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Gender equality issues continue to persist, says justice minister

Justice minister, Anna Procopiou, gender equality, presentation
Justice Minister Anna Procopiou at a press conference evaluating the government’s national action plan aimed at ensuring equality between men and women

Despite years of efforts to ensure gender equality, there are still major hurdles such as underreported sexual harassment, the fact that contraception is not available for free, and the wage gap.

The slew of findings were presented during a press conference evaluating the government’s national action plan between 2019 to 2023, aimed at ensuring equality between men and women.

“The progress that has been made since the first national action plan for equality was drawn up in 2007 to date on gender equality issues, is admittedly great,” Justice Minister Anna Procopiou told attendees.

She highlighted that although Cyprus has made leaps in achieving gender equality, there is still a long way to go to breakdown stereotypes that uphold the patriarchy.

Academic and co-director of the Unesco Chair for Gender Equality at the University of Cyprus Dr Alexia Panayiotou who presented the findings said there have been nine allegations of violation of maternity legislation and 19 allegations of sexual harassment in the past five years.

Nonetheless, although she heralded the labour ministry for doing “an excellent job” on educating the public on the law, members of the public are still underreporting, as they do not know where to turn to.

To this end, workers’ unions can play a key role in informing employees, Panayiotou added.

She added that where women’s entrepreneurship is concerned, only 60 per cent of funds were used for schemes available at the energy, commerce and industry. In 2021. the scheme was changed to “young entrepreneurship”, which does not include gender criteria.

Gender Equality Commissioner Josie Christodoulou underlined: “Women and men have biological differences, which should be taken into account when designing legislation, policies, actions and measures, while men and women should participate equally in the decision-making process, free from gender stereotypes and prejudices.”

Panayiotou also highlighted that women make up the majority of low paid employees (earning up to €1,499), and men dominate those who earn €6,000 per month, while the average salary for men is €2,217 and for women €1,884.

She underscored the importance of non-sexist language and the role the media can play, adding there should be strict compliance penalties when such language is used.

Panayiotou also address the broader problems identified such as lack of coordination and cooperation between departments and ministries, something she specified is expected to be addressed with the coordinating role of gender equality commissioner.

She also said that difficulties such as understaffing, and bureaucracy makes tackling issues more difficult.

Among the suggestions are the need for a coordinating body, better public information, the need to involve local government, more emphasis on areas that influence and shape the culture of citizens and the linking of good practices and measures to achieve gender equality by businesses, organisations and parties.

Procopiou underlined over the past decades important legislation has been enacted which guarantees the right to equal treatment in employment and equal pay for work of equal value, while fully safeguarding the right to motherhood, fatherhood and parenthood more broadly.

The adoption of legislation to prevent and combat sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination at work is also considered important, she stressed.

Many improvements have also been made through the modernisation of family law legislation, with the operation of the institution of mediation in family disputes being a particularly important development.

These laws are complemented by a range of policies and measures promoting the reconciliation of family and professional life, the expansion of the childcare and elderly care network, the further narrowing of the pay and pension gap, the training and reintegration of women into the labour market and the strengthening of youth and women’s entrepreneurship, Procopiou noted.

Progress has also been made in preventing and combating all forms of violence against women in all aspects of public and private life. Following the ratification of the international Istanbul Convention, significant legislative and institutional changes have been made, which have further enhanced the level of safety and protection of women victims of all forms of gender and domestic violence, she specified.

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