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Towards a Forward Looking View to Gender Equality in the European Union

Publication date 29.5.2019 8.56

High Level Conference The Role and Status of Women organised by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Bucharest 29.5.2019

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me as the Chancellor of Justice of the Government of Finland, by Constitution the Supreme Guardian of Law and Overseer of Fundamental Rights and Human Rights in Finland,[i] to address this conference on the role and status of women and gender equality, organised by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. I extend my thanks to Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and to Romania to give a high visibility to the work on the equality. Here I will share few ideas on the way forward in making the gender equality a reality and, the European Union an example in the promotion and realisation of equality globally. The gender equality is our common global commitments in the United Nations’ the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Finland will follow Romania in the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. During Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union the Government of Finland will contribute to the preparation for the future EU gender equality policies on the basis of the review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the EU – Beijing +25, and, contribute to the creation of Gender Equal Economies. The preliminary priorities of the Finland’s Presidency of the Council are: 1) to use the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action as an opportunity to assess progress made in the area of gender equality and discuss future actions at the beginning of a new term of the European Parliament and the Commission and, 2) to promote gender equal economies from the dual perspective of the relationship between gender equality and economy. The promotion of gender equality is one of the drivers of sustainable growth. The links between economic and budgetary policies and the promotion of gender equality can be strengthened. These themes and gender mainstreaming and equality in the research and innovation appear in the work programme.

Equality with all its dimensions is a strongly articulated legal principle in the Treaties to which the European Union is founded including the Charter of the Fundamental Rights and in the Union legislation. The equality is powerfully enhanced by the case law of the Court of Justice. The dialogue and interaction between the Union law, policies and action and Member States law, policies and action enable to focus action to issues most relevant in each local context while maintaining common uniform standards. Dialogue and interaction is the way to use the Union law including soft law instruments in the assessment of the constitutionality of draft domestic legislation and promotion of equality in Member States contexts. The prior control of the constitutionality of the draft legislation including giving full effect to the Union law and international human rights norm is a significant part of the constitutional remit of the Chancellor of Justice of Finland.[ii] Here the EU FRA Guidance on applying the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in law and policy making at national level (pdf) is a good tool and similar guidance on various aspects of equality are and would be very useful and help also in the mainstreaming of gender equality and other equality considerations.

Law also makes its impact trough changes in social behaviour and social institutions. Eventual action for gender equal economies would, in a medium term in my perspective contain at least following considerations continuing the effective implementation of the gender equality in working life, balanced working life and dignity and right to self-determination with freedom from all kinds of violence and harassment:

(1) realising equality in the leadership positions and in entrepreneurship. In Finland the public sector does pretty well and the Parliament leads by example. In the latest Parliamentary elections 47 % of the elected Members of the Parliament are women and 42 % mothers of families with young children. The law and public sector policies set some targets in the public sector.[iii] The Government issued in 2015 a resolution on the gender balance on corporate boards on publicly listed companies. Finnish private corporate sector scores above the EU average in women participation to corporate boards (Finland 33,8 %/ EU 28 average 26,2 % of the members of the boards of the largest publicly listed companies).[iv] Progress has been slow. A series of additional measures are needed in the Union and in the Member States. The Commission 2012 proposal (COM (2012) 614) for a directive merits to be considered. Finland has a positive position to the directive but several clarification and precisions needs to be made in order to ensure, that the directive would truly enhance women empowerment and recognition of their competences at the boards of directors[v]. In the area of public leadership the appointment of the new European Commission is an opportunity to provide an example on the gender equality.

