60 Years of Gender Equality in the EU

“Gender mainstreaming is not practices, with gender budgeting, gender impact assessment, and gender evaluation rarely implemented. But we do not have another 60 years to wait for the guarantee of the Treaty of Rome of equality to become reality. The guarantee of an equal Europe is in our hands and depends on us.”


Equality between women and men in the EU was established in 1957, by enshrining in the Treaty of Rome the principle of equal pay for equal work[i].

Despite legislative achievements at European and national level regarding equality of women and men before the law, despite numerous political commitments at all levels, equality between women and men is still not a reality in Europe in 2017; the EU remains only halfway towards achieving gender equality: the EU´s overall score on gender equality is 52.9 out of 100, having risen since 2005 1.6p, and thus showing almost no progress in the matter. The guarantee of equality, given to the women of Europe 60 years ago, has actually never really existed in reality.

What persists in reality is a gender pay gap that remains at 16.5% and, according to Eurostat, in some Member States this gap has in fact increased during the past 5 years. Obvious becomes the structural problem of direct discrimination against women by sectoral, occupational and work pattern gender segregation, structural inequalities in access to education and training, biased evaluation and pay systems, and stereotypes. The gender pay gap includes an hourly- wage pay gap, a position gap: even in the sectors dominated by women, men occupy the higher pay bracket, and an income- distribution gap.

The gender pension gap is at an alarming 40%. Even more worrying is the fact that in half of EU MS, the pension gap has increased and between 11-36% of women have no access to a pension. Due to austerity policies, women have been most affected by public sector cutbacks (in particular in areas such as education, health or social work) as they represent the 70% of work force in the sector. Nearly every third woman in the EU (32%) works part time, compared to 30% in 2005. Many pension schemes in the EU Member States still leave many women with only “derived rights” based on their husband’s employment record, with the consequence that the majority of older people living in poverty are women. Ensuring a better life for older women requires the individualisation of pension rights (and social security and taxation systems overall) to encourage women and men to engage in paid work, and thus earn individual economic security;

Gender Time gap/ Gender Care gap: on average in the EU, 77% of women, compared to only 24 % of men, do cooking and housework every day for at least 1 hour or more. Women continue to take a far greater responsibility in taking care of a family or other dependants. Inequality in time-sharing at home also extends to other social activities. In the majority of MS, men are more likely than women to participate in sporting, cultural or leisure activities outside the home. Eurofound illustrates the disproportionately higher time pressure that women face across the EU28, confirming that care responsibilities and unpaid domestic work are unevenly shared between women and men. Although these Time and Care gaps between women and men, better known as women’s ‘double burden’, have been factually documented for the past 60 years, caring for others in society continues to be institutionally and systemically supported as a biological female trait, a service offered ‘naturally’ by women to society, an ‘obligation’ of women to provide care. Male economic inactivity is considered unnatural, whereas economically inactive women are not always defined as ‘unemployed’ and may be defined as ‘housewives’. Many women and girls are cut, burned, beaten, raped and killed in order to be subjugated to traditional social stereotypes of women’s position and role in society, which includes remaining economically inactive in order to provide care and protect the living standards of their male partners and children.

Equal pay legislation, equal opportunities policy and relevant wage policies are not effective or adequate, if affordable, accessible and high-quality care structures for children, other dependents and people with additional support needs are not intrinsic components of the effort to close the pay gap. The governments, employers and trade unions own the problem and are responsible for its solution. The EU is responsible for not prioritising the closing of the gender gap, and is guilty of allowing Member States the option not to refer to specific measures aimed at reducing the pay gap in their Implementation Reports. There are no sanctions against Member States that do not progress with achieving equality targets.

Economic power remains the domain with the biggest gender gaps. While the share of women among board members has increased from 10% in 2005 to 23% in 2016, in 2015, of the biggest companies publicly listed in the EU only 4,3% of CEOs were women. In the finance sector, women are nearly absent in decision making. In 2014, only one of the 28 central bank governors was a woman, and there were only two women finance ministers in the EU. Broader public debate and awareness raising are needed to change the corporate culture. Long working hours and physical presence at work, combined with the practice of traditional masculine leadership styles and a lack of transparency in recruitment and promotion practices, advantage men and reinforce gender inequalities.

Furthermore, 1 in 3 women in the EU has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15, and half of all women in the EU avoid certain situations or places for fear of being assaulted. All European legal systems have an unequal legacy of male domination, with the laws historically enforcing men’s right to control women´s time, property and bodies. During the last 60 years, laws have proclaimed equality between women and men on paper, which means that now women have the right to control their own time, property and body – although with certain exceptions, as in some cases, the State maintains the right to control women´s bodies, with the objective of controlling humanity´s reproduction. In practice, the legacy and mentality of male domination/ ownership of women continues to be applied, with current legal systems in the EU maintaining non-individualisation of tax and social security systems, with women have derived rights through their relationship to men, including for access to health and pension services. Although equality between women and men is a principle of European and national laws, violence against women (VAW) is not automatically considered a substantive equality issue, as traditionally VAW is considered a private issue.  The majority of victims of violence and sexual abuse are women and the majority of perpetrators are men: this fundamental social gap requires immediate positive action in order to start being eliminated.

However, sexual and reproductive rights are not explicitly recognised as EU fundamental rights neither in legal texts nor in the Commission´s communications. Rise in right wing populism has brought strong support for return to the traditional values that reinforce the family model of the economically dependent wife/mother, without access to birth control.

In these times, the Commission downgrades the policy field of gender equality, withdraws the draft maternity leave directive, and has no plan to propose further legislation as per it work program. Gender mainstreaming is not practices, with gender budgeting, gender impact assessment, and gender evaluation rarely implemented. But we do not have another 60 years to wait for the guarantee of the Treaty of Rome of equality to become reality. The guarantee of an equal Europe is in our hands and depends on us.

[i] Article 119 EEC, then 141 EC, now Article 157 TFEU. In 1976, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided in the Defrenne case that Article 119 EEC had not only an economic but also a social aim. This judgment paved the way for modern European gender equality law. The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) stipulated that the promotion of equality between women and men was one of the EU’s fundamental tasks and introduced the principles of non-discrimination and gender mainstreaming. The principle of equality as a founding value of the EU was established in the Lisbon Treaty (articles 2,3 TEU and 8, 10 TFEU) and is featured in the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights (articles 23, 21). Since the Treaty of Rome, a series of EU laws (directives) broadened the principle of equality to cover working conditions, social security, access to goods and services, maternity protection and parental leave.


This post comes from a paper written by Georgia Tsaklanganos for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament


If you are interesting in contributing to this project of feminist reflection on the EU at 60, please see here for details.

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