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Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Report on equality between women and men, 2004

/* COM/2004/0115 final */
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Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Report on equality between women and men, 2004 /* COM/2004/0115 final */



The European Spring Council of 20-21 March 2003 invited "the Commission to prepare, in collaboration with the Member States, an annual report to the European Spring Council on developments towards gender equality and orientations for gender mainstreaming of policy areas". This report responds to that request.

Equality between women and men has been one of the fundamental principles of the European Union since the very beginning. Over the last few decades, equal treatment legislation has grown to form a coherent legal framework and is now a firmly established integral part of the 'acquis communautaire' that old and new Member States must respect. It has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in promoting equal participation in the labour market. It has also had an important and continuous impact on the framework for equal opportunities in the Member States.

The need to fully utilise the productive potential of the European labour force is key to achieving the overall Lisbon strategy goals of becoming by 2010 " the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". The promotion of women's participation in the labour market and efforts, aiming at eliminating gender gaps in all spheres of life are crucial for success.

The recent economic slowdown has slightly increased the EU 15 unemployment rate, with women still facing higher unemployment rates compared to men. At the same time employment rates have continued to increase, in particular for women, but at a much lower pace than in preceding years. Positive trends are evident, such as narrowing gaps between women and men in employment, education and research and an increase of women in managerial and professional jobs. However, major barriers to achieving equality between women and men still remain. Reinforced monitoring and assessment is essential. In this respect the indicators developed in the Council, within the framework of the follow-up of the Beijing Platform for Action, provide a solid base.

Societal patterns have changed over the last twenty years away from a male breadwinner model to dual-earner families. Young women now remain in education or initial vocational training for longer, in the same way men do. Yet, women still find it difficult to reconcile family responsibilities with full-time employment. In this context the provision of care facilities for children and other dependants will present major challenges for the European society.

This report gives an overview of progress made so far regarding to the status of women and men in main policy areas and addresses key challenges for the further promotion of equality between women and men.


In the past decade developments towards equality between women and men are evident in the EU. Some convergence is also noticeable in the acceding countries. Economic growth and general progress in society have made these developments possible. Changes have not happened automatically, but as a result of strategic policy initiatives to promote equality between women and men at EU and national level. However, success in promoting equality and narrowing gender gaps in policy fields, such as employment, social inclusion, education, research and external relations, differs over time and between Member States and significant gender gaps still exist in most policy fields.

The Community acquis in equal treatment has been continuously developed through the amended treaties as well as subsequent Directives. This legislation and judgements of the Court of Justice in the field of equal treatment have grown to form a substantial and important pillar within the framework of Citizens' individual rights in the European Union. Equal treatment legislation has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in the socio-economic context, by creating a floor of equal rights granted to all, irrespective of gender. It is a prerequisite for the EU to succeed in reaching the objectives for sustainable economic development and growth as formulated at Lisbon and Gothenburg.

In the last few decades, there have been major changes in education enrolment in Europe. Women now outnumber men in upper secondary and tertiary education in most Member States and the acceding countries and they represent the majority of graduates in the European Union (55%). At the highest level of education the traditional pattern remains. 39% of all PhDs in the EU were awarded to women and 61% to men in 2000. Men are more likely than women to drop out of upper secondary education without successfully completing a programme of study (men 20%, women 16% [1]). Although the gender gaps in education enrolment converge, women's and men's choices of areas of study still show traditional gender stereotyped patterns, - in 2001, the EU average of graduate women was 36% in the fields of Sciences, Mathematics and Informatics, and 21% in the fields of Engineering, Buildings and Construction -, which are transferred into the labour market, contributing to persistent sex-segregation.

[1] Eurostat, LFS, 2003

The European Employment Strategy has contributed to bringing gender equality to the policy agenda and provided a tool for tackling the gender gaps in the labour market. The new Employment Guidelines require reinforced efforts by Member States. The use of Structural Funds, and in particular the European Social Fund, has had a catalysing effect for national policies on gender equality, by providing financial support for the implementation of the European Employment Strategy and the Social inclusion process.

