On the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), the European Commission launched the EU Gender Equality Strategy, setting out key actions for the next five years and committing to ensuring that the Commission will also include an equality perspective in all EU policy areas. Released on March 5 2020, Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli stressed that “the strategy is about people in all their diversity” and that it should interact with future strategies, including the next European Disability Strategy 2020- 2030.
On this matter, Autism-Europe’s (AE) Director Aurélie Baranger points out that “AE welcomes the fact that the Commission has released an ambitious strategy for equality with a focus on intersectionality of discrimination. It highlights very important issues to be tackled, including forced sterilisation and violence against women and the necessity to gather data. These topics are in line with AE priorities and key demands”.
The key objectives of the Strategy are: ending gender-based violence; challenging gender stereotypes; closing gender gaps in the labour market; achieving equal participation across different sectors of the economy; addressing the gender pay and pension gaps; closing the gender care gap and achieving gender balance in decision-making and in politics.
The Strategy pursues a dual approach of gendermainstreaming combined with targeted actions, and intersectionalityis a horizontal principle for its implementation. For instance, it recognises that women with disabilities are more at risk of violence and that additional measures to combat stereotypes, forced abortion and forced sterilisation should be taken.
However, the strategy should be more ambitious in other areas, notably to ensure access to justice for women with disabilities, and especially for those who face restrictions in legal capacity. Particular situations of vulnerability should also be addressed, such as increased discrimination in accessing employment, or the situation of women living in institutions, which put them at a higher risk to experience violence.
Gender and disability specificities
The strategy reflects the fact that women who have a health problem or disabilities are more likely to experience various forms of violence. For instance, 34% of women with a health problem or disability have experienced physical or sexual partner violence, compared with 19% of women who do not have a health problem or disability, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights FRA publication ‘Violence against women: an EU-wide survey’, 2014. The Commission will develop and finance measures to tackle abuse, violence as well as forced sterilisation and forced abortion, such as capacity-building of professionals and awareness-raising campaigns on rights and access to justice, in order to implement the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recommendations for the EU, in particular concerning Articles 6 (Women with disabilities) and 16 (Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse).
In reference to the objective “ending gender-based violence”, the strategy stresses that the EU needs comprehensive, updated and comparable data for policies on combating gender-based violence to be effective. To get a complete picture of gender-based violence, data should be disaggregated by relevant intersectional aspects and indicators such as age, disability status, migrant status and rural-urban residence. An EU-wide survey, coordinated by Eurostat, will provide data on the prevalence and dynamics of violence against women and other forms of interpersonal violence, with results presented in 2023.
On the “challenging gender stereotypes” objective, the strategy features that gender stereotypes are a root cause of gender inequality and affect all areas of society. The Commission will also integrate a gender perspective in all its major initiatives during the current mandate, facilitated by the appointment of the first Commissioner for Equality, as a stand-alone portfolio, and by creating a Task Force for Equality composed of representatives of all Commission services and of the European External Action Service. The Task Force will ensure the implementation of equality mainstreaming, including gender equality, at operational and technical level. It will also facilitate the mainstreaming of equality relating to six grounds of discrimination: sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation.
On “gender mainstreaming and an intersectional perspective in EU policies”, the intersectionality of gender with other grounds of discrimination will be addressed across EU policies. Women are a heterogeneous group and may face intersectional discrimination based on several personal characteristics.
The strategy features the example of, a migrant woman with a disability who may face discrimination on three or more grounds. EU law, policies and their implementation should therefore respond to the specific needs and circumstances of women and girls in different groups. The forthcoming Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion and the EU strategic frameworks on disability, LGBTI+, Roma inclusion and children’s rights will be linked to this strategy and to each other. Moreover, the intersectional perspective will always inform gender equality policies.
During the last decade, the European Commission adopted a Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 and a Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019. Both documents failed to include and address the specific situation of women and girls with disabilities, while they constitute an important group of women facing discrimination and other violations of their rights. Each document only made three symbolic references to disability.
In December 2019, the European Disability Forum, of which Autism-Europe is founded member, released a position paper informing the Commission in its preparation of the next Gender Equality Strategy. It includes the main priorities of women and girls with disabilities in Europe and foster an intersectional approach of gender equality.