Gender segregation in education: setback to achieving gender equality in EU

9 November 2021

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown implemented by most governments continue to exacerbate gender inequality. According to the data released by the Gender Equality Index 2021 on 28 October 2021, the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis will last longer for women especially in the field of work-life balance. Care duties increased for all parents, but the impact is huge on women and lone mothers especially with the shift to digital learning which expanded the existing gender inequalities and unpaid care adding to women’s mental load.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) launched the results of the Gender Equality Index 2021, the research that measures the progress of gender equality in the EU, showing the gender equality trends in the domain of work, money, knowledge, power, time spent in social activities and care, health and violence. With a score of 68 out of 100, we see a slight increase of 0.6 points since last year’s score. This reveals that there is still a lot of progresses needed to achieve gender equality. Narrowing down to country data, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark are Europe’s top performance this year while, Greece, Romania and Hungary continue to struggle the most. Additionally, Luxembourg, Lithuania and the Netherlands progressed the most due to improvements in the gender balance on company boards.

The 2021 Gender Equality Index focuses on the link between health and gender equality. Evidence shows that, since the pandemic began and until March 2021, only 1 in 4 ministers in the EU were women. This situation creates a risk of leaving women’s voice and needs out of the policy planning to address the pandemic. Other data reveal that restrictions on mobility and increased isolations exposed women to a higher risk of partner violence during lockdown wherein, legal and support systems were also shattered making it impossible to seek help. The report also highlights the progress needed towards gender equality in education. Although, education attainment is progressing among young women and men, improvement is limited due to persistent gender segregation in higher education and low participation in life-long learning.

Gender segregation in education continues to hinder gender equality in the EU with no progress in the domain of knowledge, since 2010 and a fallout score by 0.4 points in 2019. The main challenges for women in the labour market are related to segregation in the sectors of occupation, part-time and fixed-term contracts, as well as the gender pay gap and disproportionate responsibility for unpaid domestic and caring work. The closure of schools and children services during the pandemic reinforced inequality in education and unpaid work as well as, mental health consequences. The transformation to digital learning created a digital divide in learning and working conditions especially for families from lower social economic background who lack digital tools, and further exacerbated their work-life balance. Education trade unions fear that the current situation risks further disrupting the work-life balance of women education workers, who will have to juggle the increased workload of distance teaching with greater emotional and domestic labour in the home.

The report underlines that, across the EU, increased time spent on unpaid care activities led to acute-work-life tensions especially for women. The power imbalance between men and women in society highlights that women’s voices are not heard enough as Europe navigates the COVID-19 outbreak. Women education workers are more likely to be placed on temporary unemployment schemes with lower remuneration and risk losing their jobs altogether. This is due to the large share of women being more often responsible for family care which prevents them from reskilling and taking upskilling opportunities. Tackling gender inequalities in the domain of knowledge not only benefits gender-balanced learning and careers but also health through affecting behaviour e.g. use of preventive health services.

Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director voiced the concern that “The COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled the tremendous work of women in the teaching profession. Yet, women do not receive the recognition for all their work. Education authorities and school leaders must ensure that the different needs of women and men are considered in the implementation of measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The ETUCE Action Plan on Gender Equality clearly defines these challenges and highlights the importance of improving the work-life balance for education personnel. Gender equality has always been at the forefront of ETUCE’s work on equal opportunities”.

To read more about the Gender Equality Index 2021 click here.