Women's employment rates have increased more than men's, standing now at 55.6%, compared to less than 50% in the first half of 1990s but the gap between women and men in employment remains very high (17.2 percentage points). Women with low level of education and older women continue to show lower employment rates. This is also the case for women with small children who have on average a lower employment rate of 12.7 percentage points compared to women without children. On the other hand men with children show 9.5 percentage points higher employment rates than men without children [2]. Recent estimates for employment rates [3] show that in 2005 in some Member States, the employment rate of women is likely to remain considerably below the 60% Lisbon target. Continued efforts are needed if the EU as a whole is to reach the target by 2010. This might be the case in countries with an employment rate for women below 50% (EL, ES, IT) and below 55% (BE and LU).In an enlarged Europe the employment gap between women and men will become less pronounced (16.3 p.p.), but this is mainly due to lower male employment rates in the acceding countries rather than in the current EU.

[2] Women and men in the age group 20-50 years Source: Eurostat, LFS, 2002

[3] The projections are the outcome of a forecasting exercise using the Commission's 2003 Autumn Forecasts

After a period of decreasing unemployment rates and a slight decline of the gap between women and men, unemployment rates began to rise again in mid-2001 and continued to do so in 2002 and 2003. However, although the gap in unemployment rates between women and men has continued to fall the gap is still significant (1.8 percentage points in 2003). Women continue to be more vulnerable to unemployment and economic inactivity [4] than men, in particular women with a low level of education and older women. In the acceding countries unemployment rates are almost twice as high as in the EU but unemployment gaps tend to be lower.

[4] As defined in Eurostat, LFS

The gender pay gap is still 16% on average in the EU and has hardly changed in recent years. The pay gap is significantly higher in the private sector than in the public sector. Differences in labour market participation, sex segregation, career and wage structures and the relative under-evaluation of female-dominated employment account for a large part of the gap. In recent years, the gender pay gap has taken on a higher profile within the Member States. Some countries have taken significant steps forward in recognising the link between labour-market segregation and the gender pay gap, and have started to implement policies in this regard.

Despite this, sex segregation in the labour market has hardly changed in the last few years, staying at around 25% for occupational segregation [5] and 18% for sectoral segregation [6]. Women dominate in sectors such as health care and social services, education, public administration and retailing, while a disproportionate number of men work as technicians, engineers, finance professionals and managers. As a result of women's increased qualifications there were more women entering high-level professional and managerial jobs during the 1990s in 10 out of the 15 Member States [7]. However, men are still about twice as likely as women to be in managerial positions and over three times as likely to be senior managers [8]. Women are also still under-represented in the European scientific workforce (30% of researchers are women in the public sector and 15% in industrial research) [9]

[5] calculated as the average national share of employment for women and men applied to each occupation; differences are added up to produce a total amount of gender imbalance presented as a proportion of total employment (ISCO classification)

[6] calculated as the average national share of employment for women and men applied to each sector; differences are added up to produce a total amount of gender imbalance presented as a proportion of total employment (NACE classification)

[7] Eurostat, LFS

[8] Eurostat, LFS 2000

[9] She figures, EC, 2003

There is a persisting imbalance of women and men in decision-making positions at EU and national level. The acceding countries show the same pattern. Slow progress is under way in political decision-making and 10 Member States now have legal provisions in their Constitutions or in Gender Equality Acts on a balanced participation of women and men.

Women still do the majority work in the home and for the family. This has an impact on their work patterns and limits their opportunities to take up occupations that are comparable to the average occupations of men. Women's interrupted patterns of employment, and the over-representation of women in part-time and most non-standard jobs can have negative effects on their career, wages and pensions. The lower wage income for women combined with the effects of taxation and benefits can lead to lower incentives for them to engage in paid employment. This can particularly be the case for women with small children.

By identifying a target for childcare services, the Barcelona European Council reinforced the high attention already paid to the reconciliation policy in the European Employment Strategy. The Member States have accordingly devoted quite a lot of policy efforts to improving the availability of childcare provisions. However, hardly any concrete measures have been taken to improve care for other dependants.