(2) elimination of the gender pay gap. Finland comes close to but very slightly below the Union average the gender pay gap being approximately 16 % but the differences between various professions and branches are significant. Finland’s problem is the very significant fragmentation of the labour market on gender bases to male and female dominated professions.[vi] Career choice is a social construct. The gender pay gap is still a common problem everywhere in the Union albeit differences between the Member States are high.[vii] Working together with trade unions on collective contracts and on a equal pay programme has produced results. The introduction of new methods of comparison of salary criteria and rewards for work across different professions, which was required by the Parliament in Finland, and other modern data analytics and digital tools, an area in which also European cooperation would be beneficial.[viii] Women do more often part-time work and temporary work, partly due to other commitments and parental leaves. Equality in sharing the burdens of household and parenthood needs hence to be continued as well as securing the position of part-timers and elimination of discrimination in temporary contracts and securing access to child care services. This is an area of the gender equal economies priority theme where integrated economic and social policies can make a positive impact.

(3) the work for gender equal economies and societies shall also address the new phenomena and dynamic domains in economy and society and proactively care for empowerment of women there. The European Union strives after digital single market and has ambitious goals in the use of artificial intelligence. The digital world and AI shall also be at the forefront for the work for gender equality and empowerment for women starting from breaking stereotypes and gender biases by and in education. The equality in coding of software and in the AI related professions and as entrepreneurs is highly important and a specific Union and Member State programme for that end would be desirable. Tech, science and innovation are still domains were women are de facto discriminated, in Finland only 1/3 of the University professors are women and technological fields are male dominated. A systematic approach starting with models of girls and women in the AI and coding & other tech professions and activities and setting systematic equality targets and doing equality enhancement in research, development and innovation policy and funding and in the universities are needed across the Union. Transparency of the human resources practises and selection criteria is vital. The AI and big data analyses are excellent tools for the work for equality but they also tend to learn and replicate the biases we have. So rectification of the existing biases and emansipatory approach in learning data are needed to construct equality into the AI powered world.

(4) the equal earner & equal carer model needs to be still at the forefront to remedy the current uneven distribution and patriarchal models of parenting and home related unpaid work. This can also become by definition one of the symbols of the European lifestyle the European Union seeks to protect and put forward in EU law. Balanced working life is essential additional ingredient to enable empowerment and realise gender equality. In Member States, such as Finland, social benefits and parental leaves reforms should increase flexibility and increase the male participation to parenthood and home work, and also, access to services helping families. Law is also here helpful to break established social patterns and lead the way to more equal parental and social models. The reviews and recommendations under the social dimension of Europe and using also European Semester within the limits of current Treaties on which the Union is founded, is useful for the progress. The balanced working life directive, proposed by the Commission (COM (2017) 253 final) and now in the final stages of the legislative procedure following readins of the European Parliament and Council will be useful,[ix] but work beyond that directive is needed.

(5) there is no equality and no empowerment if there is fear of violence in domestic and intimate relationships. European Union as an area of Freedom, Security and Justice shall be exemplary in the work towards elimination of all gender related, including intimate and domestic violence and guaranteeing of individual self-determination on one’s own body and, also of one’s relationship to other people. Domestic violence and violence in intimate relationships is one of the widest spread human rights violations in Finland and widely in Europe. The European Union and its Member States should ratify as soon as possible the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention and have the spirit of the Convention and the Union’s own Victim’s Rights Directive 2012/29/EU truly and effectively enforced. This requires that the victims receive fluidly appropriate support services and advice. The public authorities have a duty for effective prevention of violent behaviour models and contribution actively to termination of violent circles. The police and criminal justice system shall be better equipped to encounter victims and recognise intimate violence situations including its modern forms like on-line harassment and grooming, and intervene efficiently and the victims need also easy access to support services. A need for changes in attitudes and better guidance can be seen in the justice system and better This one of the themes also we are working on an own initiative at the Chancellor of Justice and we have also decided recently a complaint on encounter with the victims.[x] We need to have a good understanding of the widely hidden phenomena of violence and coercion in domestic relationships.  The new survey on gender-based violence under planning at an Eurosta task force, which will follow the 2014 EU wide survey by the FRA (pdf), is very important and the results needs to be fully analysed and also used in the policy making at the Union and Member State level.

