Europeans are optimistic about gender equality. According to a Eurobarometer survey carried out last autumn, they think there are fewer inequalities than ten years ago and that men and women will continue to become more equal in the future.
Across the EU, 62% of respondents to the survey of over 26,000 Europeans believe that gender inequality is widespread. But 66% agree that gender inequality is less widespread than it was 10 years ago. Women (68%) are slightly more likely to perceive gender-based discrimination than men (57%).
Violence against women and the gender pay gap were voted the two top priorities for action - a large majority of Europeans think these issues should be addressed urgently (92% for violence against women and 82% for the gender pay gap). Sexist stereotypes, which contribute to and reinforce gender inequality, were also a cause for concern.
Some 15% of European respondents have either witnessed or personally experienced gender-based discrimination at work. To increase the number of women in employment, Europeans believe that the following measures should be given priority:
- increasing women’s pay so they earn the same as men (for 44%) and
- more care facilities for young children and dependents (41%).
However, the survey also noted that care facilities can place considerable financial strain on some respondents, as 71% agreed that ‘childcare facilities can cost almost the same as the mother earns’. This could create a barrier to equality in the workplace. It might also have an impact on the numbers of women who reach senior positions. More than 76% of Europeans agree that women have less freedom to fight for positions of responsibility because of their family circumstances.
An increase in the availability of care facilities for young children and dependent persons could help both women and men achieve a better balance between work, private and family life. Some 41% of Europeans selected this measure from a list of propositions to achieve a better work-life balance. Flexible working hours and greater possibilities of remote working were mentioned by 44%.
The EU’s role
Europeans were ambiguous about the EU’s role in tackling gender inequality. Most Europeans polled thought decisions about gender equality should be made jointly within the European Union (61%) but opinion was divided over how effectively this was being done: 44% thought enough was being done but 42% disagreed.
There is a lack of awareness among the EU’s citizens of their rights in this area. Barely half the respondents knew they had a right to equal treatment (although this right from does vary considerably between Member States) and only a quarter of Europeans who faced gender-based
discrimination said they exercised their rights.
However, the researchers identify grounds for optimism, with 64% of respondents saying there had been progress in the past decade, and over half aware of the EU’s efforts to combat gender inequality. Looking to the future, most respondents felt there would be greater equality for women and men in 20 years’ time. Over half felt men and women would earn the same in 2030 and over 70% expected to see more women heads of state. Two thirds expected to see more women in so called masculine professions. There was less optimism about reduced violence against women.
There were also considerable differences between countries. On sexist stereotyping, for example, 58% believe that in twenty years’ time the image of women will be less stereotyped in the media but in countries like Greece (72%), Sweden (71%) and Spain (68%) there is far more optimisim that in countries such as Bulgaria (28%) and Romania (40%).