There has been an increased focus on reconciliation as part of employment policy and improved parental leave arrangements. A few Member States are implementing policies to encourage fathers to take parental leave, for example through the right to take leave on a part-time or split basis or through a specific right to paternity leave. These efforts have so far met with little success. The traditional division of care and paid work between women and men persists.

The obstacles faced by women and men, and the differences between them, in access to employment are enhanced in low-income groups. Whilst the majority of the working poor are men, women form the majority of economically inactive persons [10] and are thus particularly vulnerable to fall into the poverty trap. Without independent incomes, women face tremendous financial difficulties when confronted with family breakdowns and domestic violence. Women are also more vulnerable to poverty when older or living alone with children. 35% [11] of single parents, mainly women, live in poverty.

[10] Joint Inclusion Report - 2003 Eurostat data 2001; among the low income group (under 60% median income thresholds) 26% are employed (16% men, 10% women) and 36% are inactive (8.5% men, 27.5% women)

[11] Eurostat, ECHP UDB version December 2003

Domestic violence is an assault on the victim's right to life, safety, freedom and dignity and an expression of an imbalance of power between women and men. It has been identified as a risk for women of social exclusion in the National Action Plans on Social Inclusion. In the year 2000, the Daphne Programme 2000-2003 [12] was introduced, representing a symbolically important programming tool against violence. Major steps forward were achieved in 2002, when the Member States agreed on a set of indicators on domestic violence against women, developed within the framework of the follow-up of the Beijing Platform for Action.

[12] Decision No.293/2000/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 January 2000 adopting a programme of Community action (the Daphne Programme) (2000 to 2003) on preventive measures to fight violence against children, young persons and women, OJ L34 of 9.2.2000, p. 1.


This report confirms a positive trend towards narrowing the gaps between women and men in several policy areas. However, progress is too slow and enhanced efforts are needed to meet the Lisbon strategy targets. Member States are committed to achieving a substantial reduction in gender gaps in employment rates, unemployment rates and pay by 2010. This is confirmed by the new guidelines of the European Employment Strategy.

Inequality between women and men is a multidimensional phenomenon that has to be tackled by a comprehensive mix of policy measures. The challenge is to ensure policies that support equal opportunities for women and men in education, employment and career development, entrepreneurship, equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, better sharing of family responsibilities, balanced participation of women and men in decision-making and the elimination of gender-based violence.

3.1. Implementing and improving equal treatment legislation

The transposition of the acquis is crucial and creates a basis for gender equality policies, a fact that will be even more emphasised in view of the enlargement of the Union.

- In the acceding countries, the transposition of the European Directives on equal treatment between men and women is almost complete. The challenge is now for the national actors, (legal professionals, equality bodies, the social partners and NGOs) to support the implementation of this legislation. Member States should seek to rapidly transpose the recently adopted Council Directive amending the Directive on equal treatment for men and women with regards to access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions [13].

[13] Council Directive 2002/73/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 September 2002 amending Council Directive 76/207/EEC.

- A strong commitment by social partners is needed in order to create working conditions that ensure equal treatment between men and women in the labour market.

- In order to make the existing legislation more readable and accessible to the citizens, as well as strengthening legal certainty and clarity, the Commission intends to replace the existing legal texts with a single comprehensive text by proposing a Directive on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation. This is particularly important in the context of the enlargement.

- With its proposal for a new Directive, based on Article 13, on the access to, and supply of, goods and services, the Commission has taken a first step to widen the scope of the equal treatment legislation beyond the labour market. [14]

[14] Proposal for a Council Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supplyof goods and services (2003/0265(CNS)

3.2. Eliminating the gender pay gap and gender gaps in employment and unemployment

Although decreasing, there are still high gaps in employment and unemployment. In order to reach the Lisbon target of 60% female employment, Member States need to keep up the pace of reforms. The persistence of gender pay gaps may act as a disincentive to women entering the labour market or progressing in their working careers, and may thus prevent the full use of their human capital investments. The gender pay gap can only be tackled through a multifaceted approach addressing its underlying factors including sectoral and occupational segregation, education and training, job classifications and pay systems, awareness raising and transparency. In the employment guidelines [15], Member States are committed to follow this approach, aiming to achieve by 2010 a substantial reduction of the gender pay gap.