(6) the gender equality and empowerment of women need, thus, to be built into the structures of law and society in order to give full realisation to the strong principle of equality of the Union law. This means that mainstreaming needs to be continued. The principle of equality has significant emansipatory potential. Both the Union and the Member States legislators should take seriously the human impact assessment of the legislation and the equality impact assessment and generally the human rights impact assessment of the legislation and major governmental policies and connect these analyses with legislative decision-making.

(7) empowerment of women and gender equal and sustainable economies are a global goal and the equality is among values and principles on which the European Union is expected to make and can make contribution globally in line with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Climate change will highly negatively impact position of girls and women in many countries. The Union could do a stronger contribution to the integration of gender equality consideration to the mitigation of climate change and ensuring social fairness in that. Beyond that the role and empowerment of women should remain at the forefronts of the Union’s global policies.

In short, the Union law and policies have been front-runners of gender equality but despite success and progress a considerable amount of work remains before our ideal, full equality and full empowerment as individuals regardless of gender, sex or any other discriminatory factor is realised in our societies.

Notes and references

[i] Finland has two Supreme Guardians of the Law (Supreme Legality Overseers), the Parliamentary Ombudsman elected by the Parliament and Chancellor of Justice of the Government, appointed by the President of the Republic. Both Supreme Guardians of the Law have parallel competences according to the Constitution to ensure that the courts of law, other authorities and civil servants, and other persons or bodies assigned to perform public tasks, comply with the law and fulfil their assigned obligations. Both institutions oversee the realisation of fundamental rights and human rights in Finland and report to the Parliament with the right to participate in the Plenary sessions of the Parliament on matters initiated by them. The Constitution sets the supervision of the legality of the official actions by the Government, Ministries and the President of the Republic as a specific duty of the Chancellor of Justice, who shall attend all the plenary sessions of the Government and the presidential sessions at which the President of the Republic makes decisions on proposals presented by the Government. The Chancellor of Justice has also a duty to give independent legal opinions and advice to the Government, President of the Republic and Ministries pursuant to section 108 (2) of the Constitution. For the oversight of equality Finland has an independent Ombudsman for Equality and National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal of Finland. The Parliamentary Ombudsman and Chancellor of Justice oversee that the Ombudsman for Equality and Equality Tribunal perform their duties in accordance with the law.

[ii] Prior control of the constitutionality of the draft legislation and overseeing observance of the good legislative and law making practise is an important specific task of the Chancellor of the Justice, see on the prior constitutionality control of draft legislation by the Chancellor of Justice my comment in the Report of the Chancellor of Justice to the Parliament (pdf), and the Report of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Parliament PeVM 5/2018 and Opinion of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Parliament PeVL 79/2018 vp.

[iii] It is part of the role of the Chancellor of Justice to oversee that the Equality Act and the targets set by the Act are respected in the highest Governmental decision-making.

[iv] European Commission 2019 Report on the Equality Between Women and Men in EU.

[v] See Government Communication U 81/2012 vp.

[vi] Parliamentary Report of the Finland’s Ombudsman for Equality, Parliamentary Report K 22/2018 vp (pdf, in Finnish).

[vii] Parliamentary Report of the Finland’s Ombudsman for Equality, Parliamentary Report K 22/2018 vp (pdf, in Finnish). European Commission reports gender pay gap in Finland to be 16,4 %, European Commission 2019 Report on the Equality Between Women and Men in EU.

[viii] See Parliamentary Communication EK 49/2018 vp related to the Parliamentary Report of the Ombudsman for Equality K 22/2018 vp and the Report of the Parliament’s Committee for Working Life and Equality TyVM 16/2018 vp.

[ix] See Government Communication to Parliament, U 36/2017 vp.

[x] See Deputy Chancellor of Justice Decision OKV/1325/1/2018 on 12.4.2019 (pdf, in Finnish).

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