Data Sustainable Development Goals

The EU lags behind on gender equality and climate action

Eurostat has just published the 2020 report on EU progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Those where it has underperformed particularly affect women.

Published on 30 June 2020 at 10:29

Sustainable development is still far from being a reality, when it comes to women’s rights and climate in Europe. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were only partially achieved over the past five years, new Eurostat data shows.

“Showing the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals in the EU, this report is our latest contribution to the debate on the shape of Europe and our world in 2030 and beyond, and on the action we must take to get there,” Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni said when presenting the results of the EU progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals's report

Overall, the EU made good or moderate progress. SDG 5 ‘gender equality’ and SDG 13 ‘climate action’, however, were left behind.

For SDG 13, there was no progress over the last five years, while for SDG 5 the EU has moved away from sustainable development objectives.

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“Many challenges remain when it comes to achieving equality between women and men,” the European Institute for Gender Equality comments. “For example, the gender pay gap, unequal distribution of unpaid work or experiences of gender-based violence, to name just a few.”

They add that new challenges have also emerged in recent years, including those brought by digitalisation, recent migration flows and a mounting backlash against gender equality. “The mix of factors underpinning these inequalities is often complex and context specific. It typically involves some underlying gender stereotypes, gendered nature of social practices/structures/research/policies, imbalances in power and opportunities.”

At the report’s presentation, Gentiloni said “it is encouraging to see the progress in female representation in national parliaments – from a little over 20% at the turn of the Millennium to 32.1% last year – but clearly there is still a long way to go”.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, a link exists between those two goals: “The people most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change tend often to be women, because of their persisting unequal position in society. For instance, energy poverty disproportionately affects single women (especially older women with low pensions), lone mothers and female-headed households and can be aggravated by climate policy interventions.”

Also, women remain under-represented in environmental policymaking, planning and implementation or key sectors such as energy, transport, water, waste, agriculture, forestry and fishery. “The low level of gender diversity in the energy sector is considered to affect innovation and restrict efforts to address climate change,” the institute notices.

On the other hand, good results were achieved in fields like poverty alleviation and justice.

The data shows that member states made strong progress towards the overall achievement of SDG 16 ‘peace, justice and strong institutions’ and good (even if slower) progress for SDG 1 ‘no poverty’, SDG 3 ‘good health and wellbeing’, SDG 2 ‘zero hunger’ and SDG 8 ‘decent work and economic growth’.

Yet, the current coronavirus crisis provides some opportunities for the future. “The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted some particular gender inequalities, for example in gender-based violence, unpaid care, gender segregation in some sectors,” adds the European Institute for Gender Equality. “We hope this will give added impetus to policymakers to close the gaps between women and men.”

Similarly, the EU Green Deal should be able to address present challenges with ambition. 

“As we battle the dramatic repercussions of the pandemic, we must not lose sight of global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss and growing social and economic inequality,” Gentiloni added on 22 June. “Implementing policies to reach the SDGs is our roadmap to a better world and Europe must be at the forefront of that journey.”


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