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Still a long way to go - Vanni Xuereb

On Wednesday, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) released the third edition of the Gender Equality Index. The purpose of this index is to assess the impact of gender equality policies in the European Union and its member states. It is a measure over time of gender equality across the EU. Gender gaps are gauged in areas that touch upon EU policy priorities, primarily work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, complemented by an additional two satellite domains (violence against women and intersecting inequalities).

The Index assigns scores for member states, between one, representing total inequality and 100, full equality. All gender indicators are then combined into a single summary measure.

The latest edition of the index reveals that rather slow progress towards gender equality in the EU has been registered over the past decade and that much room for improvement remains. The most ‘gender equal’ societies are Sweden and Denmark. Italy and Cyrus registered the greatest improvement whereas Malta, together with Austria and Sweden, recorded an improvement in five out of the six domains.

In nearly all the member states, the main area where progress has been registered concerns the improved balance in economic and political decision-making (‘power’). Progress has been significant particularly since 2010. Gender gaps persist. In some domains they are even bigger compared to a decade ago.

The average score for gender equality is 66.2, meaning that the EU is still a long way off from reaching a gender-equal society. The least amount of progress is in the ‘time’ domain. This means that the division of time spent on caring and household work has worsened rather than improved when one takes the EU as a whole.

In the latest edition of the index, Malta registered some progress and scored an overall 60.1, meaning that we are 6.1 below the EU28 average. However, this also marks a positive improvement of 4.1 over the 2005 scores. In terms of ranking, Malta is in the 15th place. The first 14 places are, not surprisingly, occupied by the Scandinavian countries and most of the ‘old’ member states.

Statistically, Malta does not compare badly to countries like Germany (12th at 65.5) although the gap with first-placed Sweden is very wide at -22.5. The gap with the last placed country, Greece, is +10.1.

Breaking down the scores into the different domains, as already mentioned earlier, Malta achieved progress in five out of the six.

Our best score is that related to health with Malta ranking third with 91.8 points. The EU average is 87.4. This domain measures three health-related aspects of gender equality: health status, health behaviour and access to health services. It takes into consideration differences in the life expectancy of men and women as well as self-perceived health and healthy life years. It is complemented with a set of behavioural factors such as fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.

Gender segregation in knowledge leads to occupational segregation and, therefore, also has an impact on the future career options of both men and women

We also feature well when it comes to ‘money’. This domain measures gender inequalities in relation to access to financial resources as well as the economic situation of women and men. Malta scores 82.4 (EU average 79.6). Malta has been one of the three countries that have made the fastest progress since 2015 (+ 12.1) when it comes to bringing women and men closer to equal access to economic independence.

We are practically at par with the EU average when it comes to ‘work’. This domain measures the extent to which women and men may benefit from equal access to employment as well as to good working conditions. In this respect Malta scored 71 (EU average 71.5).

It is interesting to note that in 10 years, the EU has made little progress in this area. Generally speaking, the participation of women in employment remains much lower than that of men. Malta is the country which has registered major improvement (+10.2). This reflects what was stated by the European Commission in its 2017 country report on Malta, which found that the employment of women is increasing steadily with the employment rate for young women actually rising above the EU average.

However, the Commission noted that employment rates remain low for older and low-skilled women.

A lower score is registered in the ‘knowledge’ domain which measures gender inequalities in educational attainment, participation in education and life-long learning. Malta achieved a mark of 65.2 which is actually above the EU average of 63.4. However, in Malta, as well as in eight other member states, the gender gap actually increased.

Although in the EU there is an equal proportion of women and men tertiary graduates and an equal share of women and men participating in education and lifelong learning, the index points to the fact that gender segregation in education remains a persistent challenge and that this is considered to be a factor that seriously holds back progress in gender equality in the area of knowledge.

What is meant by gender segregation is that women or men would be under-represented in certain fields of study. For example, more than half of female tertiary students are concentrated in education, health and welfare, humanities and the arts – field normally considered to be ‘feminine’, whereas men would be represented in areas of study such as ICT and engineering. Gender segregation in knowledge leads to occupational segregation and, therefore, also has an impact on the future career options of both men and women.

The other two domains are ‘time’ and ‘power’. In relation to time Malta stands at 64.2 (EU average 65.7). ‘Time’ measures gender inequalities in the allocation of time spent doing care and domestic work and social activities. It is, however, in the domain of power that, not surprisingly, we register our lowest score – 27.4 (EU average 48.5).

This domain gauges gender equality in decision-making positions across the political, economic and social spheres. Our score is a reflection of a well-known situation that needs to be addressed. When it comes to politics, the June elections confirmed the low representation of women in our Parliament, and, consequently, in our government.

It is worth mentioning that most progress in this area has occurred in member states in which quotas have been in place for the longest. The only institution where women are now well represented in Malta is on the Bench of Magistrates with more than half the magistrates being women.

In the economic sphere, in its report for 2015, the Gender Equality Index had concluded that in Malta economic power remains largely in the hands of men and that long working hours and physical presence at work, combined with traditional masculine leadership styles advantage men.

The index is an important and useful tool that should guide policy-makers in Malta and in the EU to address those specific areas where far greater progress is necessary to achieve gender equality.

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