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European Equality Law Network

European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination

Workshop – The gendered impact of COVID-19 by Alexandra Timmer and Birte Böök

The first part of the workshop was based on an article written by the coordinating team of the EELN’s gender stream for the European Equality Law Review. First a mapping was provided of the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had and will continue to have on women in particular. It focused on three key areas in which the impact of the pandemic on gender equality in the EU is felt particularly strongly: the increase in gender-based violence, the difficulties women face in relation to work-life balance during the crisis, women’s participation and women in decision-making and leadership positions. The findings of this initial mapping gave an overview of national responses to the crisis so far, and discussed the legal obligations contained in the EU gender equality law acquis, as well as the aims embodied in the new EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.

Important potential strategies were elaborated for legal and policy action to counteract the negative impact of the crisis on gender equality in Europe in the three key areas mentioned above. Both the shorter (emergency) term and the longer term were addressed. A key question in the conclusions was what is needed for the promotion of gender-sensitive policy responses. The presentation gave three crucial elements for this: include women of all backgrounds in discussing crisis responses, adopt measures for enhanced participation and ensure effective implementation of the gender mainstreaming principle.

The second part of the workshop, also based on an article written for the European Equality Law Review, was dedicated to a presentation by David Oppenheimer on the situation in the United States relating to the problem of systemic racism intersecting with gender inequality, the impact of COVID-19 on older people, the healthcare system and the economic impact on vulnerable groups.

Presentation Alexandra Timmer, Birte Böök and David Oppenheimer Workshop The gendered impact of COVID-19 (WEBM)

Powerpoint Alexandra Timmer, Birte Böök and David Oppenheimer Workshop The gendered impact of COVID-19 (PDF)

Workshop – Algorithmic discrimination by Janneke Gerards and Rapaële Xenidis

The basis for this workshop was the report written for the network by Janneke Gerards and Raphaële Xenidis. In the report the authors identify what gaps and weaknesses arise from the interaction between (1) the specific types of discrimination produced by algorithmic decision-making systems and (2) the particular material and personal scope of the existing legislative framework.

In the workshop presentation it was first explained what algorithms are and what algorithmic discrimination is, how algorithms work and what challenges they pose in the context of gender equality and non-discrimination law. Examples were given where cognitive bias (often unintentional) resulted in biased design of algorithms and/or feeding the algorithms with biased data. Addressing the question of whether the current EU gender equality and non-discrimination legislative framework can adequately respond to the challenges of algorithmic discrimination, the current shortcomings in EU gender equality and non-discrimination law were described. Subsequently, an overview was given of the examples of algorithmic discrimination and related challenges identified by the network’s national experts in gender equality law that served as input for the report. An important finding is that challenges are often identified by national policy makers, academics and others, but that legislative response is quite limited, which is not surprising since national equality and non-discrimination law is a mirror image of EU law. However, legal solutions and accompanying policy measures and good practices that exist at EU and Member State level are detailed in the report. Nevertheless, the conclusion was that protection against algorithmic discrimination needs to be enhanced by a triangular approach of law, technology and knowledge.

Presentation Janneke Gerards and Raphaële Xenidis Workshop Algorithmic discrimination (WEBM)

Presentation Janneke Gerards and Raphaële Xenidis Workshop Algorithmic discrimination (PDF)

Workshop – Indirect sex discrimination in employment by Jule Mulder

Workshop – Indirect sex discrimination in employment

The basis for this workshop is the thematic report written for the network by Jule Mulder. In the report and her presentation Jule looks at indirect discrimination through two lenses: 1) how the concept of indirect sex discrimination and its requirements are conceived by the CJEU, and 2) the way it is applied by the Member States. Regarding the latter, the report and presentation highlight interesting approaches and specific difficulties to illustrate the concept’s practical application and the challenges with its application. Jule notes that national courts and the CJEU should explore the more progressive potential of indirect sex discrimination law, and clarify the specific scope of indirect sex discrimination law and the potential disadvantages that can be recognised and remedied under it. The current definition of indirect sex discrimination can be used more effectively to consider systemic disadvantages beyond the narrow scope that often hinders the recognition of disadvantages within the segregated labour market and the new economies. Last but not least, enhancement of qualitative/ quantitative reasoning will assist in establishing the prima facie cases of indirect sex discrimination.

Powerpoint Jule Mulder Workshop Indirect sex discrimination in employment (PDF)

Workshop – Sexual orientation discrimination outside the labour market by Peter Dunne

In this workshop Peter Dunne presented and explored the findings of a thematic report he has written for the network on sexual orientation non-discrimination rights outside the labour market. In his presentation Peter described current Member State (and UK) protections against sexual orientation discrimination in four key areas: social protection, social advantages, education and access to and the supply of goods and services. He acknowledged welcome progress and models of good practice, but also highlighted critical areas of concern, including key legislative gaps, topics of political sensitivity and the absence of case law. However, he also concluded that, despite important progress, many challenges remain for lesbian, gay and bisexual people outside the labour market. He recommended that national policy makers, when deciding in favour of relationship recognition (a national discretionary power), include the equality dimensions of such recognition as a factor in their deliberations, with the aim of providing safeguards for all couples to enjoy basic safety and security, irrespective of sexual orientation.

Presentation Peter Dunne Workshop Sexual orientation discrimination outside the labour market (WEBM)

Powerpoint Peter Dunne Workshop Sexual orientation discrimination outside the labour market (PDF)

Workshop – Age discrimination outside the employment field by Elaine Dewhurst and Nena Georgantzi

The basis for this workshop is the thematic report written for the network by Elaine Dewhurst, Senior Lecturer in Employment Law at the University of Manchester [link to the report on the website]. Summarising the main findings of her report, Elaine provided an analysis of the current law at regional and national level within the EU on the issue of age discrimination in the fields of social protection, education, housing, healthcare and access to goods and services. In her conclusions she said that there is a gap in protection regarding age discrimination which needs to be filled, but the gap is small in real terms and that five key recommendations (included in her report) can resolve many of the issues at stake. Last but not least: law will not achieve this alone – policy is central to effective planning and implementation of the (age) equality agenda.