[15] OJ L 197/13, Council Decision of 22 July 2003 on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States

- Gender segregation needs to be tackled by Member States and the social partners in a concrete and comprehensive way. Specific attention should be paid to combating the tendency of decreasing wages in occupations and sectors when the number of women starts to increase.

- Social partners play a crucial role in the design, implementation and success of policies to reduce the gender pay gap. It is crucial to raise awareness of the problem and take concrete actions to regularly monitor wage gaps, revise job classification systems, and make pay levels and job evaluation systems transparent.

- Quality in work remains a crucial factor for increasing labour supply. Within this framework, it is important that Member States promote flexible work arrangements for both women and men, in such a way that it safeguards access to social security rights and benefits, and does not create segmentation and segregation of the labour market.

- Making work pay is essential to increase women's participation in the labour force. Both tax and benefit systems need to be reformed, where appropriate, to remove disincentives and to provide financial incentives for women to take up, remain and return to work.

- Member States should make available Active Labour Market Policies to bring women back into the workforce after extended periods of parental leave and/or voluntary career breaks due to family responsibilities.

- It is essential that Member States provide good guidance and support to labour market experience aimed at eliminating sex-stereotyped choices from early school age onwards, in order to avoid the transmission of educational sex-segregation into the labour market.

- Policies are needed to remove the obstacles faced by women trying to reach higher and managerial positions.

- In the context of a knowledge-based society, it will be particularly important to promote a gender-balanced participation of scientists, engineers and technicians both at national and European levels.

3.3. Reconciling work and family life

The success of policies to raise employment rates will depend on the possibility for both women and men to achieve a balance between their professional career and family life. Reconciliation policy must not be considered a 'women's issue' and a policy from which only women will benefit. A major challenge is to focus on policies to encourage men to take up family responsibilities.

- Member States and the social partners need to focus on the development of financial and/or other incentives to encourage men to take on a larger role in the family as well as awareness-raising initiatives to change attitudes, especially among employers.

- Member States should promote parental leave schemes shared by both parents; in this context negative effects that extended parental leave schemes can have on the employment of women, through disincentives inherent in the combination of poor wage prospects and benefit systems and the risk of outdated skills and potential job loss after long periods of absence from the labour market, should be avoided.

- Efforts in the Member States to provide sufficient and adequate childcare services, in accordance with the targets set in Barcelona, should be intensified and organised in such a way as to allow women and men to take up a job and/or to remain in the labour market. Policies need to better address the quality and affordability of the service offered and the specific needs of working parents in terms of flexibility and length of childcare provision.

- In view of the ageing population, care facilities for other dependants need to become a priority at national level.

3.4. Promoting balanced participation of women and men in decision-making

The persistent under-representation of women in political and economic decision-making marks a fundamental deficit in the European society. Renewed commitments and partnership between governments, private actors and political parties are needed to realise full democracy by achieving a balanced representation of women and men in decision-making in all spheres of society at EU and national level.

- Member States must take steps to ensure the implementation of the Council Recommendation on the balanced participation of women and men in the decision-making process. (96/694) In particular:

- Member States should monitor progress by using the sets of indicators agreed by the Council of Ministers for the follow up of the Beijing Platform for Action on women and men in political as well as economic decision-making.

- The social partners should enhance initiatives to increase women's participation not only in the representative bodies but also around the negotiating table.

- In view of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament in 2004, political parties and other relevant actors should enhance their efforts and use a variety of measures to exceed the threshold of 30 % women reached in the elections to the European Parliament in 2000.

