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Cafébabel presents: Mind the Gap

Article published on March 8, 2016
Article published on March 8, 2016

Can we agree that in Europe, men and women have equal rights? Personally, I don't think so. "Mind the Gap" (cafébabel’s new column dedicated to women’s issues) will examine the prevailing disparities between men and women – as well as other social groups – utilising diverse, multifaceted stories from women all over Europe.

It happened at some point during the last few years. I can no longer remember when exactly. It may have been at a party or event, at work or during an evening with friends. I have no idea. What I do know is that, one decisive moment is what made me who I am today.

That is to say: a feminist.

You know, those people who just can’t keep quiet when the topic of conversation turns to equality. Quite honestly, I don’t have any problem with being a feminist. If someone refers to me using the term, I would take it as a compliment – at least people would know what I do or do not stand for.

Equality? Europe, we still have a way to go!

It may come as a surprise that many people still seem to believe that feminism is redundant and superfluous; that equality was in fact realised years ago! The general consensus is that contemporary women are liberated and independent. For example, there has been a significant increase in the number of stay-at-home fathers in recent years. Yes, it may be 2016, but let's face it – just because women in Europe have the freedom to choose a job without needing their husband's permission, it doesn't mean that gender inequality does not remain a point of contention. It does not in any way indicate that we have achieved equality.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • My body, my choice? Sadly, this is not always the case. In Ireland, abortions are only permitted if the expectant mother’s life is in danger. In Andorra, Malta and San Marino, there is a total ban on the practice. In Monaco, Liechtenstein and Poland, abortions are only deemed necessary is if there are indications of medical problems. The so-called "Morning After Pill" is not readily available everywhere in Europe: In Italy, it is only available by prescription – the doctor can also reject such prescriptions for reasons of conscience. Furthermore, in Hungary, the "Morning After Pill" cannot be purchased over the counter.

  • Equal pay for equal work? Not at all. Across Europe there is a wage gap between men and women, known as the "Gender Pay Gap" (GPG). This reflects the difference in gross hourly wages for men and women. Statistics show that in 2014, women earned 16% less than men.

  • Who runs the world? Girls! Unfortunately not, Beyoncé. The proportion of women MEPs stood at 36.9% in 2014. Within national parliaments the situation is even worse. The proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments in 2015 was, on average, 28%. 

  • No means no? Hardly. According to an EU study from 2014, 33% of women surveyed had experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 years. That's 62 million women! 22% of those women reported having suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence in a relationship. Within the 18-29 age group, 20% of women have been subjected to cyber-bullying on social media or in the form of emails and texts.

Plenty of disparities

There are of course numerous further examples for which the data cannot be so easily obtained. For example, the ubiquitous sexism inherent in everyday life, in the workplace and in the media.

Of course, women aren't the only ones who face discrimination: heterosexuality is deemed to be the "norm", with homo- and bi-sexuality considered to be "exceptions". Sexual orientation continues to be misunderstood. Transgender people, or other individuals who do not ascribe to the gender binary of exclusively male/female, face discrimination and misunderstanding, often defined in too simple a manner such as "a man who wants to become a women" or vice versa.

With regard to equality, there are disparities aplenty – real chasms between different social groups. The media has the power to tell diverse stories, to throw light on different experiences and to change the way that we speak about gender equality. "Mind the Gap" will be doing just that. You are invited to be a part of it.

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Julia Korbik (*1998) is convener and managing editor for the Mind the Gap project. She works as a freelance journalist and author in Berlin and writes predominantly about feminism, politics and culture. In 2014 her book Stand Up. Feminism for Beginners and beyond was published. (Rogner & Bernhard). Julia is Vice President of Babel Deutschland and an active member of the cafébabel Berlin team. Contact Julia at j.korbik@cafebabel.com.

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Mind the gapChanging the conversation about gender equality