The Parliament’s fight for gender equality in the EU  

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash  

Find out how the EU and the European Parliament fight to protect women's rights and to improve gender equality at work, in politics and other areas.

What does the EU do to tackle inequalities?

Since its start, the European Union has used any policies and any measures needed in order to promote gender equality and create a more social Europe.

The EU has adopted legislation, issues recommendations, exchanges and good practices and provides funding to support action by member states. The concepts of EU gender equality policy were shaped by European Court of Justice rulings. The European Parliament regularly adopts own initiative reports on gender issues, calling for more efforts to improve gender equality.

The European Parliament has always been very active on achieving equality between men and women and has a standing committee dedicated to women's rights and gender equality. Every year, Parliament marks International Women’s Day on 8 March and raises awareness by organising events.

In December 2020, MEPs called for the establishment of a new Council format where ministers and secretaries of state in charge of gender equality would meet. MEPs hope that such a new Council configuration would help advance important gender equality initiatives, such as the ratification of the Istanbul convention on combating violence against women.

Parliament adopted a resolution to assess the progress made in women’s rights over the past 25 years and the many challenges still ahead in February 2021. MEPs expressed concern with the backlash in some EU countries and the risk that gender equality could further slip down their agenda. Parliament also called on the European Commission to ensure that women’s rights are taken into account in all its proposals, to develop concrete plans to improve women’s poverty rates and to strengthen efforts to close the gender pay gap.

Check out our timeline of the EU's fight for women's rights

Gender equality at work

In 2019, the EU approved new rules on  family and care-related leave and more adaptable working conditions, to create more incentives for fathers to take family-related leave and to increase women’s employment rate.

EU legislation on gender equality in the work place: 
  • rules on employment (incl. equal pay, social security, working conditions and harassment) 
  • rules on self-employment 
  • rights to maternity, paternity and parental leave 

Parliament also called for concrete measures to narrow the gender pay gap - the difference between what men and woman are paid for the same work - which in the EU was an average of 14.1% in 2019 and the pension gap - the difference in pension income that men and women get - which stood at 29.5% in 2018. It also called for measures to tackle female poverty, as women are more likely to live in poverty than men.

Women are underrepresented in Europe’s digital sector, as they are less likely to take up studies or apply for a job in this field. In a resolution adopted in 2018, MEPs called on EU countries to put in place measures to ensure the full integration of women into ICT sectors, as well as foster education and training in ICT, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Read more on the definition and causes of the gender pay gap

In a resolution adopted in February 2021, Parliament called for progress on the proposed rules that would ensure at least 40% of non-executive members on company boards are women. The Commission made the proposal in 2012, but the member states in the Council have not been able to find agreement.

Preventing violence against women

The EU is tackling violence against women in various ways. Parliament has repeatedly called for a EU strategy strengthening policies in this area. It also wants to conclude EU accession to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention and for it to be ratified by all EU countries.

Parliament has also drawn attention to the need to combat specific forms of violence, including sexual harassment, trafficking, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, cyberstalking and online violence.

In 2014, the Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Congolese gynaecologist Dr Denis Mukwege for dedicating his life to helping thousands of victims of gang rape and brutal sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and for fighting for women’s dignity, justice and peace in his country.

In February 2021, MEPs urged the Commission to come up with a proposal for an EU directive that will prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence. In the EU, 33% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence and 55% of women have been sexually harassed.

From migration policy to EU trade

Parliament has repeatedly called on the European Commission to increase consistency between gender equality policies and other policies, such as those covering trade, development, agriculture, employment and migration.

In a resolution adopted in 2016, members called for a set of EU-wide gender guidelines as part of wider reforms on migration and asylum policy.

In a report adopted in 2018, MEPs called for climate change measures to take into account the role of women as well as action to empower them and protect the most vulnerable.

All EU trade agreements must include binding and enforceable provisions to ensure respect for human rights, including gender equality, according to a resolution adopted in 2018.

Women in politics

The Parliament has repeatedly highlighted the importance of gender equality in politics, promoting women's equal participation in decision-making processes at all levels.

In a report adopted in January 2019, Parliament called on European political parties to ensure both women and men are put forward for the bodies governing the European Parliament in the ninth parliamentary term. In the new Parliament, which officially started in July 2019, there are more women than ever, accounting for 41% of MEPs, up from 36.5% at the end of the previous term.

Check out our infographics on women in the European Parliament

Gender equality and the Covid-19 pandemic

The Parliament is worried that the Covid-19 crisis intensifies existing gender inequalities. The pandemic may have a long-term impact, because it could potentially push an additional 47 million women and girls below the poverty line worldwide. In addition, women are at the Covid-19 frontline - out of the 49 million healthcare workers in the EU, 76% are women. The pandemic has also affected sectors of the economy where traditionally more women have been employed, such as hospitality, nursery and domestic work.

Read facts and figures about Covid-19's impact on women