Business & Economy

Gender equality: EU action triggers steady progress

15 April, 2014

Concrete progress has been made in the area of addressing the gender pay gap – notably through an initiative by the Commission to improve pay transparency or increasing the number of women on company boards.

These are the main findings of the Commission`s annual gender equality report published on Monday along with the annual report on fundamental rights.

But challenges remain: under current rates of progress, it will take almost 30 years to reach the EU’s target of 75% of women in employment, 70 years to make equal pay a reality and 20 years to achieve parity in national parliaments (at least 40% of each gender).

The report provides an overview of the main EU policy and legal developments in gender equality during the last year, as well as examples of policies and actions in member states. It also analyses recent trends, on the basis of scientific evidence and key indicators that shape the debate on gender equality, and includes a statistical annex with more details on national performances.

The report is structured around the five priorities of the European Commission’s Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015: equal economic independence; equal pay for equal work and work of equal value; equality in decision-making; dignity, integrity and ending gender-based violence, gender equality in external action policy, and horizontal issues.

"Europe has been promoting gender equality since 1957 – it is part of the European Union`s ‘DNA’. And the economic crisis has not changed our DNA," Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, said. "For us Europeans gender equality is not an option, it is not a luxury, it is an imperative. We can be proud of what Europe has achieved in recent years. Gender equality is not a distant dream but increasingly a European reality. I am convinced that together we can close the remaining gaps in pay, employment and decision-making jobs", she added.

The annual gender equality report reveals that gender gaps have significantly shrunk in recent years but that progress is uneven among the Member States and discrepancies continue to exist in different areas – to the detriment of Europe`s economy.

Women’s employment rate in the EU has increased to 63% from 58% in 2002. EU funding has helped: in the 2007-2013 financing period, an estimated EUR 3.2 billion from the Structural Funds was allocated to invest in childcare facilities and promote women’s participation in the labour market, which had a significant leverage effect.

The Commission’s proposal for a Directive to have 40% of the under-represented sex among non-executive board directors by 2020 made good progress in the legislative process and received strong endorsement by the European Parliament in November 2013.

As a result, there has been a continuous increase in the number of women on boards ever since the Commission announced the possibility of legislative action in October 2010: from 11% in 2010 to 17.8% in 2014; the rate of progress has been 4 times higher than between 2003 and 2010.