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Document 52000AE1416

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Towards a Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005), andProposal for a Council Decision on the Programme relating to the Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005)

OJ C 116, 20.4.2001, p. 70–74 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Towards a Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005), andProposal for a Council Decision on the Programme relating to the Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005)

Official Journal C 116 , 20/04/2001 P. 0070 - 0074

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:

- the "Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Towards a Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005)", and

- "Proposal for a Council Decision on the Programme relating to the Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001-2005)"

(2001/C 116/17)

On 24 July 2000, the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned communication and the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 14 November 2000. The rapporteur was Ms Wahrolin.

At its 377th plenary session (meeting of 30 November 2000) the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 70 votes to one, with 10 abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. On 7 June 2000, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a Community framework strategy for gender equality for the period 2001-2005. Ever since Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work, the Commission has been pursuing a long-term policy of improving gender equality within the Community. Over the years, a comprehensive acquis has been built up in the wake of a number of European Court of Justice rulings in gender equality cases. Since 1981, the European Union has also run specific gender equality programmes. The current programme expires in December 2000.

1.2. The Commission proposal has been submitted under the terms of Article 3(2) of the Amsterdam Treaty.

1.3. The proposed strategy addresses five key areas for gender equality policies:

- economic life

- equal participation and representation

- social rights

- civil life, and

- gender roles and stereotypes.

1.4. The strategy rests on two pillars: a proactive policy (mainstreaming, i.e. including a gender perspective in all policy areas), and reactive actions (positive measures). It also includes a proposal for a specific support programme for increased coordination between different policy areas involving equal opportunities. In addition, the strategy addresses enlargement and gender equality in aid policies.

1.5. The Commission proposes that the support programme should be financed under budget heading B3-4012.

2. General comments

2.1. The Economic and Social Committee welcomes the Commission proposal, and would particularly stress the benefits of combining mainstreaming with active measures.

2.2. The Committee supports the Commission proposal to provide a separate budget heading for the support programme, and to include a gender dimension in enlargement and aid work. Though the Committee welcomes the possibility of providing NGOs with up to 80 % support, it criticises the size of the proposed budget. Even bearing in mind that the budget line only refers to coordination of equality measures, a programme of this importance requires greater resources, capable of producing tangible improvements.

2.3. The Committee regards both legislation and information as key instruments. Legislation in this area should be evaluated and updated to meet modern requirements.

2.4. The Committee's comments on the various headings of the Commission proposal are set out below:

3. Specific comments

3.1. Gender equality in economic life

3.1.1. Equal access to work and equal opportunities to make a living are key factors in achieving gender equality. This is fully in keeping with the EU's employment strategy and with the conclusions of the Lisbon European Council, which set the objective of increasing female employment from the current average of 51 % to over 60 % by 2010 . Equality is the fourth pillar of the employment strategy and the annual summits that are to follow up the Lisbon Summit will give women and employment a high profile place on the political agenda. The Committee, like the Commission, stresses the importance of promoting gender equality in economic life. Gender equality must be seen as a factor in productivity. It is quite clear that women must enter the labour market if the EU is to achieve the economic growth needed to sustain its social - and not least pension - systems. Equality is important to productivity in a Europe where older people will account for an increasingly greater proportion of the population. And if Europe is to be able to maintain its level of social protection, women must also be able to contribute to the economy through paid employment. The Committee would particularly highlight the Lisbon Council conclusions regarding facilitating the reconciliation of work and family life. If women are to be able to work, it is essential for men to shoulder their share of responsibility for home, children and the elderly, for care facilities for children and the elderly to be improved, and the right to flexible parental leave to be advanced. It is also society's responsibility to ensure that women and men can combine parenthood with a job.

3.1.2. In this connection, the ESC would also point out that women with disabilities are underrepresented in the workplace and action must be taken to promote their employment.

3.1.3. The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposed review of tax benefit systems with a view to removing obstacles to women entering the labour market.

3.1.4. Encouraging lifelong learning and access to active labour market measures are essential in this context. This applies particularly to the flourishing IT sector. The Committee urges the Member States to step up vocational guidance services and improve adult education, especially for women who are returning to the labour market.

3.1.5. Access to reliable statistics is an important tool for promoting equality. The Committee therefore particularly welcomes the proposed further development and coordination of national statistical systems, in order to allow for relevant comparisons and monitoring of the declared objectives of the European employment strategy.

3.1.6. The ESC is pleased to note the proposal to improve the use of the Structural Funds for the promotion of gender equality.

3.1.7. The Committee stresses the importance of the Commission's proposed operational objective, i.e. to develop strategies to encourage gender mainstreaming in all policies which have an impact on the place of women in the economy, e.g. fiscal, financial, economic, educational, transport, research and social policy. The ESC looks forward to this being implemented successfully.

3.1.8. Dialogue with enterprises and particularly cooperation with the social partners is also an excellent proposal which the Committee endorses.

3.1.9. The Committee would call the Commission's attention to the fact that there is a need for more specific proposals for actions to devise methods to assess and monitor the impact of, for example, tax, economic and financial policy decisions on female employment levels. It is also vital to study the application of legislation, particularly on equal pay and equal access to the labour market, and to disseminate information on the Commission's work in this field to the individual Member States.

3.2. Equal participation and representation

3.2.1. The Commission's proposed actions to improve the gender balance in political decision-making are very significant. This is fully in line with the EU institutions' policy to increase women's participation in the decision-making process.