Subsequently, the workshop moved on to a presentation by Nena Georgantzi, policy coordinator on human rights and non-discrimination at AGE Platform Europe, who first addressed the key challenges with regard to age discrimination in the fields of social protection, health, education, housing, credit and financial services. She explained what the issues are with ageism (“ageism” refers to assumptions we make about people because of their age). So ageism starts with stereotypes and it makes inequalities suffered by older people seem natural or inevitable. In her conclusions she underlined the importance of the adoption of the EU Horizontal Directive, but without the loopholes of (too many) exceptions with regard to age discrimination. Alongside this she called for awareness-raising and education to combat ageism, because ageism is so prevalent in society, but also among legal professionals. She asked for more EU policy focus on age equality: whereas there are EU Strategies for disability, gender and race, there is none for age. Finally, she put forward the idea of a UN Convention on age discrimination, referring to the impact on EU and national legal protection of people with disabilities due to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Presentation Elaine Dewhurst and Nena Georgantzi Workshop Age discrimination outside the employment field (WEBM)

Powerpoint Elaine Dewhurst Workshop Age discrimination outside the employment field (PDF)

Powerpoint Nena Georgantzi Workshop Age discrimination outside the employment field (PDF)

Workshop – Update on European case law by Colm O’Cinneide

This year’s edition of this recurring workshop heard a presentation by Colm O’Cinneide, Professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law at University College London (UCL). He discussed recent developments in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the field of non-discrimination and gender equality, presenting a selection of recent important judgments and their impact on national equality and anti-discrimination legislation and case law. At the end of his presentation he concluded that there is interesting CJEU jurisprudence on the right to an effective remedy, that gender roles remain a developing area of CJEU jurisprudence and that the ECtHR Article 14 jurisprudence is increasingly developed, dynamic (and controversial). He also noted that the relatively smaller amount of CJEU case law relating to the EU non-discrimination directives may not be a sign that these cases are drying up, but rather a sign of the maturation of the case law. Participants subsequently put forward their observations and questions, initiating a lively chat and discussion.

Presentation Colm O’Cinneide Workshop Update CJEU and ECtHR case law (WEBM)

Powerpoint Colm O’Cinneide Workshop Update CJEU and ECtHR case law (PDF)

Keynote speech from Nils Muižnieks director for the Europe regional office Amnesty International

The seminar participants were subsequently treated to an inspiring keynote address on gender equality delivered by Nils Muižnieks, Director for the Europe Regional Office of Amnesty International and former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In his speech Nils first countered those downplaying the importance of gender equality and the claim of sceptics that gender equality has largely been achieved. In his view these sceptics ignore the massive backlash that is building around the world. He gave numerous examples of powerful opponents and opposition to furthering the idea of gender equality and the support of women’s rights, which goes hand-in-hand with opposition to LGBTIQ rights. Such opposition culminates in his view in the current opposition to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, with various European governments threatening to withdraw from the Convention or refusing to finalise the ratification procedure. During his time as Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks encountered the usual tactics employed to evade substantial arguments. Firstly, a denial of the reality of domestic violence, secondly, downplaying its gendered nature and thirdly, justifying it as a “family affair” where the state has no role.

By giving various examples he demonstrated the intersection of the rule of law and women’s rights. Referring to various important rulings by constitutional courts in EU Member States, he underpinned his thesis that the issue of gender equality and women’s rights is an important test case for the independence and professionalism of constitutional courts in the Member States. He gave examples of negative, but also positive cases of rulings by constitutional courts. He concluded that the vastly diverging case law of European constitutional courts on gender equality in general but the Istanbul convention in particular could threaten not only the position of women, but also the rule of law. Ending on a positive note, he gave various encouraging examples of the influence of people’s and in particular women’s power to curb the backsliding trend in gender equality and the recognition of women’s rights, stating that women’s rights activists deserve our support.

Nils Muižnieks – director of the Europe regional office Amnesty International – former Commissioner of Human Rights Council of Europe (WEBM)

Video message from the Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli

Next the participants viewed a video message from the Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. Commissioner Dalli underlined that equality is a key priority for the Commission, referring to the establishment of a task force within the Commission to mainstream equality in EU policies and to coordinate major initiatives and ensure EU policy coherence. She stated that, despite legislative and policy efforts in the past, people continue to suffer from discrimination and exclusion in our European societies, noting that COVID-19 has hit marginalised groups harder than mainstream groups, that black people face many types of discrimination, including in the field of employment, that Roma are still suffering from segregation and that women earn less for the same work than male colleagues.

Helena Dalli – Commissioner for Equality European Commission (WEBM)

Welcome on behalf of the European Commission by Karen Vandekerckhove

The participants were welcomed on behalf of the European Commission by Karen Vandekerckhove, Head of the Gender Equality Unit of DG Justice and Consumers. In her speech she highlighted several recent Commission initiatives and successes, among others the Work-life Balance Directive which entered into force in August 2019. She also reiterated the European Commission’s strong commitment to seeing the EU become party to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Noting that more than ten years have passed since the draft EU Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive, she underlined the fact that the Commission is more committed than ever to seeing this Directive adopted. Last but not least, she stressed the importance of the decision by the European Commission to appoint, for the first time ever, a Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, who has among her responsibilities the development of the new Gender Equality Strategy and binding measures for pay transparency.

Karen Vandekerckhove – European Commission Head of Unit (WEBM)

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