EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Gender equality strategy


The gender equality strategy frames the European Commission’s work on gender equality. It sets out the policy objectives and key actions for 2020–2025, following on from the Commission’s 2016–2019 strategic engagement for gender equality. The new strategy aims to achieve a gender-equal Europe where gender-based violence, discrimination and structural inequality are things of the past.

Background and status

The European Commission presented its European gender equality strategy on 5 March 2020 in a communication. The strategy covers all sources of gender inequality and violence against women. It establishes the principle of ‘[including] a gender perspective in all EU policies and processes’. Some measures relate specifically to the labour market. However, apart from the initiative on pay transparency, no measures have specific deadlines.

The gender equality strategy 2020-2025 sets out key actions for the next five years and commits to ensure that the Commission will include an equality perspective in all EU policy areas. It outlines how the Commission intends to deliver on the promise made by President Ursula von der Leyen that Europe will provide the same opportunities for everyone:

Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality. In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough. With the Gender Equality Strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women.

Some of the main actions proposed by the Commission in its latest initiative to promote equality between men and women are:

  • propose additional measures to prevent and combat specific forms of gender-based violence
  • put forward binding measures to address the unequal pay by the end of 2020
  • enforce EU standards on work–life balance to enable real choice for women and men to develop equally both personally and professionally
  • push for the adoption of the 2012 proposal for a Directive on improving the gender balance on corporate boards which set the aim of a minimum of 40% of non-executive members of the under-represented sex on company boards
  • promote women's participation in politics through funding and sharing best practice
  • support Member States in developing and implementing more effective strategies to increase the number of women in decision-making positions
  • support improving gender balance in traditionally male or female-dominated professions and address gender stereotypes (through a proposal for a Council recommendation on vocational education and training)
  • launch an EU-wide communication campaign combatting gender stereotypes
  • integrate a gender perspective in all EU policies and major initiatives, also known as gender mainstreaming.

Four key areas for action are set out below.

Pay transparency

The strategy’s most comprehensive proposal relates to pay transparency. In March 2014, the Commission published a non-binding recommendation on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency. However, as this text had relatively little effect, the Commission decided to ‘strengthen the rights of employees to get more information about pay levels’ without placing an excessive burden on companies. To do so, it announced its intention to carry out an inclusive public consultation process and to relaunch discussions with social partners. As the subject matter is in the employment and social affairs arena, social partners should be formally consulted to allow them to begin negotiations should they wish. The consultation findings will be used to draw up proposals for binding measures, which will be announced by the end of 2020. As of June 2020, Eurofound is exploring pay transparency measures in several Member States for an overview report for the European Commission.

Improving the gender balance of company boards

The Commission intends to revive its proposal on improving gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and other related measures. The proposal was initially presented in 2012, but it was blocked by Member States. The key measure aims for boards to be made up of at least 40% of the under-represented gender. Another area of focus is reducing the gender pension gap. The Commission says that it ‘will explore the provision of pension credits for care-related career breaks in occupational pension schemes’ – that is, pension schemes set up by the employer (not, therefore, statutory schemes over which the EU has no competence).

Work–life balance

In announcing the gender equality strategy, the Commission stated that it wants to ‘redouble efforts to enforce EU standards on work–life balance to enable real choice for women and men to develop equally both personally and professionally’.

Sexual harassment

The communication contains various references to combatting sexual harassment. Most significantly, the Commission intends to extend the areas of crime that can be harmonised at EU level to include specific forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment. It encourages Member States to:

  • ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention to combat violence and harassment at work
  • implement the existing EU rules on protecting workers from sexual harassment
  • raise people’s awareness of these rules

As an employer itself, the Commission also intends to adopt a ‘comprehensive legal framework’ to combat all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Related dictionary terms

Discrimination equality between women and men equal opportunities equal treatment gender equality gender mainstreaming gender pay gap harassment and violence at work women in the labour market work–life balance work-life balance directive

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