

  20. avatar
    Carol Clapperton

    My first response is that the question is flawed. Belief? It’s a fact there is no way equal recognition or equal treatment of men and women.

    Are women and men ‘equal’ ? Define!
    I ‘believe’? I am convinced and I’ve proven, though it took sixty years, that I am ‘equal’ to any man … not identical, in some ways different, complementary …but yes, equal in my overall capacity and achievements.
    ( Nor is anything about me ‘against men’ (or ‘against women’). I have however become more astute at identifying despicable examples of any kind and I walk away.)

    I was discriminated against from birth, or at least since the birth of the ‘son and heir’, my younger sibling, and made personal choices accordingly for the next thirty years … out of the frying pan into the fire.
    Then one day I found the strength within myself …
    Long story, wide subject … but ‘Look at me now!’
    Equality? My ‘belief’ is that you’re as ‘equal’ as you recognise yourself to be, as you think, as you act, as you ‘want to be’ ( with all the consequences, renouncing ‘soft options’.)
    I believe this is a significant factor in all perceptions and situations of inequality and unequal treatment, and I mean ‘all’.

  21. avatar
    Balcony Gardener

    Men and women can be equal in law, but never in the bedroom.

  22. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do you believe in equality between men and women?

    I believe there must be equality of opportunity and advancement for both sexes. However, equality of opportunity and advancement should mean just that, equal expectation. Not equality plus. As it is with all female or all male or all ethnic lists. That is not equality of anything and is detrimental to the advancement of human potential. Any person gaining a position of any kind on the grounds of unfair or selective conditions, lowers the level of expectation for that position and therefore reduces the possibility of gain for mankind. An idiot chosen for a situation on the grounds of anything other than they are the best candidate is opening the future of human potential to degradation and contempt.

    Male/female physical and psychological satisfaction levels do not run parallel and pretending otherwise in order to try and persuade mankind, nurture against nature, is the bleating of idiots with nothing better to do to make confusion a living. And the major question in that little side line has to be to ask the purpose of such bleating? Why is it such fun to strip women of their obvious and important differences to that of the masculine principle? The feminine aspects of the human condition is equal to and as important as the male. More so in many aspects, yet. unless she is prepared to drop her unique and exceptional qualities, in order to perform identical tricks to male actors, she is considered of a lesser God. Why women have fell for this crap and put up with it is beyond me.

    Men have once again pushed their dominant perversions with an overwhelmingly aggressive line in order to remove any sense of self fulfilment that women enjoy, by demanding they, not women, are the front runners in all things. Including, who cries loudest.

    Think about it.

  23. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do you believe in equality between men and women?

    As an addition to my previous post on this matter, I felt this sums up the trend rather well.

    And this explains how men, once again, raise the issue of women being less effective than they, even as women. Which, of course, they prove so much more powerful at by hoodwinking dislikers of natures female gender preferences and abilities. And they do it simply by showing everyone how it can be done to perfection. Brings to mind that song, anything you can do I can do better.

    Yet, if you research, you will see how well the world protects the sport activity of of the male of the species though. Heavyweight boxers don’t set up combat with featherweights do they? I wonder why that is? Could it be because it’s considered an unfair advantage and they can’t win that way?

  24. avatar
    Galina Kasparovna

    Chess players don’t believe in equality and preserve separate male/female categories.

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