3.2.2. The Committee endorses the aim to improve the gender balance in economic and social decision-making, and the proposed actions, particularly those on developing statistics on women in decision-making positions in those areas. As pointed out in previous opinions(1) statistics are necessary, especially on the private sector . The Member States should be encouraged to compile such data.

3.2.3. The Committee believes that various types of support programmes can play an important role in boosting women's representation.

3.2.4. The Committee particularly welcomes the proposed support programmes to increase developing countries' institutional and operational capacity, and wholeheartedly endorses the proposal to include a gender perspective in aid policies, and in relations with the applicant countries.

3.2.5. The Committee takes the view that it is important to improve the gender balance not just within the Commission, but throughout the Community institutions.

3.3. Social rights

3.3.1. The Committee believes that social agreements and legislation, e.g. on parental leave, maternity protection, working time, part-time and fixed-term contracts, is important for gender equality. It is therefore important to monitor how the relevant Community legislation is implemented in the Member States.

3.3.2. The Committee would point to the need both for directives which increase legal certainty, and for information and awareness-raising. Countries and regions, as well as generations, differ in their attitudes. To shape attitudes, legislation and information must go hand in hand. The social partners also have an important role to play here.

3.3.3. The Committee welcomes the Commission's initiative to put forward a proposal based on Article 13, which, in addition to dealing with matters relating to the labour market, also includes other areas, as recommended in the ESC opinion on the Directive on combating discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin(2).

3.3.4. The Committee particularly welcomes the proposal for mainstreaming in the new reinforced cooperation within the area of social protection, and the fight against social exclusion. Here, it is essential to have more details concerning aid policy objectives.

3.4. Civil life

3.4.1. Equality is also a human rights issue for women and girls, and a basic freedom for women and men, regardless of race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

3.4.2. The Committee welcomes the Commission proposal for more information and training in the human rights of women both in the EU and in the applicant countries. While the Committee welcomes the focus on women who are subject to multiple discriminations, it would point out that this does not just concern migrant women and those belonging to ethnic minorities, but also those with disabilities.

3.4.3. The ESC sees the proposals to step up measures to combat violence against women and trafficking in women as very significant. The Committee would stress the need to push ahead with the Daphne and STOP programmes, but would draw the Commission's attention to the need to focus more sharply on the causes of abuse. It is essential to seek long-term solutions for ending patterns of mental and physical abuse while at the same time offering victims care and protection. Until we can properly establish what the causes of abuse are, it is difficult to adopt the necessary measures.

3.5. Gender roles and stereotypes

3.5.1. Negative or stereotyped images of women particularly in the media and in educational material, impact especially on young people, thus compounding the lack of equality in society. The Committee therefore believes that initiatives to foster a new mindset should already be included in the school timetable.

3.5.2. The Committee welcomes the proposed integration of a gender perspective in Community educational programmes and initiatives. The Committee also welcomes the plans to raise the profile of women in the European venture and in European culture.

3.5.3. The media should take steps to change the way women are portrayed. The Commission's proposal to promote such a dialogue and the exchange of views and good practice with media representatives is interesting and important. In tandem the Commission should improve information on what is already being done in this area.

4. Conclusions

In conclusion, the ESC would express its satisfaction with the Commission proposal for a support programme, and in particular with the intention to mainstream gender equality into all policy areas. The ESC therefore looks forward in expectation to the Member States working with this approach and to future Commission proposals being permeated with this outlook.

As the ESC represents civil society organisations, we would also stress the need to involve NGOs of various kinds in the drive for equality. NGOs have a decisive role to play in carrying this forward.

The ESC would also refer to previous opinions on the Fourth Community Action Programme on equal opportunities for women and men(3), the Daphne programme(4), the Directive on combating discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin(5) and the follow-up to the fourth UN Conference on Women(6), where the ESC expressed its views on gender equality.

Brussels, 30 November 2000.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) OJ C 368, 20.12.1999.

(2) OJ C 204, 18.7.2000, pp. 82-90.

(3) OJ C 39, 12.2.1996.

(4) OJ C 169, 16.6.1999.

(5) OJ C 204, 18.7.2000, pp. 82-90.

(6) OJ C 168, 16.6.2000 p. 42.


to the Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee

The following amendment was defeated, but received at least one quarter of the votes:


Delete and replace with the following:

"The Committee would particularly highlight the Lisbon Council conclusions with regard to making it easier to reconcile working life and family life. If more women are to be able to work, responsibilities for home, children and the elderly must be shared on the basis of partnership. Above all, the Committee feels that parents have an irreplaceable role to play in caring for and bringing up children. Both parents must be given the chance to reconcile work and family life. It is essential here to establish the requisite working arrangements, for example by making provision for appropriate flexible working hours, parental leave and part-time working. Legislative instruments are not enough; responsibility must also be borne by employers.

A further prerequisite for reconciling work and family life is the improvement of care facilities for children and the elderly. Although childcare in particular is primarily a social responsibility to be shared equally by both parents, childcare facilities must be expanded to provide additional support, not least since the reconciliation of work and family life often falls by the wayside as a result of economic constraints, and the number of single parents is ever increasing."


As it stands, the text does not adequately highlight the action which should be taken in the interests first and foremost of parental childcare.

Result of the vote

For: 20, against: 49, abstentions: 10.