3.5. Putting gender mainstreaming into practice

The obligation to eliminate inequalities and to promote equality between women and men in all the Community's activities is enshrined in the EC Treaty [16]. Gender mainstreaming, i.e. the incorporation of a gender equality perspective in all policy fields and at all stages of policy making, has started to be implemented, along with specific measures, both in the Member States and at EU level. This dual approach is already included in the steering documents of several EU processes, such as the European Employment Strategy, the Social inclusion process, the Research Policy, the Structural Funds and Development Co-operation.

[16] EC Treaty, Article 2 and 3

Reinforced efforts are needed by Member States, the Commission and the Council of Ministers to translate goals and regulations into concrete actions.

This relies on

- a commitment by Member States, the Commission and the Council to reinforce the implementation of gender mainstreaming in all relevant policy fields, including in employment and social policies, education, research, external relations, development co-operation, budget and financial policies;

- as well as efforts by Member States and the Commission to improve the provision of coherent, comparable and timely data disaggregated by sex as well as by other background variables, in all relevant policy fields;

- a commitment by Member States, the Commission and the Council of Ministers to further develop gender equality indicators, as a tool for gender mainstreaming, for assessing progress in different policy areas. Sets of indicators have already been developed by the Council of Ministers in relation to women in political and economic decision-making, reconciliation of work and family life, equal pay for women and men and domestic violence in order to create a more consistent and systematic monitoring and assessment of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action;

- a commitment by Member States and the Commission to monitor progress by regular reporting and assessing results. The annual reports on gender equality to the Spring Summits play an important role in this respect;

- a commitment by Member States and the Commission to allocate resources in support of efficient mechanisms for the promotion of equality between women and men.

3.5.1. The Structural Funds

The discussion on the future of social and economic cohesion policies after 2006 is underway. Cohesion policies will be refocused and should be directed to contribute more to the Lisbon objectives, and in this way promote economic growth, productivity, higher employment and an inclusive society. Major efforts are required to exploit the full potential of the Structural Funds as a catalyst for Community and national policies on gender equality in an enlarged Europe and in the new programming period.

- Gender equality must remain a priority in the next programming period of the Structural Funds, in terms of both policies and resources.

- Current and future Member States should take a stronger commitment to promote both gender mainstreaming and specific measures in all the Structural Funds.

- Enforced commitment is needed in the Member States to assess ex-ante the impact on women and men of all policies, measures and actions financed by the Structural Funds.

3.5.2. The Research policy

It is of major importance to continue to progress towards gender equality in scientific research in order to realize fully the potential of the European Research Area.

- Appropriate support and resources should be provided at EU and national levels for setting up, or reinforcing, efficient mechanisms for involving women scientists more actively in scientific research and in the research policy process and for monitoring progress made in attracting, retaining and promoting women in science.

3.6. Preventing and combating violence and trafficking in women

While there is a strong political acknowledgement of the need to prevent and combat violence against women as well as trafficking in women [17] as a major phenomenon in the larger context of human trafficking [18], the challenge ahead is to widen and intensify activities in the Member States and the acceding countries.

[17] Council Resolution of 20 October 2003 on initiatives to combat trafficking in human beings, in particular women, OJ C 260, 29.10.2003, p. 4.

[18] Brussels Declaration on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of September 2002; see also Council Conclusions of 8 May 2003, OJ C137, 12.6.2003, p.1.

- The prevention of and fight against domestic violence fall mainly under local and national competence and Member States should follow up developments by using the set of indicators on domestic violence agreed by the Council of Ministers. The new programme, Daphne II, 2004-2008 with an increased budget of 50 MEUR will provide support to actions to prevent and combat violence against women in the Member States.

- Member States, the Commission and the relevant Councils need to intensify actions to prevent and combat trafficking in women. A comprehensive approach, covering criminalisation (legislation), protection and assistance to victims of violence and trafficking as well as preventive measures such as campaigns and cross-border and international co-operation are needed.

- It is essential to exploit all the possibilities offered by EU funding programmes - such as the Structural Funds (ESF, ERDF and the Community initiative EQUAL),Daphne and, where appropriate, AGIS - to support actions to provide assistance to victims, as well as undertaking prevention and facilitating the integration of victims of trafficking in women in the labour market. This will be particularly important in view of enlargement.


