Gender equality refers to equality between women and men with respect to their treatment, opportunities, and economic and social achievements. The concept is often viewed in relation to the workplace and labour organisations.
The European Community has long placed gender equality between women and men at the forefront of social policy. EU intervention in the area reflects in part theoretical development of the concept 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 and positive action. Furthermore, the area of concern now encompasses critical reviews of protective legislation on pregnancy and maternity, childcare and sexual harassment, as well as developments in equality law relating to access to employment, access to equal pay, working conditions, vocational training, pensions and social welfare.
Commission Decision 2001/51/EC established a Community framework strategy on gender equality (2001–2005), the latest in a series of such action programmes initiated by the Commission in 1982. The programme’s objectives are to promote the values and practices underlying gender equality; to improve understanding of issues relating to gender equality; and to support actions that will contribute to the achievement of these objectives, such as analyses, studies, monitoring activities, and transnational cooperation and exchanges.
On 22 March 2005, a Framework of actions on gender equality was concluded by the European social partners – the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope (formerly UNICE), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). The joint text highlights four priorities which the cross-sector European-level social partners want the national social partners to focus on over the coming five years: to address gender roles, promote women in decision-making, support work-life balance, and tackle the gender pay gap.
In line with the aims of the Framework of actions set up by the European social partners, the European Commission adopted a Roadmap for equality between women and men (2006–2010) which pinpointed six priority areas for EU gender actions: equal economic independence for women and men; reconciliation of private and professional life; equal representation in decision-making; eradication of all gender-based violence and trafficking; elimination of gender stereotypes in education, training and culture; and promotion of gender equality outside the EU. Building on the experience of the Framework Strategy (2001–2005), the Roadmap combines the launch of new actions and the reinforcement of best practices, while reaffirming the dual approach of gender equality based on gender mainstreaming and specific measures. Some of the activities defined in the Roadmap are funded through the Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity (Progress (83Kb PDF) 2007–2012), whose budget is directed at encouraging networks of experts, surveys and analysis, awareness-raising campaigns and gathering of information in the field of gender equality.
In December 2006, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the regulation on the establishment of a European Institute for Gender Equality. The institute was conceived as a technical support to ensure and monitor the implementation of European policies in terms of gender equality. The institute is based in Vilnius in southeastern Lithuania. Its key objectives are to contribute to and strengthen the promotion of gender equality, including gender mainstreaming in all European Community policies and to raise EU citizens’ awareness of gender equality. Its main tasks are to collect, analyse and disseminate information on gender equality, carry out surveys and organise European events to promote a European dialogue with regard to the gender dimension.
See also: equality between women and men; equal opportunities; European Institute for Gender Equality; equal treatment; gender mainstreaming; women in the labour market; promotion; non-discrimination principle.