The European Community has long placed equality between women and men at the forefront of social policy, and it is one of the European Union's founding values. It goes back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay for equal work became part of the Treaty of Rome. Since them, the European Community has been very active in approving legislation and related policies. The Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for such equality and prohibits sex discrimination.
EU intervention in the area reflects in part theoretical development of the concept of gender equality following debates and advances in the women’s movement and feminist thinking. For example, the definitions now extend beyond direct and intentional discrimination to include indirect discrimination, positive action, the rules on the burden of proof and the prohibition of victimisation. Furthermore, the area of concern now encompasses critical reviews of protective legislation on pregnancy, maternity, paternity and adoption leave, childcare and sexual harassment, as well as developments in equality law relating to access to employment, access to equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, working conditions, vocational training, pensions and social welfare.
The Women’s Charter
In March 2010, to mark the 15th anniversary of the declaration and platform for action adopted at the Beijing UN World Conference on Women and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Commission adopted the Women’s Charter, in which the Commission renewed its commitment to gender equality and to strengthening the gender perspective in all its policies.
EU Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015
Building on the Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010, as well as the European Pact for Gender Equality, the EU Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 spells out actions under five priority areas defined in the Women’s Charter, and one area addressing cross-cutting issues. For each priority area, key actions to stimulate change and achieve progress were adopted. Those actions follow the dual approach of gender mainstreaming (meaning the integration of the gender dimension in all policy areas) and specific measures. The Strategy represents the work programme of the European Commission on gender equality, aiming additionally to stimulate developments at national level and to provide the basis for cooperation with the other European institutions and with stakeholders.
European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020)
The European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020) was adopted by the EPSCO Council in March 2011. The Pact reaffirms the EU's commitments to closing gender gaps in employment, education and social protection, promoting better work-life balance for women and men and combating all forms of violence against women.
It urges action by the member states and the Union, by taking measures to:
- eliminate gender stereotypes, ensure equal pay for equal work and promote the equal participation of women in decision-making;
- improve the supply of affordable and high-quality childcare services and promote
- flexible working arrangements;
- strengthen the prevention of violence against women and the protection of victims, and focus on the role of men and boys in order to eradicate violence.
It also reaffirms the importance of integrating the gender perspective into all policies including external actions of the EU.