A push for a European Union with equality law

Dr Helena Dalli writes about the priorities she has been focusing on, as the first ever European Commissioner for Equality, to create the conditions for equality for everyone, regardless of differences based on gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

During my mandate as European Union Commissioner for Equality, I give great attention to the development of minimum legal standards that apply throughout the EU with the goal of creating a Union of Equality.

I do this regarding the implementation of five EU equality strategies which we adopted early in the mandate addressing gender equality, anti-racism, LGBTIQ equality, Roma inclusion, and disability rights.

Through a collaboration with Council and Parliament we have managed to secure legislation guaranteeing workers’ right to pay transparency through access to pay information that can be used to successfully challenge pay discrimination; gender balance on boards of listed companies where a minimum of 40% of non-executive director positions or 33% among directors must be held by members of the underrepresented sex; and standards for equality bodies (like NCPE and CRPD) in terms of independence, access to resources and the ability to prevent discrimination and provide reliable support to victims. We also secured the EU’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Recently, I was pleased to see agreements between the European Parliament and the Council on two further initiatives that I piloted, namely a directive tackling violence against women and domestic violence and another one for the setting up of an EU Disability Card.  

Violence against women and domestic violence

This Directive is the first comprehensive legal instrument at the EU level to tackle violence against women and domestic violence. It criminalises physical, psychological, economic, and sexual violence against women across the EU, including online.

Female genital mutilation as well as forced marriage will be criminalised as stand-alone crimes. 

Moreover, the most widespread forms of cyber-violence will be criminalised under the new rules, including the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (including deepfakes), cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, misogynous hate speech, and “cyber-flashing”.

No agreement was found on the criminalisation of rape based on lack of consent at Union level, as was proposed by the Commission. Nonetheless, the Directive includes prevention requirements including through the promotion of the central role of consent in sexual relationships and the adoption of measures to prevent rape.

This law also provides for measures to prevent all types of violence against women and domestic violence, and sets new standards for victims’ protection, support, and access to justice.

European Disability Card

Through this Directive, two new cards were introduced, namely the European Disability Card and the European Parking Card for persons with disabilities.

The roll out of these cards is in line with the EU’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the principles of equal opportunities and inclusion outlined in the European Pillar of Social Rights.  

I am pleased that persons with disabilities and civil society organisations linked to the Disability Platform played a key role in shaping this Directive. Their contributions, based on the European Disability Card pilot project experience, as well as insights from a public consultation, helped identify key issues and address the needs of persons with disabilities. 

In essence the law ensures that the European Disability Card will be recognised across the Union as proof of disability; provide European Parking Card holders with the same parking rights as domestic users; ensure that the cards are available in a physical format with digital features as well as they must be issued and renewed free of charge.   

Malta was a participant country in the pilot project and therefore the benefits of the Card are already familiar to several persons with disabilities. The biggest development following the entry into force of this law will therefore be that Maltese persons with disabilities will be able to use their cards in all EU countries and not only those that formed part of the pilot project.

I was grateful to know that the Maltese Government wants to implement the directive right away and be an early adopter. Its implementation will surely lead to greater accessibility and freedom of movement for persons with disabilities both within and outside our country.

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