Social partners and gender equality in Europe

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Ligestilling mellem kønnene,
  • Social partners,
  • Working conditions,
  • Arbejdsmarkedsrelationer,
  • Date of Publication: 04 december 2014



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The growing participation of women in the labour market has prompted changes in the way European social partner organisations tackle gender issues. Their organisational and collective bargaining structures – historically dominated by men – have had to adapt to include gender equality issues. This report examines the extent to which gender equality is incorporated by the social partners in their organisations and in their policymaking at European and national level. It explores the differences between the priority given to gender issues between the social partners in different countries and the possible factors behind such differences. Finally, it examines the main challenges faced by the social partners when attempting to promote gender equality within their organisations and in the wider labour market.

The study was compiled on the basis of individual national reports drawn up by Eurofound’s network of European correspondents in response to a questionnaire [pdf, 440kb]. The national reports are available on request.

Download the full report

See also the executive summary

Introduction and objectives

This report explores the various ways the social partners are contributing to the achievement of gender equality in the European Union – both through measures within their own organisations and through activities underpinning the achievement of greater gender equality within the labour market and society. Equality between women and men is a fundamental right, a common EU value and a necessary condition for achieving the EU objectives of growth, employment and social cohesion. As recognised in EU legal and policy instruments, social dialogue is an important means of achieving greater equality between women and men. Hence the social partners are positioned at the heart of the implementation of this objective in several ways. The European social partners contribute to shaping European labour legislation and measures to promote equality and anti-discrimination and are, in some cases, responsible for implementing relevant policy initiatives. At national level, while the social partners can influence legislation through tripartite consultation, they primarily play a role in collective bargaining at national, sectoral and company level – and therefore can influence not only the working conditions of men and women, but also the ability to reconcile work and family life. Women’s growing participation in the labour market has brought changes to the way in which European social partner organisations tackle gender issues. The organisational and collective bargaining structures of the social partners – historically dominated by men – have had to adapt to these issues to make progress in this area.

This report discusses the extent to which gender equality is embraced by social partner organisations and to what extent it influences their policymaking at European and national level. This report set out to collect and compare information from the EU Member States and Norway both on the internal actions of social partner organisations to promote gender equality within their organisations and on the external actions and activities implemented by social partners across a range of fields of activity. These include activities aimed at:

  • addressing gender roles;
  • promoting women’s role in decision-making;
  • supporting a good work–life balance;
  • tackling gender pay gaps.

This report builds on earlier Eurofound reports on gender and equal opportunities (Eurofound, 1999; Eurofound, 2006; Eurofound, 2007; Eurofound, 2013a and 2013b;) as well as on other literature on the role and contribution of social partner organisations to gender equality (including the recently updated Toolkit for gender equality in practice by the European social partners (ETUC et al, 2014).

The report explores the differences between the priority given to gender issues among social partners in different countries and the potential factors behind such differences. It also examines the main challenges faced by the social partners when attempting to disseminate and promote gender equality within their organisations. The information collected was mainly from 2009 onwards.

The report was compiled on the basis of individual national reports submitted by national experts covering all 28 EU Member States and Norway. These reports are based mainly on desk research as well as, where possible, direct consultation with social partner organisations. The situation in each Member State was drafted on the basis of a questionnaire, which covered the following areas:

  • policy commitments to promoting equality in social partner organisations and strategic priorities to eliminate inequalities in the labour market;
  • actions to promote gender equality and the balanced participation of women;
  • processes in place to ensure that gender is considered in social dialogue;
  • women’s participation in social partner cross-industry, sectoral and company organisations;
  • challenges faced in implementing actions;
  • impacts of actions and future direction.
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