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Gender Equality Index Puts Pressure on EU Governments

An index presented 25 June shows that the EU countries remain far from gender equal. The Nordic member states top the list, despite their still highly segregated labour markets.

Norden. Illustration Emma Hanquist
 Norden. Illustration Emma Hanquist

Sweden has the highest gender equality index in the EU, followed by Finland and Denmark. The index is presented by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) on behalf of the European Commission. The Nordic member states score well above the EU average in several areas.
‘Just because the Nordic countries are topping the list doesn’t mean they are gender equal. Instead it should be taken to indicate poor progress in many other countries,’ says Lenita Freidenvall, researcher at Stockholm University and secretary of the Swedish government’s commission on gender equality policy.

Lower lifelong earnings for women

The Nordic countries receive high scores in political representation, as the gap between women and men is relatively small in this area. However, great inequalities can still be found in domains related to employment and the labour market, and these inequalities are in turn closely connected to differences in the economic conditions women and men face across the lifespan, says Freidenvall. Although women work more than in the past and on average have higher levels of education than men, the gender salary gap has changed only marginally, she points out. In addition, women are underemployed to a greater extent than men and also take out most of the parental leave.
‘All of this in combination gives women lower lifetime earnings and therefore also lower pensions. This seems to be a problem in all Nordic countries.’

Gender segregation in Nordic working life

The lack of gender equality in working life can partly be attributed to gender-segregated labour markets, says Freidenvall. To find out how segregated the European labour markets are, EIGE has compared the shares of women and men who work in education, healthcare and social work. In Sweden, 43.4 per cent of the surveyed women work in these areas. For men, the figure is 11 per cent.
‘We find that women have increasingly entered the male-dominated occupations, but not vice versa,’ says Freidenvall.

The gender-segregated labour markets reduce the total score for the Nordic countries. Another factor is underrepresentation of women on company boards. Great inequalities can also be found in the distribution of unpaid care and domestic work. In Finland, 72 per cent of the women say they spend at least one hour a day doing domestic work. For Finnish men, the figure is 39 per cent. 

Big differences across EU countries

Lenita Freidenvall. Pressbild
 Lenita Freidenvall. Press photo

EIGE’s index is based on sex-disaggregated statistics from the year 2012. The conditions faced by women and men have been assessed in domains such as work, money, knowledge, time, power and health. Each country has then been assigned a series of scores based on the gap between women and men in the respective domains. The scores have then been converted to a total gender equality index for each country. An index of 100 implies perfect gender equality. Sweden tops the list with an index of 74.2, followed by Finland at 72.7 and Denmark at 70.9. The EU average is 52.9 and Romania is found at the bottom of the list with an index of 33.7.
‘The index reveals major differences in gender equality across the EU countries, and it’s impossible to suggest a solution that would work in all countries,’ says Freidenvall.
She thinks the index may help put pressure on the European national governments.
‘The data reveals the development over time and points to some dark spots. This will help the governments see which areas they need to focus on,’ she says.

Small changes since last update

This is the second time EIGE presents the index. Overall, the EU countries have become slightly more gender equal since last time the index was presented two years ago. Finland’s index has gone up somewhat, while the opposite is true for Denmark and Sweden.
‘You can’t blindly trust that the progress will continue. That’s an important lesson to learn. Nothing will happen without active efforts and political prioritisations,’ says Freidenvall.
But she stresses the need to also look beyond the gender dimension.
‘We also need to pay attention to differences within the female and male populations. For example, we need to look at the situation of immigrant women and their access to full-time employment and an income,’ she says.

The need to explore more factors than gender was also pointed out last time EIGE’s gender equality index was released, in 2010. Intersecting factors are presented to some extent in EIGE’s index, but those figures do not affect each country’s total score. The next update of the Gender Equality Index, in 2017, will provide a more detailed assessment of intersecting inequalities, according to this year’s report.

Updated 14 February 2024