The main goals of the European Union are full employment, a high level of social protection, long-term economic growth, and sustainable development in a knowledge-based society by 2010. To achieve these goals, reaffirmed commitment by Member States to support the active participation of women in the labour market and to reduce the gender gaps in different spheres of life will play a key role. Higher active participation in the labour market in jobs of good quality will contribute to tackling the increasing challenge of our ageing society.

The European Council, building on this report on equality between women and men, is invited to urge Member States to enhance their efforts to promote equality between women and men in all spheres of society. In doing so special attention should be paid:

- to ensuring the rapid implementation in the Member States of the recently adopted legislation and the correct implementation of the Community acquis on equal treatment in the acceding States;

- to adopting the proposal for a Directive based on Article 13 [19], before March 2005;

[19] Proposal for a Council Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services (2003/0265(CNS)

- to taking specific measures to reduce the gender pay gap in co-operation with the social partners;

- to actively supporting a balanced representation of women and men in the elections to the European Parliament in 2004;

- to strengthening the integration of gender equality in all policy fields, including employment and social policies, education, justice and home affairs, external relations, development co-operation, budget and financial policies;

- to working towards reaching the targets set in Barcelona on the provision of childcare:

- to further developing indicators, with a focus on indicators on sexual harassment in the workplace in 2004, aiming at identifying core indicators, and monitoring progress, including the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action; to this effect regularly collecting adequate, coherent and comparable statistics disaggregated by sex, particularly in areas where such data are missing;

- to ensuring that an emphasis is given to gender equality, including women's access to employment in all Structural Funds and that appropriate funding is allocated;

- to further implementing gender mainstreaming in the European Research Area through active support to the network of high level national officials (the "Helsinki Group" on women and science).

- to combating violence against women and using the set of indicators on domestic violence for following-up of progress;

- to combating trafficking in women, in particular to adopting a proposal for a Directive [20] on the short-term residence permit issued to victims of action to facilitate illegal immigration in human beings who co-operate with the competent authorities.

[20] COM 2002 071 final


The statistical annex gives a simple, though comprehensive, overview of the situation of women and men, its evolution over time, and remaining gender gaps in the European Union and, whenever possible, in the acceding countries.

Given the importance of a broad approach to gender equality, indicators have been chosen according to two main criteria: their relevance in covering aspects of the lives of women and men, and the availability of comparable, and reliable data. The proposed data provide information on the following dimensions: paid work, income and pay, decision-making power, knowledge and time.

Paid work

Paid labour is an important precondition of economic independence and it is measured by the employment and unemployment rate. At present, there is an employment gender gap of 17.2% in the EU-15 and of 16.3% in the EU-15+ACC, while the unemployment gender gap is equal to 1.8% in the EU-15 and 1.9% in the EU-15+ACC. Women form a majority of those working part-time. The share of women employees working part-time was 34% in the EU-15 and 30% in the EU-15+ACC in 2002. The corresponding figures for men were 7% both in the EU-15 and in the EU-15+ACC.

Income and pay

In 2001, in the European Union the gender pay gap was 16%, while the risk of poverty was 3% higher for women compared to men.


Balanced participation in decision-making is looked at in the political and economic fields. 25.4% of parliamentary seats in the EU-15 are currently occupied by women. In 2002, a slightly higher percentage of women - 30% - achieved managerial positions in the EU-15 and 30% in the EU-15+ACC.


The development towards a knowledge based society makes high demands on the educational level of the labour force. Women present higher educational attainment than men: the gap between women and men aged 20-24 attaining secondary educational level is 6 percentage points in the EU-15 and 5 percentage points in the EU-15+ACC. Traditional patterns are on the contrary present in the research field where women represented 6% and men 19% of academic staff who are Full Professors (or equivalent) in the EU-15 in the year 2000.

Working Time

The gap between average hours worked by women and men with children shows that women with children work 12 hours less than men with children in the EU-15 and 11 hours less in the EU-15+ACC.