Equality between women and men is one of the objectives of the European Union. Over time, legislation, case-law and changes to the Treaties have helped shore up this principle and its implementation in the EU. The European Parliament has always been a fervent defender of the principle of equality between men and women.
The principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in the European Treaties since 1957 (today: Article 157 TFEU). Besides, Article 153 TFEU allows the EU to act in the wider area of equal opportunities and equal treatment in matters of employment and occupation. Within this framework, Article 157 TFEU furthermore authorises positive action to empower women. In addition, Article 19 TFEU enables legislation to combat all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sex. Legislation against trafficking in human beings, in particular women and children, has been adopted on the basis of Articles 79 and 83 TFEU, and the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme finances, among others, measures contributing to the eradication of violence against women, based on Article 168 TFEU.
The European Union is founded on a set of values, including equality, and promotes equality between men and women (Articles 2 and 3(3) TEU). These objectives are also enshrined in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Besides, Article 8 TFEU gives the Union the task of eliminating inequalities and promoting equality between men and women through all its activities (this concept is also known as ‘gender mainstreaming’). The Union and the Member States have committed themselves, in Declaration No 19 annexed to the Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference which adopted the Treaty of Lisbon, ‘to combat all kinds of domestic violence […], to prevent and punish these criminal acts and to support and protect the victims’.
EU legislation, mostly adopted by the ordinary legislative procedure, includes:
The ECJ has played an important role in promoting equality between men and women. The most notable judgments have been:
Below is an overview of the most recent action taken by the EU in the field of equality between men and women.
The programme Rights, Equality and Citizenship finances projects aimed at achieving gender equality and ending violence against women (Article 4). Together with the Justice Programme (Regulation 2013/1382), it has been attributed EUR 15 686 million until 2020 (MFF Regulation 1311/2013) and consolidates six programmes of the 2007-2013 funding period, among them the Daphne III Programme (Decision 779/2007) and both the ‘Anti-discrimination and Diversity’ and ‘Gender Equality’ sections of the Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity (PROGRESS) (Decision 1672/2006/EC).
The annex thereto specifies that the promotion of gender equality will be funded together with other anti-discrimination measures under Group 1, to which a share of 57% of the financial allocations is attributed. Combating violence against women is included in Group 2, with 43% of the overall financial envelope of the programme.
For 2017, the budget line 33 02 02 (promoting non-discrimination and equality) has EUR 35 064 000 in commitment appropriations and EUR 24 000 000 in payments, which represents an increase in payments compared with 2015 or 2016 and means that the implementation of this programme is advancing. In addition, the budget line 33 02 01 has been allocated EUR 26 451 000 to contribute, among other objectives, to combating and protecting against all forms of violence against women.
A study published in autumn 2016 at the request of the FEMM committee provides an overview on the EU budget spent on gender equality in selected Member States.
In December 2006, the European Parliament and the Council established a European Institute for Gender Equality, based in Vilnius, Lithuania, with the overall objective of contributing to and boosting the promotion of gender equality, including gender mainstreaming in all EU and national policies. It also combats discrimination based on sex and raises awareness on gender equality by providing technical assistance to the European institutions through collecting, analysing and disseminating data and methodological tools (see the EIGE’s online Resource and Documentation Centre: http://eige.europa.eu/content/rdc).
On 5 March 2010, the Commission adopted the Women’s Charter with a view to improving the promotion of equality between women and men in Europe and throughout the world.
In December 2015, the Commission published the Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019  as a follow-up and prolongation of the Commission Strategy for equality between men and women (2010-2015).
The Strategic engagement focuses on the following five priority areas:
On 26 October 2015, the Council adopted the ‘Gender Action Plan 2016-2020’, based on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) Joint Staff Working Document on ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020’. The new Gender Action Plan stresses ‘the need for the full realisation of women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted on 25 September 2015 the resolution on the post-2015 development agenda entitled ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The 2030 Agenda entails 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 Targets, which came into force on 1 January 2016. The SDGs are built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, in contrast to the MDGs, which were intended for action in developing countries only, the SDGs apply to all countries. SDG 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ contains five Targets.
The European Parliament has played a significant role in supporting equal opportunity policies, in particular through its Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). In the area of equal treatment on the labour market, Parliament acts on the basis of the ordinary legislative procedure (codecision), for example regarding:
In addition, Parliament contributes to overall policy development in the area of gender equality through its own-initiative reports, and by drawing the attention of other institutions to specific issues, including:
Parliament is also seeking gender mainstreaming in the work of all its committees. To this end, two networks on gender mainstreaming have been established, which are coordinated by the FEMM committee. The network of Chairs and Vice-Chairs for Gender Mainstreaming brings together MEPs who support the introduction of a gender dimension into the work of their respective committees. They are supported by a network of Gender Mainstreaming Administrators in each committee secretariat. The High-Level Group on Gender Equality promotes training and awareness-raising about gender mainstreaming among the staff of the European Parliament and the political groups.
The recast directive also repeals Directive 76/207/EEC, which had been amended by Directive 2002/73/EC.
See: European Parliament resolution of 24 May 2012 with recommendations to the Council on application of the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value — Texts adopted, P7_TA(2012) 0225.
Commission Staff Working Document – Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 (SWD(2015) 0278).
The reflections on the next strategy started in September 2014 with a workshop entitled ‘A new strategy for gender equality post-2015’, which launched the preparation of the FEMM committee’s own-initiative report leading to the adoption of Parliament’s resolution of 9 June 2015 on the EU Strategy for equality between women and men post-2015 (Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015) 0218). The contributions to the workshop are available on the European Parliament’s website.
Council Conclusions on the Gender Action Plan 2016-2020, 26 October 2015.
21.9.2015, SWD(2015) 0182.
Resolution 70/1 adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2015.
European Parliament resolution of 20 October 2010 on improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding — Texts adopted, P7_TA(2010) 0373.
For a comparative analysis of the legal provisions in the Member states, please see the European Parliament’s Policy Department Citizens Rights and Constitutional Affairs report ‘Maternity, paternity and parental leave: data related to duration and compensation rates in the European union’ published in 2014, available on the European Parliament’s website.