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Three questions to Moana Genevey, from the Equinet network.

Moana Genevey

Professional Gender Policy Officer - Equinet

Moana Genevey is a Gender policy officer at Equinet, the European network of equality bodies. Equinet’s missions include providing free legal assistance to victims of discrimination and producing reports and studies on equality issues. Equinet also seeks to influence legislation at the European level so that it reflects the fight against discrimination and equality throughout Europe. Moana is in charge of gender policies including LGBTQIA+ issues. As such, she leads a working group that brings together some thirty experts from these organizations in which exchanges of experience and good practices are organized as well as capacity building sessions.

In the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, we met with her to speak about the place of gender equality issues within the European Union.

Gender Experts: What is your view of European legislation aimed at achieving gender equality and its implementation at the national level? Can you give us examples good and bad performers among the Member States on certain themes?

Moana Genevey: The European Union is innovative in that it openly uses the concept of intersectionality– a concept that aims to reveal the plurality of class, gender, and “race” discrimination among other identities – since 2019. Intersectionality is an essential tool for addressing discrimination and helping those who are most affected by it. It has thus made many strategies where intersectionality is openly mentioned (strategies on gender equality, on LGBTQIA+ issues, an action plan on racism, on disability etc.) and the Commission says it takes an intersectional approach to discrimination. And more recently, on March 5, there was a proposal for a directive on salary transparency with an article that refers to intersectionality.

The EU is also innovative in other ways. I am thinking in particular of a 2006 directive on gender equality in the workplace in the European Union, in which there is a definition of sexual harassment. It says that a single act, if serious enough, can constitute sexual harassment. This is a definition that is not found in all national legislations and therefore sets a rather high standard.

The EU has also just asked that there be some form of monitoring everywhere in the EU and that employers be much more transparent to allow victims of wage discrimination to be more aware of what is going on and to be able to lodge complaints more easily. The fact that it has been asked for independent institutions in each EU country to deal with gender discrimination and to accompany the victims is also something innovative.

After all, in some cases, this remains a minimum standard that will not necessarily advance things on a societal level. I am thinking in particular of the directive on work-life balance, released in 2019. It proposes ten days of paternity leave, which is insufficient if we want real changes in terms of equal sharing of domestic labourat home in heterosexual couples. However, it is a start and if, ten days in some countries is laughable, in Sweden it is for example 60 days, in other countries there was no paternity leave.

On other issues, such as gender-based violence, the best instruments are not those of the European Union but those of the Council of Europe: The Istanbul Conventioneditor’s note: the first legally binding instrument at the pan-European level that provides a comprehensive legal framework for the prevention of violence, the protection of victims and an end to impunity for perpetrators), which the EU wishes to ratify. If the EU ratifies it, it would force all member states to sign and ratify this convention. For the moment it is very complicated because there are states that block it, such as Hungary and Poland, but also Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia. There is a real political force organized by Catholic religious pressure groups that oppose the Istanbul Convention. This means that in the meantime we do not have very high standards at the level of the European Union to address violence against women. This has prompted the European Commission to recently launch a roadmap to study the possibility of producing a directive on violence against women.

En ce qui concerne les « bons et les mauvais élèves », la réalité n’est pas toujours l’image qu’on s’en fait. Par exemple, au Danemark, qui fait pourtant partie des pays scandinaves réputés progressistes, il n’y a que dix jours de congé paternité et en plus il y a une forte pression sociale qui fait que peu de pères prennent des congés en pratique. En fait, cela dépend des sujets. Si on prend l’exemple de Malte, c’est très intéressant parce que sur les questions LGBTIQIA+ le pays a été très en avance, notamment à travers une loi sur la reconnaissance des personnes trans et intersexes. En revanche, l’avortement y est totalement interdit. L’Union Européenne est novatrice car elle utilise ouvertement le concept d’intersectionnalité, outil essentiel pour s’attaquer aux discriminations et aider les personnes qui en sont les plus victimes.”

The European Union is innovative because it openly uses the concept of intersectionality, an essential tool to tackle discrimination and help the people who are most affected by it.”

Moana Genevey, Gender policy officer for the Equinet european network

Gender Experts: We are currently witnessing a challenge to certain sexual and reproductive rights in some European Union countries, particularly the right to abortion as in Poland. What is the role of European public institutions promoting equality in the face of such situations? Should this role evolve?

Moana Genevey : First of all, the EU has no competence to legislate on the harmonization of sexual and reproductive rights, this is a competence of the member states. It is therefore very difficult to do something that is binding. For the moment, what is being done is more of a political declaration, through the resolutions of the European Parliament on the right to abortion in Poland for example, but this has no legal value.

In terms of soft law, of non-binding measures, last year, the European Union published a strategy on gender equality for 2020-2025. This is quite innovative because it had been a long time since the EU had a strong political vision on this subject. In fact, Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission is a bit more innovative and progressive on equality issues than the previous one. In particular, there is a European Commissioner for Equality who has been appointed for the first time, Helena Dalli.

Dans cette stratégie, il est mentionné pour la première fois que seront encouragés les échanges de bonnes pratiques entre les États membres sur les questions de genre et de santé et notamment sur la question des droits et santé sexuels et reproductifs. C’est très fort sur le plan politique. Le terme « échanges de bonnes pratiques », c’est très light en termes politiques mais c’est déjà quelque chose à souligner.

What is interesting, on the other hand, is that as far as the EU’s external action is concerned, the same strategy uses slightly stronger language, mentioning that the European Commission will defend human rights defendersand in particular women who defend access to sexual and reproductive rights. But this is only for external action and the same thing is not done at the internal level, while some states within the EU have very strict legislation regarding the right to abortion.

Unfortunately, the European Union cannot do much more on this point because it is not part of the competences provided for by the treaties. What is being studied by the Commission, in particular with Poland, isthe question of access to European funds and making them conditional on the respect of certain fundamental rights. Abortion is not one of them, unlike the non-respect of the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

Gender Experts: The Generation Equality Forum, a global gathering for gender equality organized by UN Women and co-chaired by Mexico and France to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, is taking place this year. As the French segment of the Forum will take place from June 30 to July 2, what role do you think the European Union should play in this framework, particularly in terms of diplomacy and in its relations with the other States involved in the event?

Il est très compliqué pour l’UE d’avoir des positions communes sur les questions soulevées dans le cadre du Forum Génération Égalité car, au sein même de l’UE, il y a des États qui vont s’opposer à l’utilisation de termes comme « genre », « droits et santé sexuels et reproductifs », « LGBTQIA+ » etc. Ce qui serait bien, c’est que la Commission européenne ait une position un peu forte et une position de leader de défense des droits des femmes, notamment car, depuis 2019, la Commission est plus progressiste sur ces questions, et parce que cela reste très important politiquement.

This said, in my opinion, the EU is not in a very good position to give lessons because women’s rights are in decline in a number of European countries. It is a balance to be found between having a common position, especially on the issue of gender-based violence, to show that the EU is doing a very deep work on equality and because it has made efforts to advance equality within the Member States, and remaining humble, because in countries like Malta or Poland, the right to abortion is among the most limited. There are many setbacks also on LGBTQIA+ issues and countries opposed to the Istanbul Convention.

The EU has more legitimacy to take a position on certain subjects than on others, particularly in terms of economic justice, since equal pay is, for example, included in the founding treaties, even if this was not thought of with an objective of social progress. The obligation of paternity leave throughout the EU is also innovative, as is the fact of having salary transparency grids and strong legislative tools to fight against sexual harassment at work.