Documents considered by the Committee on 20 October 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

15 Strategy for Equality between Women and Men



COM(10) 491

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Commission Communication: Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015

Commission staff working document: Actions to implement the Strategy for equality between men and women

Commission staff working document: background document

Legal base
Document originated21 September 2010
Deposited in Parliament28 September 2010
DepartmentGovernment Equalities Office
Basis of considerationEM of 7 October 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilCouncil Conclusions on the Strategy may be agreed in December
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


15.1 Since 1957, the EC Treaty (now renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union—TFEU) has provided a legal base for policy and action on gender equality. Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) cites equality between men and women as one of the Union's founding values and Article 8 TFEU requires the Union, in all its activities, "to aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women". Article 157 TFEU requires Member States to ensure that "the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value" is applied, and confers power on the Union to adopt measures by a qualified majority "ensuring the application of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation, including the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value". Article 19 TFEU empowers the Council, acting by unanimity, to take "appropriate action to combat discrimination" on a number of grounds, including sex.

15.2 In March 2010, the newly-appointed Commission adopted a Women's Charter in which it pledged to strengthen the gender perspective in all policies introduced during its term of office and to bring forward specific measures to promote gender equality. The Charter established five "principles of equality" to underpin all Union action:

  • equal economic independence
  • equal pay for equal work and work of equal value
  • equality in decision-making
  • dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence, and
  • gender equality beyond the Union.

The Commission's Strategy for Equality

15.3 The Strategy describes the remaining challenges to achieving real gender equality and sets out key actions to be taken under each of the principles of equality in the Women's Charter. The Commission says that Union action will be based on a dual approach, promoting gender mainstreaming (by considering the gender dimension in all Union policies) as well as the adoption of specific measures to combat inequality. The key actions proposed under each principle of equality are summarised below:

15.4 Actions to promote equal economic independence include:

  • promoting gender equality in the implementation of all aspects of the Europe 2020 Strategy for Jobs and Growth, particularly with a view to increasing women's participation in the labour market;
  • promoting female entrepreneurship and self-employment;
  • assessing any remaining gaps in entitlement to family-related leave, such as paternity or carers' leave;
  • reporting on Member States' performance in providing childcare facilities, to help reduce the impact of parenthood on rates of female employment; and
  • promoting gender equality in EU initiatives concerning immigration and the integration of migrants, to help improve the employment rate of migrant women.

15.5 Actions to secure equal pay for equal work and work of equal value include:

  • exploring ways to improve the transparency of pay and the impact of atypical working arrangements, such as part-time work or fixed-term contracts, on equal pay, career development and promotion, and pensions;
  • supporting equal pay initiatives within the workplace, such as the use of analytical tools to identify gender pay gaps—the Commission cites Eurostat figures indicating an aggregated gender pay gap of 17.8% across the EU in 2008 (and over 20% in the UK);
  • introducing an annual European Equal Pay Day to raise awareness about how much longer women need to work than men to earn the same; and
  • encouraging women to pursue non-traditional career paths.

15.6 Actions to improve equality in decision-making include:

  • setting and monitoring targets to improve the gender balance in decision-making, such as the 25% target for women occupying leading positions in academic research;
  • monitoring progress towards attaining 40% female participation in Commission committees and expert groups; and
  • supporting efforts to increase the participation of women in EP elections, including as candidates.

15.7 Actions to promote dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence include:

  • adoption of a new EU-wide strategy to combat violence against women, including the possibility of criminal measures to tackle female genital mutilation;
  • possible legislative action on victims' rights;[56]
  • launch of an EU-wide awareness-raising campaign on gender-based violence;
  • ensuring that EU asylum legislation and practice takes account of gender equality, including gender-specific training within the European Asylum Support Office; and
  • drawing up a report on Men's Health which identifies gender-specific health risks and diseases for men.

15.8 Actions on gender equality beyond the Union include:

  • ensuring that EU conditionality on equal treatment between women and men is adhered to in countries seeking to accede to the EU;
  • implementing the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development (2010-15);
  • encouraging partner countries within the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy to promote gender equality; and
  • ensuring that consideration of gender issues is an integral part of EU humanitarian aid.

15.9 The concluding part of the Commission's Strategy considers a number of cross-cutting issues affecting all five "principles of equality". These include the need for effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and updating of EU equal treatment legislation; using the newly-established European Institute for Gender Equality[57] to monitor existing EU equality indicators and consider the need for new ones; considering gender-related inequalities affecting boys and men as well as the contribution that men can make to achieving gender equality; and producing an Annual Report on Gender Equality to inform an annual Gender Equality Dialogue involving the European Parliament, Council Presidencies, European social partners and civil society representatives.

The Government's view

15.10 The Minister for Equalities and Criminal Information at the Government Equalities Office (Lynne Featherstone) says that the Government welcomes the Commission's Strategy which primarily concerns proposals for action to be taken by the Commission rather than by Member States. The Minister notes that the Commission may, however, propose legislation on female genital mutilation and on the enhancement of victims' rights in 2011. She adds,

"We will consider any measures proposed for Member States to implement the Strategy on their merits as and when they are proposed, taking into account existing and future commitments to use of funding instruments such as the Structural Funds, and without prejudice to the negotiations on the next financial perspective."

15.11 The Minister expresses the Government's preference for a non-legislative approach to implement the Strategy, which could include discussion of indicators to monitor the gender pay gap. She says that the UK will seek to participate actively in the European Commission's Advisory Committee on Equality between Women and Men[58] and the High Level Group on Equality between Women and Men[59] in order to influence the development of any new proposals resulting from the Strategy. The Minister anticipates that the Employment, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection Council will seek to agree Conclusions endorsing the Commission's Strategy for Equality at its meeting in December.


15.12 We note that the Strategy seeks to give effect to the new Commission's commitment to make equality between women and men a reality by implementing the principles of equality set out in the Women's Charter adopted in March. As the Minister indicates, most of the actions proposed concern measures to be taken by the Commission, in the first instance, and so there are no direct policy, legal or financial implications for Member States resulting from the Strategy. The Strategy and accompanying Commission working documents provide a useful comparative overview of progress towards achieving gender equality across the EU, as well as a helpful indication of future EU action. The Strategy highlights two areas in which legislation is likely to be proposed. The first concerns criminal measures to tackle female genital mutilation; and the second, further measures to enhance victims' rights. Any proposed legislation will be subject to separate scrutiny, at which point we will examine carefully the Commission's reasons for considering that EU legislation is needed in these areas and whether it would be more effective than national legislation. Meanwhile, we are content to clear the Strategy for Equality from scrutiny while reporting it to the House because of its political importance.

56   The reference to legislation on victims' rights does not appear in the Strategy itself but in ADD 1 which provides a more detailed commentary on possible EU actions. Back

57   Established in December 2006 to assist EU institutions and Member States in promoting gender equality in all EU policies and in combating sex discrimination.  Back

58   The Advisory Committee was established in 1981 and produces opinions to help inform the Commission in formulating and implementing EU activities promoting equality between women and men. It includes representatives of the Member States, social partners, and NGOs.  Back

59   The High Level Group was established in 2001 and comprises senior level representatives of Member States responsible for gender mainstreaming and equality issues. It advises EU Presidencies on possible policy areas and initiatives which may contribute to gender equality.  Back

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